Royal Air Force Air Defence Radar Museum
Roger Cook/Pynelea Photo Bureau looks at one of East Anglia's newer museums
This Museum, situated at the former RAF Neatishead in Norfolk, was originally set up in 1994, but as this was then within the confines of the base only limited access was available. It has been fully open to the public since 1999.
RAF Neatishead has a history with radar going back to 1941 and there has been a continuous operational presence here for over sixty years. Neatishead radars have kept a monitoring watch to keep Britain protected, first from the German aircraft in the Second World War and then from the Soviet aircraft travelling from Northern Russia. It will probably be best known to military aviation enthusiasts as the Ground Control (GCI) base from which the Lightnings, Phantoms and Tornados were scrambled from their QRA shelters to intercept the aircraft, usually Bisons, of the Soviet Union as they flew down over the North Sea or followed a route north of Scotland into the Atlantic.
The museum recreates the early radar plotting of approaching enemy aircraft in 1940 during the Battle of Britain and shows the rapid development of radar by the scenario of a GCI Room in 1942. At the end of the 1940s the West was to enter an era of hostile confrontation with the USSR, known as the 'Cold War'. An extensive and sophisticated system of surveillance measures evolved and this is clearly represented by the Cold War Operations Room that has been preserved just as the final operational shift left it on 14 June 1993, when the Operations Room was relocated to a refurbished underground bunker on the site, until this finally ceased operation in mid-2004.
This was my first visit to this Museum and I had allowed myself about an hour and a half, but well over three and a half hours later I was still there and still had not seen all there was to see! There are excellent tours about every half an hour conducted by guides who all seem to have been involved with RAF Neatishead over the years and can provide an in depth knowledge of the equipment and facilities.
There is also a history room showing the development of aircraft detection from 1930 and a memorial room dedicated to nearby RAF Coltishall. In this room it was pleasing to see that examples of the art work applied to Jaguars in the 'first' Gulf War have been preserved - unfortunately, the RAF Neatishead gate guard, Phantom FGR2 XV420, was scrapped on site in July 2005.
For anyone with an interest in military aircraft operations within the United Kingdom this Museum provides a very interesting look into the less obvious, but vitally important, work for the defence of our shores.
The Museum brochure carries the strapline "It's bigger than you think", which is absolutely right! Well worth a visit! For more information see the museum website.