By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
ROYAL AIR FORCE FYLINGDALES, ENGLAND — Standing on a grassy knoll in the upland heath of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, beyond the vast fields of heather a figure may be seen looming large and imposing in the distance. No, it is not the legendary Hound of the Baskervilles, but rather the 120-feet tall solid state phased array radar system at Royal Air Force Fylingdales.
RAF Fylingdales is unique among geographically separated units of the 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The U.S. Air Force presence on the British base consists of a single person, a U.S. Air Force Liaison Officer reporting to the 21st Operations Group. That role is presently filled by Maj. Ryan Durand.
The Upgrade Early Warning System data collected at the site is shared between the United States and the United Kingdom in an agreement dating back to 1960. Along with Beale Air Force Base in California and Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, Fylingdales is the third part of the UEWS network. One benefit to the equipment at Fylingdales is that the array is three-sided and offers a 360 degree view, opposed to the two-sided variations used elsewhere.
The base motto of Vigilamus meaning “We are Watching” certainly fits. Its primary mission is to maintain around the clock missile warning capability for both the U.S. and U.K., protecting against any type of surprise missile attack that would be launched by adversaries.
Fylingdales’ secondary mission is to find, identify and track manmade objects in space. The site monitors objects in near earth orbit out to a distance of about 3,000 nautical miles. During the course of a day Fylingdales may tally as many as 55,000 tracking incidents, which can be the same object crossing its path more than once.
Durand’s role is to be sure U.S. and U.K. elements are in synch operationally.
Durand advises the 21st OG commander, as well as the RAF Fylingdales station commander on significant issues. While he is at the base in a support role, Durand is certified as a crew commander and is scheduled for regular shifts.
He has worked in the missile arena for some time and labels Fylingdales as quite different. His responsibilities include a number of functions like finance and supply in addition to his operational role.
Upon his assignment to Fylingdales, which is two hours from the nearest U.S. base and its amenities, Durand said he got a truly overseas assignment. Being in a more remote location is more immersive into local culture than a similar experience on a larger base.
He and his wife live in the town of Whitby on the North Sea. Whitby’s abby is thought to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker when he wrote the novel Dracula. Many of the towns in the area may be familiar to those who watch the TV show Downton Abby, he said.
“It is a place I will look back on during my career,” said Durand. “It’s one of the most unique experiences I have ever had.”
The weather took some getting used to, but is not extreme. Durand said it is misty, foggy and rainy about half of the time, but in the summer it is typically in the 60s and in the winter it is in the 30s. In the summer the area is popular with tourists.
“It’s a unique place. It’s small town living,” Durand said. “If it was a warm area it would be the best in the world.”
Being previously stationed with Detachment 1, 21st OG in New Mexico and part of the wing since 2010 has provided Durand with valuable contacts that he can reach out to when needed.
“It’s great to know I can reach out and get help,” he said. “I may be out of sight, but I know all I have to do is ask for help.”
That help is vital to his role in helping maintain the partnership and capabilities the U.S. and U.K. have shared for nearly 70 years.