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Powering up: how we support the radar at RAF Fylingdales

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Engineering, Facilities Management, RAF
The large, pyramid-shaped radar of RAF Fylingdales taken from across the moors.
The radar at RAF Fylingdales on the Yorkshire Moors. [Crown Copyright]

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that DIO has a pretty varied range of responsibilities. Even many DIO staff don’t realise, though, that we run a power station. 

It’s at RAF Fylingdales in the North York Moors National Park, an unusual RAF station which has two main roles. Firstly, its personnel provide a radar tracking service, monitoring the skies for ballistic missiles 24 hours a day, every day. It is also part of the Allied Space Surveillance Network for monitoring objects in space, such as space debris or satellites, to try to reduce the risk of collisions.  

All of this requires a very large and sophisticated radar. You might have seen photos of three giant white radar which looked like golf balls. That is what RAF Fylingdales used to use until they were replaced in the 1990s. Their replacement is a pyramid-shaped radar which can ‘see’ in 360 degrees and can detect missiles as far away 3,000 miles, reaching north Africa, the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic as well as Europe. It can detect larger objects like the International Space Station and smaller objects the size of a can.  

The power station  

This level of sophistication needs a huge amount of electricity to operate - roughly the same as the town of Whitby some 11 miles away, with its population of 13,000 people. Though it’s run by RAF personnel, the radar is American and runs to American electrical standards, which are different to those found in the UK. That means it can’t be run from the National Grid, as the radar runs to 480 volts and 60 hertz at tolerances much better than the National Grid, which is around 415 volts and 50 hertz. This means that UK electric clocks run 20% faster at RAF Fylingdales, and tumble driers are useless as the drum would spin too fast and the clothes would just stick to the inside! The upshot of all of this is that the radar requires its own power station to fulfil its energy needs. 

The power station has seven generators run by natural gas to produce the electricity required by RAF Fylingdales. There are also four diesel generators which are kept as standby and mean the power station can use either natural gas or diesel. This sort of failsafe is vital when the radar simply must continue functioning at all times. If all of the generators were running at once, the power station could generate enough electricity to power more than 15,000 homes. 

The interior of the power station.
The interior of the power station.

The power station is run through a PFI contract. It was run by the RAF initially but in 2013 was passed to DIO and we have administered and monitored the contract ever since. The 21 staff who keep the power station running are from TG Power, the contractor, which undertakes all mechanical, electrical and civil engineering maintenance in-house wherever possible. Naturally though, DIO is still involved. We hold monthly meetings to check everything is running smoothly and when the 25-year contract term expires in 2024 we will be responsible for procuring the replacement contract.  

The contract assumes that the electricity required will be at least 30,000,000 kilowatt hours every year, but for the last few years the energy consumption has been less than this. That is thanks to several energy reduction schemes in recent years. For example, we replaced traditional street lighting with LED lights which use less electricity. We have also centralised personnel into fewer buildings, allowing the demolition of buildings which were no longer required. That obviously saves running and maintenance costs, including a reduction in energy use.   

It may seem like a small thing, but without the power station, the radar won’t work, and that would put security of this country at risk. It’s just one more way DIO plays our part in the defence of the nation.  


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