RAF Ascension Island

RAF Ascension (IATA: ASI, ICAO: FHAW), also known as Wideawake Airfield or Ascension Island Auxiliary Field, is a military airfield and facility located on Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean. The airfield is jointly operated by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Air Force (USAF).

RAF Ascension
Wideawake Airfield
Ascension Island Auxiliary Field
Part of British Forces South Atlantic Islands
Near Georgetown in Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
An RAF Tristar at RAF Ascension Island.
Auxilium Trans Mare
(Latin for Support across the Sea)
RAF Ascension Island
Shown within Ascension Island
Coordinates07°58′10″S 014°23′38″W
TypePermanent Joint Operating Base
Area55 hectares
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Air Force and US Air Force
Controlled byJoint Forces Command
Site history
Built1939 (1939)
In use1939 – present
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: ASI, ICAO: FHAW, WMO: 61902
Elevation78.6 metres (258 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
13/31 3,054 metres (10,020 ft) Asphalt
No Instrument landing system (ILS)

The facility is home to a USAF ground tracking station in support of the Eastern Range and rocket launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida.


Ascension Island forms part of a British Overseas Territory together with Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha.

In 1939 Ascension became important as a high-frequency direction finding radio station covering trade routes.

Wideawake Airfield (named for a noisy colony of sooty terns nearby) was built by the US military in 1942 by arrangement with the British government. The airfield was built using a US task force.[1] The first aircraft to land on Ascension Island was a Fairey Swordfish from HMS Archer in June, 1942 and it 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.

A USAF tracking station was officially activated as a satellite of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida on 25 June 1956.[3]

The airfield's runway was extended in the Autumn of 1980.[3] It 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.

Target Tracking Radar Station

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" radar antenna was on Cat Hill, and a collimation tower for radar calibration was towards English Bay.[4] The facility is home to the Detachment 2 of the 45th Mission Support Group, part of the USAF 45th Space Wing. It operates a ground tracking station in support of the Eastern Range and rocket launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida.[5]

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".


The station comes under the overall jurisdiction of the Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands, an officer of one-star rank.[6] As of December 2018, the incumbent is Brigadier Nick Sawyer.[7]

The RAF airfield on Ascension Island is run on a day-to-day basis by around 19 RAF personnel, headed by a wing commander.[6]As of August 2019, the incumbent is Wing Commander John Kane.

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.[8]

Beginning in November 2017, the Ascension Island Government has contracted South African Carrier Airlink to conduct regularly scheduled charter flights between Saint Helena Airport and Ascension Island on a monthly basis. Flights are currently scheduled on the second week of every month, arriving at Ascension on Saturday afternoon and returning to Saint Helena on Sunday morning. The first of these flights are scheduled for 18 and 19 November 2017.[9]

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.[10]

The site is home to a high frequency radio station forming part of the Defence High Frequency Communications Service. The station is operated by Babcock International Group on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.[11]


Potholes on the runway led to the suspension in April 2017 of all Ministry of Defence South Atlantic Air Bridge Flights between RAF Mount Pleasant and RAF Brize Norton until at least 2019/2020. An Airbus A330 aircraft operated by AirTanker Services on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom) carried out those flights although a limited number of commercial passenger tickets were available. Those flights now travel via Cape Verde.[12] Planes for emergency medical evacuation flights and the newly established monthly charter flight to Saint Helena Airport are not impacted given the size of aircraft used. Essential personnel and equipment are also exempt from the suspension.[13][14]

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 C-17 for the UK's MoD lands there at Ascension once a month for its own personnel.[12]

Airlines and destinations

Airlink Charter: Saint Helena, Johannesburg-O.R. Tambo

On 18 November 2017, SA Airlink started a scheduled weekly charter from Jamestown St Helena to the island.[15]

See also


  1. "Ascension Island - The Wide-Awake News".
  2. "Ascension History". mysterra.org. Mysterra Magazine. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  3. 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. 464. ISBN 0-912799-53-6. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  4. Avis, Graham (9 February 2002), "Avis Part Eighteen - Curry or Stew!", An Introduction to the History of Ascension Island (personal anecdote), retrieved 13 April 2014, 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
  5. "45th Mission Support Group – Fact Sheet". 45th Space Wing. July 2017. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. "Brigadier Nick Sawyer, new Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands". MercoPress. 7 December 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  8. Eklund, Dylan (2015). "A rock and a hard place". The Official Royal Air Force Review 2015: 118. ISSN 1758-9681.
  9. "Airlink-Ascension Island Government". Ascension Island Government. 5 October 2017. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  10. Hradecky, Simon (10 January 2013). "Incident: Delta B772 over Atlantic on Jan 9th 2013, engine trouble". Aviation Herald. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  11. "Defence High Frequency Communications Service" (PDF). High Frequency Industry Association. Babcock International Group. 5 September 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  12. Leithead, Alastair (4 July 2017). "Ascension: The increasingly unreachable island". Retrieved 19 October 2017 via www.bbc.co.uk.
  13. "South Atlantic Airbridge ops at Ascension Island suspended". Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  14. editor, Patrick Wintour Diplomatic (2 May 2017). "Runway potholes halt regular Ascension Island flights". Retrieved 19 October 2017 via www.theguardian.com.
  15. "(HLE Departures) Saint Helena Airport Departures". FlightStats. Retrieved 21 August 2018.

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

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