|RAF Saxa Vord|
|Branch||Royal Air Force|
|Active||1957 – 2006|
|Role||Remote Radar Head|
RAF Saxa Vord was a radar station operated by the Royal Air Force. It was situated on the island of Unst, one of the Shetland Islands in the north of Scotland. Its radar provided long-range coverage of the airspace to the North of Scotland. The station's motto "Praemoneo de Periculis", Forewarn of Danger, reflected its role.
The island of Unst has played an important part in the defence of the UK since the outbreak of the Second World War. By 1945, there were two radar sites in existence — one on Saxa Vord hill, and the other at Skaw on the east coast. This latter is the older, being built in 1941, and was part of the Chain Home radar network as part of the defences of the Sullom Voe flying boat base. Skaw closed in 1947. Ten years later, 91 Signal Unit was formed, and became fully operational on 5 October 1957.
The present station was officially opened on 27 September 1957 as No 91 Signals Unit, and in 1960 was visited by Queen Elizabeth II. In the early days, the site was shared with the Royal Navy which worked in the Admiralty building. In the following years, RAF Saxa Vord was a vital part of Britain's air defence during the Cold War. During this period, there was a game of cat-and-mouse, originally with English Electric Lightning, then F-4 Phantom and finally Tornado F3. RAF Saxa Vord consisted of three sites: the domestic site, the technical site and the married quarters called Setters Hill Estate (SHE).
The technical site was originally home to a Type 80 search radar, a Type 14 standby reporting radar and a Type 13 height finder. The Type 80 was unfortunately lost when it was blown away in 1959 and rebuilt with the radrome being built in 1962 . In 1979, there was a 649 search radar (Type 96) and Height Finder 200, and these were planned to be replaced by the Type 93 in the mid 90s as part of the new IUKADGE system. When The type 93 became obsolete a radical new method was tried. RAF Saxa Vord was a part of the Sector 1 of the UK Air Defence Region (the RAF covering most of NATO Early Warning Area 12, some 750,000 square miles). Sector 1 was the airspace north of the 55th parallel north. Being a Control and Reporting Post(CRP)/ Reporting Post (RP), it passed its radar picture and information (along with RAF Benbecula) to the Sector Operations Centre (SOC /CRC) RAF Buchan, which also received information from the Danish site on the Faroe Islands. It was also home to Shetland Radar, which provided a radar service to civilian helicopters transiting from Aberdeen/Sumburgh and Unst out to the oil fields.
From around 2000 until 2 April 2004, the station operated as RRH Saxa Vord, an unmanned Remote Radar Head operated from a parent station (RAF Buchan). On 2 April 2004, RAF Saxa Vord was upgraded from a Remote Radar Head to a full manned station, taking over control of the radar defences in the area. RAF Buchan will be downgraded to a Remote Radar Head. RAF Saxa Vord closed in April 2006.
RAF Saxa Vord was further north than Leningrad, and on the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. The station was named after Saxa Vord, which is the highest hill on Unst at 935 ft (285 m). It holds the unofficial British record for wind speed, which in 1962 was recorded at 177 mph (285 km/h) — just before the measuring equipment blew away.
After much preliminary work over the previous 12 months, April 2007 saw the purchase of RAF Saxa Vord's Domestic Site, plus the road up to the Mid Site, by Military Asset Management (MAM), a company owned by Highland entrepreneur, Frank Strang. Recognising that military bases tend to be situated in remote rural areas, and that their closure (as a result of the "Cold War peace dividend") can have devastating economic and social consequences for local communities, MAM was established as a private sector business to transform closing bases into self-sustaining, profitable enterprises, encouraging and fostering economic regeneration in the process.
Saxa Vord is being redeveloped into a new tourism venture: Britain's first "residential natural and cultural heritage activity centre", all based on the fascinating and spectacular island of Unst. The concept is simple: to attract like-minded people from all over the world to stay at Saxa Vord, where they will enjoy unique insights into some of the North Atlantic's most iconic natural and cultural heritage.
The first phase is complete, and Saxa Vord currently (2007) offers 20 self-catering holiday houses and a 16-bedroom bunkhouse, together with a restaurant and bar. 2008 will see the launch of a new hotel, leisure facilities and a guided walks/evening talks programme. Local people are being employed whenever possible, and there is direct local involvement in the business. For example, Sonny Priest, owner of Unst's famous Valhalla Brewery, manages and supplies the bar at Saxa Vord, and is about to relocate his brewery to the site.
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