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RAF West Freugh

(Redirected from West Freugh Incident)

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West Freugh bombing range, 2006
West Freugh bombing range
© Oliver Dixon

RAF West Freugh lies in the south west of Dumfries and Galloway, near Luce Bay, and some five miles south east of Stranraer.

An airship base, RNAS Luce, was established at East Freugh during World War I.

Dating back to 1936, RAF West Freugh first opened as an Armament Training Camp in 1937. With the arrival of World War II, its facilities were expanded to provide training for observers, navigators, and bomb aimers, with the addition of a bombing range and creation of a Bombing Trial Unit. The airfield remained operational after the war ended, and a large area of surrounding land, and sea within the bay, now serve as an MoD bombing range, MoD West Freugh, located three miles (5 km) northeast of Sandhead and five miles (8 km) southeast of Stranraer, extending over the foreshore and much of Luce Bay. The site has also been developed as a satellite ground station, primarily used for the reception of satellite based imagery.

Weapons Range

West Freugh bombing range, 2006
West Freugh bombing range
© Oliver Dixon

Although full time operation of the airfield ended in 2001, it still maintains a main runway of 1,841 metres (6,040 ft), and a secondary runway of 914 metres (3,000 feet) on care and maintenance by defence contractor QinetiQ, who took the facility over at that time. This allows the range to be reopened on a campaign basis to provide a controlled air space in which bombing trials can be conducted and monitored, and short range surface to air missiles (SAM) and rockets can be fired. Fixed and rotary wing machines guns may also be fired into the land or sea ranges.

The sea range covers an area in Luce Bay equating to a triangle of side length 12 miles (20 km), while the Controlled Danger Area extends to some 380 square kilometres, and includes airspace up to 35,000 feet, with an extension to 60,000 feet by Notification to Airmen (NOTAM). This provides land and sea impact areas which include 8 kilometres of beach and shallow water for weapon recovery operations. The site is licensed for munitions storage during campaigns, and provides support for military training.

At sea, inert missiles are fired at soft target barges. On land, there are three large concrete areas provided as soft targets. Live weapons may be directed at the concrete targets, or softer land around them, after which QinetiQ clear the site using explosive ordnance demolition techniques.

The range has also been used to test cluster bombs. In 2000, twelve special protective mattresses were manufactured and installed in Luce Bay to protect the seabed from resultant damage in such tests.

Luce Bay is also used for NATO training exercises, to which the UK armed forces contribute. In September 2003, the RAF took part in a major NATO training exercise called Northern Light, which involved a mock amphibious landing that included approximately fifty ships and submarines, and 34 aircraft from both UK and foreign forces.

Satellite Ground Segment Services

West Freugh radomes, 2006
West Freugh radomes
© John McLeish

Satellite data is received, processed on site, and disseminated via the QinetiQ satellite ground station. The facility comprises seven dishes with diameters up to 13 metres, able to receive S-band, L-band and X-band data links. The coverage footprint extends from Polar regions to North Africa, and from Greenland across the whole of Europe.

The ground stations have been used for and control of the Space Technology Research Vehicle (STRV) microsatellites, and in future will support image data reception from the QinetiQ TopSat satellite.

The data principally involves RADARSAT Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery and ENVISAT optical imagery, although many other satellites can be accessed.

UFO report

A UFO sighting on April 4, 1957, became known as the West Freugh Incident. The sighting was highly publicised, and the press of the time devoted considerable attention to the event.

East Freugh

In 1915, the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) established an airship base at East Freugh, known as RNAS Luce.

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