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RAF Kirkwall

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RAF Kirkwall, also known as RAF Grimsetter, and later commissioned as HMS Robin, was used as a satellite and relief airfield for fighter and coastal operations over the Scottish islands, and naval bases located throughout their area.

Kirkwall (or Grimsetter) was a Fighter Sector Station, and an RAF Sector Operations Room and Gun Control Room which was located to the northwest of the airfield, to the east of the A960 road leading to the town of Kirkwall. This came to be known locally as the Black Building due to its external appearance.

Three runways were installed, in an unusual cross pattern. Each runway is asphalt, 46 metres in width:

  • 07/25 Asphalt 1,168 m
  • 09/27 Asphalt 1,432 m
  • 15/33 Asphalt 560 m

The airfield was initially operated by the RAF from 1940, then transferred to the Royal Navy when the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) commissioning HMS Robin there from April 24, 1943. It finally reverted to the RAF on June 31, 1945,


New control tower, 2004
New control tower
© Adrian Beney

RAF Kirkwall became a civilian airport in 1948, taking over the role of Kirkwall Airport over from the site of the former RNAS Hatston which had by then become to small to handle newer and larger aircraft which the operator BEA had introduced to the island's mainland service. The airfield is also used for inter-island air services.

During the 1960s, one of the runways was extended to accommodate the continuing increase in size of civilian aircraft using the airport.

The original wartime control tower, fitted with a modern glass control room on top, served the airport until c. 20000, when a modern tower was built to replace it. The old tower was due to be demolished, but its fate is unknown.

Western view over airfield, 2004
Western view over airfield
© Ken Walton

Little of the original World War II structure remains on the airfield, as a numerous upgrades have taken place over the years to keep pace with its civilian operation, and the construction of a modern terminal building to serve its customers. Past reports of the airfield listed the survival of two Type S hangars - the Type S hangar has a length of 50 feet, span of 60.5 feet, and height of 20 feet, and was built mainly on RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) airfields, being designed specifically to accommodate folding wing aircraft. Three dispersal bays were reported to the northern and eastern perimeters, together with a number of concrete bases which show where the dispersed shelters for the aircraft crew were located. A large Nissen type hut was also noted to have survived to the west of the modern terminal.

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Aerial views



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