The Royal Air Force Air Defence Radar Museum

A Registered Charity

Introduction & Welcome

World War II

In 1941, the Air Ministry surveyed a piece of land not far from the Broads at Horning in Norfolk with a view to establishing a site to host a brand new Air Defence station, a Ground Control Intercept station to be exact, from where Fighter Controllers, backed up by a wide range of support staff, could direct RAF fighters, day or night, to attack enemy aircraft from Germany as they launched raids against Military and Industrial targets in Norfolk as well as against the City of Norwich itself.  

In September 1941, two years into the Second World War, the first Secret radar system was installed at the new Radar Station of RAF Neatishead.  Initially, the complement of forty airmen and airwomen was billeted at a local village and training began in this radical early warning system. At first, the station was home to temporary mobile Radars but it was soon to boast new, improved fixed Radar systems such as the Type 7 Search Radar and Type 13 Height-finding Radars.  The hardened Control Room, the “Happidrome” was built and it is this very building which, today, forms part of the Museum.  

The Cold War

At the end of World War II in 1945 the world entered seamlessly into a new conflict that was to last 45 years – the Cold War.  As the defences for the United Kingdom were reorganised with fewer but more advanced Radar Stations to meet the new threat, RAF Neatishead continued to play an increasingly important role in the Air Defence of Great Britain.  The station was established as a Sector Operations Centre (SOC) and continued to be used as such until 2004, by which time the only other SOC was in Buchan, Scotland.  In 1954, the main Operations Centre was re-established deep underground in a vast two-storey hardened Bunker designed to withstand attack by Nuclear bombs.

Between them, the Centres were responsible to NATO for the Air Defence of the UK, the Western North Sea (including the vital oil production platforms), and the Eastern North Atlantic well out past Ireland.  To provide cover over such a vast area, a number of remote Radar sites were set up to feed information in to the Sector Operations Centres, with Trimingham on the North Norfolk Coast being the Radar site still associated with RAF Neatishead today. By 2004, technology had improved to such an extent that all controlling functions could be undertaken from one Control Centre at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland.

Neatishead Today

Today, the aim of the base at Neatishead is to “to provide radar, ground-to-air radio and data links coverage as part of the UK Air Surveillance And Control System (ASACS), in support of national and NATO air defence; a task that has become increasingly important after the tragic events of 9/11.” Now called a Remote Radar Head, staff based here are responsible for both the Radar at Trimingham as well as equipment at a number of other sites in North Norfolk and at Neatishead itself.  Information is sent by secure datalinks from the various systems to RAF Boulmer where the Controllers monitor UK airspace.

The Birth of the Museum

The end of the Cold War means that the secret world of Air Defence is open to public scrutiny. The Museum traces the history and development of Air Defence Radar since its invention in 1935 right up to today's defence of the UK and British Forces abroad. The Museum, originally called the ‘Air Defence Battle Command and Control Museum’, was officially opened in 1994 once the underground Bunker was re-commissioned after a fire in 1966. Only 5 rooms in the main building were available and the Museum was only open to pre-booked groups who had to enter the Museum via the main RAF Neatishead gate. All work and tours were conducted by a small group of volunteers. In 1997 the Museum became a charitable trust and the Chair of the Board of Trustees was designated to the Officer Commanding RAF Neatishead.

On the 1st January 1999, the Air Force Board Standing Committee decided to agree to a new name for the Museum, the Air Defence Radar Museum and granted us permission to use RAF in the title signifying the very close links the Museum has with the Air Force. Unfortunately, this did not provide funds. Also in 1999 the shop was re-located, a new entrance opened and an additional 6 exhibition rooms opened. In the background, a bid was made to the Museum and Galleries Commission for Registration to conform to national standards of collection and visitor care. Full Registration was granted in 2002.

The Museum Today

Today, the Museum is an independent Trust and the Chairman of the Trustees is Air Commodore Kevin Pellatt RAF with Air Chief Marshal Sir John Allison RAF as our Patron. Running the Museum is the Manager, Beth Condie.  

He is supported by a team of dedicated Volunteers most of whom have worked at Neatishead at one time or another or have very strong links to the Base.  Without the dedication and expertise of the Volunteers, the Museum simply would not exist.  They are totally dedicated to the aim of the Museum which is “to provide a focal point for the heritage associated with the air defence of the United Kingdom and in particular all elements of the command and control (C²) organisation associated with it”.

This once secret world has a substantial amount to offer the general public about the history of a specialisation the Royal Air Force has hitherto kept under lock and key and which has little public recognition.  So, why not visit us for a great day out?  Over 6,000 a year do!


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