Nine hours after taking off from Brize Norton, the RAF base in Oxfordshire that serves as the air link to locations such as Mount Pleasant (Falkland Islands), Akrotiri (Cyprus) and Camp Bastion (Afghanistan), we arrived on Ascension Island.
This remarkable island of one of a number of UK Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic (including South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, Saint Helena, etc). Located in the central South Atlantic Island, it is over 1000 miles from the Angolan coastline and some 1400 miles from Brazil. This volcanic island is one of the most remote in the world. Occupied by the British since 1815, around 800 people inhabit the 34 square miles of the Islands, much of which is dedicated as a nature reserve.
As you land into Wide Awake Airfield, you see some of the material infrastructure that makes Ascension one of the most strategically important spaces in the southern hemisphere. There is a well established Anglo-American signals intelligence facility, a European Space Agency rocket tracking station and the BBC World Service Atlantic Relay Station (which played a crucial role during the Falklands War). The island also hosts one of the main antennae involved with the Global Positioning System. There is, however, a limited tourist industry here and is regarded as an opportunity for this overseas territory to generate some income diversification.
After a two hour lay-over, we left the small terminal and headed back to the plane for the eight hour flight to the Falklands, mindful that our route was the one taken by the Vulcan bombers sent to attack Stanley airport in late April/early May 1982. Ascension Island, some thirty years later, remains a vital air-bridge with the Falklands and is the main mechanism for rapid reinforcement of these South West Atlantic islands in the event of any crisis.
KD & AP, Stanley, Falkland Islands