RAF Ascension Island

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RAF Ascension
Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Wideawake Airfield
Part of British Forces South Atlantic Islands
Near Georgetown in Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
RAF Tristar at Ascension Island.jpg
A RAF Tristar at RAF Ascension Island.
RAF Ascension Island crest.png
Auxilium Trans Mare
(Latin for Support across the Sea)
RAF Ascension Island is located in Atlantic Ocean
RAF Ascension Island
RAF Ascension Island
Shown within the Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates 07°58′10″S 014°23′38″W / 7.96944°S 14.39389°W / -7.96944; -14.39389Coordinates: 07°58′10″S 014°23′38″W / 7.96944°S 14.39389°W / -7.96944; -14.39389
Type Permanent Joint Operating Base
Area 55 hectares
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
Controlled by Joint Forces Command
Website www.ascension-flights.com/ascension-flights-info.htm
Site history
Built 1939 (1939)
In use 1939 – present
Airfield information
Identifiers IATA: ASI, ICAO: FHAW, WMO: 61902
Elevation 78.6 metres (258 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
13/31 3,054 metres (10,020 ft) Asphalt
No Instrument landing system (ILS)

RAF Ascension (IATA: ASIICAO: FHAW) (more commonly known as RAF Ascension Island, and sometimes known as Wideawake Airfield or Ascension Island Base), is a British Royal Air Force station on Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Equator.


In 1939 Ascension became important as a HF/DF radio station covering trade routes. The first aircraft to land on Ascension Island was a Fairey Swordfish from HMS Archer in June, 1942.

Wideawake Airfield[edit]

Wideawake Airfield (named for a noisy colony of sooty terns nearby) was a World War II US military installation built in 1942 by arrangement with the British government. The airfield was built using a US task force[1] and went on to be used by more than 25,000 aircraft as a staging point during the war.[2] The airfield was abandoned at the end of the war and fell into disuse.

Ascension Island Auxiliary Field[edit]

Ascension Island Auxiliary Field was being built by 181 men from Saint Helena for the United States Air Force (USAF) by 1957[3] (official activation as a satellite of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida was on 25 June 1956). [4]

Target Tracking Radar Station[edit]

The Target Tracking Radar Station was a Nike Zeus test facility for tracking reentry vehicles from Cape Canaveral missile launches. Built from 1960-1961 for anti-ballistic missile measurement, the "Golf Ball" was on Cat Hill, and a collimation tower for radar calibration was towards English Bay.[3]

NASA stations[edit]

The NASA Tracking Station at Devil's Ashpit and the Cable & Wireless Earth Station at Donkey Plain were built in the mid-1960s for space operations and communications, including the latter's use for transmitting "microwave borne data via the Early Bird Satellite back to the NASA facility at Andover, Maine."

RAF airfield[edit]

RAF Ascension Island was re-garrisoned by the RAF in 1982 and used extensively as a staging airfield during the Falklands War. A series of long-range bombing raids was carried out from there under the name Operation Black Buck.


Air station in November 1983.

The station comes under the overall jurisdiction of the Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands, an officer of one-star rank. As of 2013, this post has been held by Air Commodore Russ LaForte.[5] The RAF airfield on Ascension Island is run on a day-to-day basis by around 19 RAF personnel, headed by a wing commander.[5]

RAF Ascension Island is normally the refuelling point for the Ministry of Defence's South Atlantic air bridge flights to RAF Mount Pleasant, on the Falkland Islands, from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, in the UK.[6]

Ascension serves as a diversion airport for ETOPS aircraft crossing the Atlantic. In January 2013, a Delta Air Lines Boeing 777-200LR en route from Johannesburg to Atlanta diverted to Ascension as a result of engine problems.[7]


Potholes on the runway led to the suspension in April 2017 of all regular flights to and from the island until at least 2019/2020, though emergency medical evacuation flights are not impacted. Essential personnel and equipment are also exempt from the suspension.[8][9]

An Airbus A330 aircraft operated by AirTanker Services on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom) carried out those flights, called the South Atlantic Air Bridge, although a limited number of commercial passenger tickets were available. Those flights now travel via Cape Verde.[10]

While A330s are for now unable to land at the airport, the United States military continues to maintain a weekly flight between the island and Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, only for the use of its personnel, while the MV Ascension supply ship regularly services US facilities.

A C17 for the UK's MoD lands there at Ascension once a month for its own personnel.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ascension Island - The Wide-Awake News". 
  2. ^ "Ascension History". mysterra.org. Mysterra Magazine. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Avis, Graham (9 February 2002), "Avis Part Eighteen - Curry or Stew!", An Introduction to the History of Ascension Island (personal anecdote), retrieved 2014-04-13, By the end of 1956, 181 St Helenian men were employed in a temporary capacity on Ascension Island constructing the US Base. … The Base operations were eventually expanded by the addition of a Target Tracking Radar Station, which was built from 1960 - 1961. This facility, known as the Golf Ball, was built on a site overlooking the Archer Cemetery at Comfortless Cove. It meant the construction of a separate road, the Nike Zeus Road, to the area, replacing the old dirt road from the back of Long Beach. A collimation tower, complete with its own access track cutting across the old Victorian path to the sand blowhole was constructed part of the way towards English Bay, to calibrate the radar. … mid-sixties of the NASA Tracking Station at Devil's Ashpit, and the Cable & Wireless Earth Station at Donkey Plain. This station was built by Cable & Wireless and Marconi at the request of NASA 
  4. ^ Mueller, Robert (1989). Air Force Bases (PDF) (Report). Volume I: Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Office of Air Force History. p. 600. ISBN 0-912799-53-6. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  5. ^ a b http://www.bfbs.com/news/troops-south-atlantic-long-term-64980.html
  6. ^ Eklund, Dylan (2015). "A rock and a hard place". The Official Royal Air Force Review 2015: 118. ISSN 1758-9681. 
  7. ^ Hradecky, Simon (10 January 2013). "Incident: Delta B772 over Atlantic on Jan 9th 2013, engine trouble". Aviation Herald. Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  8. ^ https://www.ch-aviation.com/portal/news/55513-south-atlantic-airbridge-ops-at-ascension-island-suspended
  9. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/may/02/runway-potholes-halt-regular-ascension-island-flights
  10. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40442318
  11. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40442318

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

External links[edit]