RAF Ascension Island

RAF Ascension Island (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 Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Space Force (USSF). Under the terms of an international agreement between the UK and US governments, only state aircraft (e.g. military and diplomatic flights) are authorised to land at Ascension; however, it is also open to air services between Saint Helena and Ascension.[3]

RAF Ascension Island
Wideawake Airfield
Ascension Island Auxiliary Field
Near Georgetown in Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
A Royal Air Force TriStar at RAF Ascension Island.
Auxilium trans mare
(Latin for 'Support across the Sea')
RAF Ascension Island
Location on Ascension Island
RAF Ascension Island
RAF Ascension Island (South Atlantic)
RAF Ascension Island
RAF Ascension Island (Atlantic Ocean)
Coordinates07°58′10″S 014°23′38″W
TypePermanent Joint Operating Base
Area55 hectares (135.9 acres)
Site information
OwnerUK Ministry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Air Force and US Space Force
Site history
Built1939 (1939)
In use1939–present
Garrison information
Wing Commander Ian Blake (UK)[1]
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
Source: UK MIL AIP – FHAW Ascension / Wideawake[2]

The facility is home to a U.S. Space Force ground tracking station in support of the Eastern Range and rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.


Air station in November 1983.

In 1939 Ascension became important as a high-frequency direction finding radio station covering trade routes.[4] Wideawake Airfield (named after 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.[5] The work was done by the USAAF 38th Engineer Combat Regiment and the airfield opened on 10 July 1942.[6] 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 Second World War.[7]

A U.S. Air Force tracking station (now administered by the U.S. Space Force) was officially activated as a satellite of Patrick Air Force Base (now Patrick Space Force Base) in Florida on 25 June 1956.[8]

The airfield's runway was extended in the latter part of 1980.[8] The base was re-garrisoned by the RAF in 1982 and used extensively as a staging airfield during the Falklands War. At one stage, Wideawake became the busiest airport in the world for the number of aircraft movements.[9] A series of long-range bombing raids was carried out from there under the name Operation Black Buck.[10] The first mission was on 30 April 1982.[11]

In 2017 a parliamentary answer disclosed the runway needed a 'full depth resurfacing'.[12] In June 2020 the U.S. Department of Defense announced the runway would be repaired, with a completion date in 2022 after eighteen months work; until then commercial flights were suspended.[13]

The USAF relies upon contractors to maintain the airfield facilities and the satellite station. An update is underway, with a completion date in 2025.[14]

Target Tracking Radar Station

U.S. Space Force tracking station at Cat Hill.

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.[15] The facility is home to the Detachment 2 of the 45th Mission Support Group, part of the U.S. Space Force's Delta 45. It operates a ground tracking station in support of the Eastern Range and rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.[16]

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".[17]


The station comes under the overall jurisdiction of the Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands, an officer of one-star rank.[18] As of December 2018, the incumbent is Commodore Jonathan Lett.[19]

The RAF airfield on Ascension Island is run on a day-to-day basis by around 19 RAF personnel, headed by a wing commander.[18]

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.[20]

Beginning in November 2017, the Ascension Island Government has contracted South African air 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.[21] Additionally civilian passengers had been permitted on flights to and from RAF Brize Norton with reservations handled by AW Ship Management, with some customers doing package deals combined with the RMS Saint Helena, which travelled between Saint Helena and Cape Town, South Africa until the opening of St Helena Airport to passenger flights.[22][23]

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.[24]

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.[25]

Suspension of operations and runway repair

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 Dakar.[26] 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.[27][28] In February 2021, an RAF A400M aircraft delivered Covid-19 vaccines to the island.[29]

While A330s were unable to land at the airport until the repair reached a stage to permit the resumption of full flight operations, the United States military continued to maintain a weekly flight between the island and Patrick Space Force Base in Florida, only for the use of its personnel, while the MV Ascension supply ship regularly services US facilities.[30]

A C-17 lands on the restored eastern portion of the runway, 31 August 2022

A repair project aimed at restoring service to the airport celebrated its halfway point in March 2022.[31] In August 2022, the eastern portion of the runway was completed, allowing full flight operations to resume, with a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III of the 21st Airlift Squadron being the first aircraft to use the improved runway on 31 August 2022.[32] The repairs to the western side of the runway are expected to be completed in Spring of 2023.[31]

Based units

Units based at Ascension Island.[33][34]

