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RAF Edzell

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Edzell station sign
Edzell station sign

The disused airfield of RAF Edzell, located near the village of Edzell, Angus, was home to a Circular Disposed Antenna Array (CDAA), located in the southern quadrant formed between the crossing of the airfield's two 1,500 metre runways.

The airfield was first established to the east of the village during World War I, and was disbanded in 1919. During the 1930s it operated as a civilian airfield, but the outbreak of World War II saw its return to service in 1940, as RAF Edzell. The airfield served as an aircraft maintenance facility, and by the end of the war held some 800 aircraft in reserve.

In the early 1950's the base housed a small detachment of USAF members of the 10th. Radio Squadron Mobile out of Chicksands RAF near Bedford, England. In the late 1950s the site was used as a motor racing circuit, however only few races were held before it was reopened. One of the last sports car races on the circuit was won by the future double World GP Champion Jim Clark. The last motor racing meeting at Edzell took place on Saturday, June 20, 1959.

RAF Edzell reopened in 1960, forming part of the United States Navy (USN) global High Frequency Direction Finding (HFDF) network, used to track various targets around the world. Up to 3,000 personnel were said to have been stationed at RAF Edzell. The ending of the Cold War, and advances in technology rendered the HF network obsolete, and the base closed in October 1997, by which time staffing levels had fallen to 300 local, and 700 military personnel. This marked the end of 37 years of US Navy operations and 85 years of RAF service.

From 1968 to 1978, US Navy staff from RAF Edzell also operated the Inverbervie CEW Radar Station, located a little over ten miles to the east on the headland at Inverbervie.

£4 million was made available through the Central Challenge Fund over the following three years for a package of measures put forward by Angus and Aberdeenshire Councils, with the support of the Edzell Task Force, to strengthen the local economy following the withdrawal of the US Navy from RAF Edzell.[1]

We are grateful to our friends at Subterranea Britannica for permission to reproduce the following details. Please be sure to review the original reports at the links given below.

Computer and communications centre, © http://www.subbrit.org.uk/rsg
Computer and communications
© Subterranea Britannica

Site Name: RAF Edzell
Edzell, Angus, Scotland

RSG site visit 11th October 2001

RAF Edzel was home to the US Navy security group's Oceanographic Monitoring Station, monitoring the North Sea and the coast around the north of Britain. It worked in conjunction with the former ROTOR site at Inverbervie which had also been taken over by the US Navy in 1960. The hub of the base was the massive receiver building which had two levels below ground. This would have relayed information to the computer and communications centre.

The base closed in 1996, the domestic site has been sold and the housing reused. The airfield site is still secure with no evidence of any demolition. Site visits are inadvisable.

© Subterranea Britannica

In addition to its main HFDF role, Edzell is also believed to have hosted a USAF (United States Air Force) solar observatory. Such observatories, noting solar events which could affect long-distance communications, were normally equipped with an AN/FMQ-8 Optical Telescope (this may be in error, as we have subsequently identified the AN/FMQ-8 as a Dew Point and Temperature Measuring Facility, while the Solar Optical Telescope is designated AN/FMQ-7) and an AN/FRR-95 Radio Telescope. The actual configuration of equipment at the observatory is not known.

A further activity at the base has been discovered in a report which includes the facility in a list of those which formed part of the US Navy's White Cloud Naval Observation Satellite System (NOSS) program:

In its fully deployed form the Navy's White Cloud ELINT system has four groups of SSU satellites with orbital planes distributed at 60 to 120 degrees along the equator and a complex of ground stations for receiving and processing signals located in the US (Blossom Point, Maryland and Winter Harbor, Maine), Great Britain (Edsel (sic), Scotland), on the islands Guam, Diego Garcia, Adak, and in other locations. Operational control of the system is carried out by the Navy Space Command, and processing of the reconnaissance signals is done in the Navy's information center in Suitland (Maryland) and regional Navy intelligence centers in Spain, Great Britain, Japan and Hawaii.
- The US Navy White Cloud Space borne ELINT System.[2]

The base was also home to a small purchasing mission which acted on behalf of USAFE (United States Air Force Europe) in the matter of beef purchases, presumably Aberdeen Angus.

A report has also been noted regarding The closure of the 17th Space Surveillance Squadron at RAF Edzell, Scotland, in October 1996.[3]

High Frequency Direction Finding and the CDAA

Based on information published for similar arrays seen in the United States, operated by the USN, this facility was used for HFDF work in the range of 2 to 32 MHz, and was known as an FRD-10. Their function was to detect, monitor, and plot the location of Soviet submarines and other radio emitters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The largest array was some 260 m in diameter, 36 m high, and sat on a ground plane of 390 m diameter, with a two storey building at its centre, housing the main equipment and operators.

There were sixteen AN/FRD-10 high-frequency direction-finding arrays built by the United States and Canada during the 1960s and 1970s. These sixteen stations, along with a number of Pusher HFDF arrays, comprised the US Naval Security Group's BULLSEYE HFDF net. Pushers was simply the name given to simpler CDAAs.

FRD-10s were constructed at the following sites:

  • Adak, Alaska
  • Edzell, Scotland
  • Galeta Island, Panama
  • Gander, Newfoundland, Canada
  • Guam
  • Hanza, Okinawa
  • Homestead, Florida
  • Imperial Beach, California
  • Marietta, Washington
  • Masset, British Columbia, Canada
  • Northwest, Virginia
  • Rota, Spain
  • Sebana Seca, Puerto Rico
  • Skaggs Island, California
  • Wahiawa, Hawaii
  • Winter Harbor, Maine

The NSG FRD-10s were closed down during the 1990s, and most have since been dismantled, although some of the dismantled ones are still visible in older photos. Only the Canadian sites (Gander and Masset) remain in operation in 2005, remotely operated from Leitrim, Ontario.

Another two FRD-10s were built at Sugar Grove, West Virginia, but were used for communications rather than HFDF, so are omitted from this list.

White Cloud Naval Observation Satellite System NOSS

Further research has revealed that Edzell was named as one of the ground stations involved in the US Navy's White Cloud Naval Observation Satellite System (NOSS) program.

This performed wide area ocean surveillance, intended to determine the location of radio and radars transmissions, using triangulation. The identity of such subjects can be deduced by analysing the operating frequencies and transmission patterns of their transmissions. This is achieved using a satellite cluster which comprises one primary satellite together with three smaller sub-satellites following at several hundred kilometres in low polar orbit.

NOSS uses the Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) technique of Time Difference Of Arrival (TDOA), rather than true interferometry. In principle, TDOA and interferometry are similar, but distinct, techniques for determining the location of a subject. The frequency domain version of TDOA, Frequency Difference Of Arrival (FDOA) is also used, and exploits the Doppler shifts measured between the satellites and the subject, but has the added complication of requiring the existence of relative motion between the satellites themselves, as well as the subject.

Reports dating to 1990 indicate that the White Cloud constellation consists of two clusters of primary and secondary satellites, which were launched on February 9, 1986 and May 15, 1987, which appears to have been the program's last launch. White Cloud is being replaced by the Space Based Wide Area Surveillance System (SBWASS) program, initiated in the early 1980s, able to track ships and aircraft on a global basis. The US Navy was then primarily concerned with defending carrier battle groups from long range Soviet aviation, while the US Air Force requirement was then for the extension of the strategic air defence warning network covering the Arctic Ocean.


1 Central Challenge Fund

2 The US Navy White Cloud Space borne ELINT System

3 Closure of the 17th Space Surveillance Squadron

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