The members who took up the limited number of places available to visit to RAF Boulmer were not disappointed.
RAF Boulmer started its life in 1940 as a decoy airfield for RAF Acklington, evolving through the Cold War to its current role. Although the long standing air/sea rescue function at RAF Boulmer was widely understood, we learnt that this is a subsidiary function of the Station. Its main task is the protection of the airspace of the whole of the UK, as the hub of the UK Air Surveillance and Control Systems Force. All civil and military aircraft are tracked in the Control and Reporting Centre, and any unidentified aircraft are intercepted by military jets.
Two floors underground in the Operations Centre, staff work in shifts round the clock at screens depicting air lanes and flight movement, monitoring all movements from civilian microlights to jumbo jets. In a combat simulation, they also demonstrated directing flights over the North Sea, with real fighter planes and real flight crews!
We had recently seen press and TV reports of Russian incursions into UK airspace, and learned that it was from this centre that the monitoring was done, and the planes scrambled to intercept them and to escort them around and out of our air space.
RAF Boulmer is also home to the RAF School of Aerospace Battle Management, which runs high level air battle management courses for the UK Armed Forces and personnel from NATO and other allies. Programmes involve operational training, augmented by flight simulators, to support war-fighting operations, peace-keeping duties and delivering humanitarian aid.
Station personnel are actively involved in many local community projects and support several local charities. The Station has been honoured by receiving the Freedom of Northumberland.
We felt privileged to have visited Boulmer, and went home in a more thoughtful mood.
John Hardy & Rosemary Bell