Strategic Command

Director of Overseas Bases

United States Space Force

Space Operations Command (SpOC)

  • Space Launch Delta 45
    • 45th Mission Support Group
      • Detachment 2

Airlines and destinations

Airlink Charter: Johannesburg-O.R. Tambo, Saint Helena
Titan Airways Charter: Saint Helena, London–Stansted[35][36]

On 18 November 2017, SA Airlink started a scheduled weekly charter from Longwood, Saint Helena to the island.[37]

See also


  1. "Ascension Island Base". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 26 December 2022.
  2. "UK MIL AIP Ascension / Wideawake AD-2 FHAW" (PDF). UK Military AIP. No. 1 Aeronautical Information Documents Unit. 13 August 2020. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 October 2020. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  3. "Travel by Air – Ascension Island Government".
  4. Headrick, Daniel R. (2012). The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications and International Politics, 1851-1945. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199930333.
  5. "Ascension Island - The Wide-Awake News". www.les-smith.com.
  6. "Wideawake Airfield, Ascension Island; Fortfinder".
  7. "Ascension History". mysterra.org. Mysterra Magazine. Archived from the original on 27 October 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  8. Mueller, Robert (1989). Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982 (PDF) (Report). Vol. I. Office of Air Force History. p. 464. ISBN 0-912799-53-6. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  9. "Falklands Conflict Gallery". www.bbc.co.uk.
  10. White, Rowland (2012). Vulcan 607. London: Bantam Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-593-07126-7. OCLC 941503520.
  11. Kent, Matt (2 August 2016). "Ascension Island's Wideawake Airfield".
  12. "Written questions and answers - Written questions, answers and statements - UK Parliament". questions-statements.parliament.uk.
  13. "Ascension Island airport to reopen to wide-body traffic by 2022". MercoPress.
  14. Allison, George (7 July 2020). "Chugach wins 9m USAF contract to support RAF Ascension Island".
  15. 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
  16. "45th Mission Support Group – Fact Sheet". 45th Space Wing. July 2017. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  17. "Avis Part Nineteen - A Time For Change". Ascension Island Heritage Society. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  18. "Troops in South Atlantic 'for long term' | British Forces News". Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  19. "Royal Navy commodore new Commander of BFSAI at MPC in Falklands". MercoPress. Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  20. Eklund, Dylan (2015). "A rock and a hard place". The Official Royal Air Force Review 2015: 118. ISSN 1758-9681.
  21. "Airlink-Ascension Island Government". Ascension Island Government. 5 October 2017. Archived from the original on 14 October 2017. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  22. "RMS St Helena Brochure" (PDF). AW Ship Management. p. 18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 January 2020. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  23. "RAF Flights Fly with the RAF and meet the RMS en route". AW Ship Management. Archived from the original on 26 December 2019. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  24. Hradecky, Simon (10 January 2013). "Incident: Delta B772 over Atlantic on Jan 9th 2013, engine trouble". Aviation Herald. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  25. "Defence High Frequency Communications Service" (PDF). High Frequency Industry Association. Babcock International Group. 5 September 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 October 2017. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  26. Leithead, Alastair (4 July 2017). "Ascension: The increasingly unreachable island". BBC News. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  27. "South Atlantic Airbridge ops at Ascension Island suspended". Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  28. Wintour, Patrick (2 May 2017). "Runway potholes halt regular Ascension Island flights". The Guardian.
  29. "RAF transport Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean". Royal Air Force. 19 February 2021. Retrieved 26 December 2022.
  30. Haff, Capt. Dana (17 December 1998). "M.V. Ascension". The Islander. Ascension Island: The Islander Newspaper (1414). Retrieved 5 May 2008.
  31. Cisneros, Mila (2 March 2022). "Atlantic runway repair reaches halfway point". Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  32. Cisneros, Mila (8 September 2022). "Atlantic runway reopens, increases U.S., British military capabilities". Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  33. "Director of Overseas Bases". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 18 December 2019. Retrieved 8 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  34. Williams, Airman 1st Class Dalton (6 February 2019). "Small island, big mission – Ascension Island supports 45 SW". 45th Space Wing. US Air Force. Archived from the original on 3 August 2020. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  35. "Charter Flight Update". St Helena Government. 2 December 2020. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  36. "Titan Airways Charter Flights - August 2021 To March 2022". 17 June 2021.
  37. "(HLE Departures) Saint Helena Airport Departures". FlightStats. Retrieved 21 August 2018.

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