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RAF Balado Bridge

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RAF Balado Bridge, near Kinross, was a World War II airfield located to the north of the A977 road from Kinross to the Kincardine Bridge.

It remained in use after the war ended, when surplus aircraft were stored and scrapped, and civil flying took place until 1957, after which the field was reactivated and became a Cold War communications centre.

World War II

The airfield opened on March 20, 1942, as a satellite to Grangemouth, part of 81 Group, and the operational centre of No 58 Operational Training Unit (OTU), later an Advanced Training Unit (ATU) using many ground based training aids (reported to have led to it being referred to as Synthetic City. On October 17, 1943, it became No 2 Tactical Evaluation Unit (TEU), responsible for the training of many Polish pilots operating Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft, until its closure on June 25, 1944. On November 11, 1944, the airfield was acquired by the War Department.

Several accommodation camps were dispersed nearby, one of the largest being at Turfhills to the southeast, with a smaller camp at Braidmyre Wood to the wast. Turfhill was a substantial camp, larger than would have been needed to service RAF Balado, and assumed to have been used to accommodate other units, and Polish troops, both during and after the war. Together with a large number of various types of hut, many camouflaged, aerial photography has shown that the camp was equipped with a small rifle range, and a number of sports field. Most, if not all of the area was lost when the Kinross Service Area was constructed alongside the M90 motorway, although there may still be some hut bases surviving in the surrounding area. The Braidmyre Wood camp comprised some thirty assorted hut types, and was subsequently used as piggery in the 1980s. The site was later cleared, and developed as a housing estate.

Postwar

After the war, the airfield was used to scrap surplus Fleet Air Arm (FAA) aircraft, work carried out by McDonnell Aircraft, Milnathort, mostly between 1946 and 1947, when an aerial photographic survey revealed over two hundred airframes on the site. This task ended in 1952, with a few airframes surviving on site until 1955.

Civilian operations by light aircraft, and gliders of the Scottish Gliding Club, continued there until 1957, when Balado was reactivated and returned to military use. Civil flying transferred to Portmoak Airfield, a few miles to the east, across Loch Leven.

SATCOM II/III Ground Station

The reactivated site became a NATO Communications Facility, when a SATCOM II (or III, version varies by report) Satellite Ground Listening Station was built next to the south taxiway of the main east/west runways, and came to be known locally as the Golf Ball, after being opened by HRH The Princess Anne in 1985. The ''Golf Ball' was actually a white fibreglass radome which housed a large dish antenna which could be rotated and elevated to point in any desired direction. The radome was connected via a corridor, protected by NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical) doors, to the main equipment building, an emergency power generator room equipped with twin 180 kW generators, and an accommodation building which housed the station mess, recreation, and office facilities. Just after the station was completed, a double layer security fence was added to the perimeter, incorporating and MoD Police Post.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to be certain of the exact nature of the designation of the station, as the public accounts (including those from semi-official sources such as the sales agents) are woefully lacking, and describe it variously as a radar station (the least likely, and probably based on assumption, and ill-informed references to the existence of a radome on the site), a communications facility, or satellite link (which seems most likely, as Balado Bridge appears in a listing of US Super High Frequency Satellite Communications procedure), and as a listening station, which the receiving side of the SATCOM operation could have carried out during periods of communication inactivity.

Post-military site use

Part of the site is now used to host the popular T in the Park music festival each year. Reputed to be the largest live music event in Scotland, with up to 138,000 music fans attending, the festival has become an annual event since it was first held there in 1997, after the original venue of Strathclyde Park became unavailable.

The airfield had two concrete runways, and a perimeter track. Although started, the airfield's third runway was never completed, and the incomplete stub can be seen crossing the southeast extent of the east/west runway. The B918 road, which connects the A977 with the A91, cuts across the southwest extent of both runways.

Both runways remain in place and still highly visible, with large poultry houses built along their length, containing thousands of battery chickens.

The area towards the northeast of the site has been developed as the Balado Activity Centre, and this is also where the former airfield's control tower can still be found, having been converted to serve as the activity centre's offices in 1997.

Not further described, some of the original airfield buildings still survive on the site, and the hangars being reported to lie within are area of building identified as a Grain Store, towards the northwest of the site.

For sale July 2006

In July 2006, the decommissioned site was put up for sale. No price was reported:

A Nato "golf ball" style communications facility at Balado Bridge in Kinross is to be decommissioned and sold.

The iconic structure is surrounded by 3.36 hectares of land, which was used as an airfield during World War II.

RAF Balado was built during the 1930s and opened as a satellite to Grangemouth in 1943. The Nato communications operation began in 1985.

The highly visible site off the M90 is expected to be of interest to both housing developers and businesses.

Defence Estates, a Ministry of Defence agency, has instructed GVA Grimley to sell the land next to the T-in-The-Park music festival site.

Katherine Pollock, of GVA Grimley, said it had received a lot of interest in the site, which includes a number of single storey offices and storage buildings.

"At 3.36 hectares and with easy access to main roads and motorways, Balado Bridge offers huge development opportunity to potential buyers, as it is suitable for a variety of uses," she said.

- Iconic satellite station for sale.[1]

For sale June 2014

In June 2014, the site of the ground station was offered for sale, with an opening price of £1.1 million:

A former Nato "golf ball" style communications facility at Balado, near Kinross, is for sale.

The decommissioned structure is surrounded by 3.36 hectares of land which was used as an airfield during World War Two.

The site, which is now made up of offices and storage buildings, has an asking price of £1.1m.

The "golf ball" is a landmark well known to visitors to the nearby T in the Park music festival.

RAF Balado Bridge opened in 1942 and remained open until 1957.

Following its decommission as an RAF station, the site served as a Nato satellite communications site which was opened by Princess Anne in 1985.

It was decommissioned in late 2006, and has been used for commercial purposes ever since.

- Balado 'golf ball' satellite station for sale.[2]

Photographs

The Golf Ball, 2002
The Golf Ball, 2002
© David Neale
The Golf Ball, 2006
The Golf Ball, 2006
© Callum Black
The Golf Ball, 2008
The Golf Ball, 2008
© Dr Duncan Pepper
Chicken battery on runaway, © http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile.php?u=11400
Chicken battery on runaway
© Brendan Hamill
T in The Park, 2005, 3,000 ft, © http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile.php?u=1311
T in The Park, 2005, 3,000 ft
© Keith Boardman


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