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Holbeach map

RAF Holbeach lies on the Lincolnshire coast on the south eastern corner of the Wash, and around 8 miles north east of the town from which it derives its name, Holbeach. Opening in 1926 the area has always been used as a range, but did for a short period include a grass landing strip which soon went out of use.

Shown on aeronautical charts as Danger area EGD 307, it is also known as the Wash Weapons airspace. The range covers an area from Gedney Drove End to Dawsmere. It has a frontage of around 7km of marshland, and when the current range boundaries are taken into account, the range covers an area of some 42 square kilometres. The accommodation consists of a headquarters site, a control tower, and four bomb scoring towers or 'quadrants'. The site is open for use Monday to Thursday from 0900 - 1700hrs daily, with Friday being open from 0900 – 1200hrs. Opening times vary between 1st September and 30th April when the range is open for night flying on Tuesday and Thursdays, until 2200hrs local time.

The whole of the site can be observed by the public from the road which is a right of way. It should not need to be stated that to ignore warning signs and to enter the area while the range is open, is foolhardy in the least and in certain cases almost certainly deadly. If anything is amiss reporting it to the tower is safer and almost certainly will prompt a fast and effective response from properly qualified personnel, if required.

The range is used by RAF, USAF, and other European air forces for bombing and strafing practice, at all altitudes up to a maximum of 23000 ft. The range regularly sees visits from Tornado, Harrier, and Jaguar aircraft of the RAF. The USAF F15E’s of RAF Lakenheath are also frequent visitors, as were USAF A10’s detached to Lakenheath from Spangdahlem in Germany during 'Exercise Excalibur' in 2005. The range has also been visited by USAF B1 and B2 bombers in the recent past, the B2’s flying direct from the continental United States, delivering their practice weapons at Holbeach, and flying directly back to the United States, a round trip of some 20 hours.
Age doesn't disqualify aircraft from visiting the range either. During November 2004 a pair of the USAFs veteran, but highly capable, B52s from Edwards Air force Base in California visited Holbeach. Each making four passes at targets on the range, before they to returned non-stop to the continental United States.

The use of the range is not restricted to fast jet traffic, the range has also been used by both the RAF and the Army Air Corp crews to hone their skills in the use of door mounted machine guns, the RAF from Puma and Chinook Helicopters, and the Army Air Corp with the Lynx, which has also used the Armour defeating TOW (Tube launched, Optically sighted, Wire Guided) missile. The French air force also recently utilised the range with a Puma supporting Gazelle helicopters cannon firing on the range.

Aerobatics may seem, to the casual observer, to have little place at the weapons range, but the Red Arrows frequently deploy to Holbeach’s airspace, to practise their display over water, usually during March, prior to their departure to Cyprus to work up to full display qualification. During the work up to the 2006 display season, the range was also used by the 20(R) Sqn Harrier display pilot, Flt Lt Pete Keenlyside to hone his display, and subsequently receive his authorisation to perform in public.

The Targets

Target 1. The Strafe Panels, these are 3 15ft x15ft for general strafing use. Panels 1 and 2 are set up for strafing runs of 20 degrees and below. Panel three is almost flat to the ground and is used for strafe runs of over 20 degrees. Weapons of up to 30mm can be used on these targets.

Target 1 - 2 Left, 1 Right

Scoring is by way of the Delmar Acoustic System. The AcoustiScore is a precision microphones system attached to a scoring counter in the control tower either by cable or radio link. The microphones are mounted on the floor about three metres diagonally in front of the centre of the target, with one microphone per target. The microphones sense the supersonic shockwave generated by the round as it passes over head and sends a pulse to the electronic counter in the tower. The microphones are calibrated in such a way as to only respond to sounds in a small radius that corresponds to the target that they are situated in front of.

Target 2. The Dive Circle Bombing Target, from the air this appears as pair of circles made up on white tyre piles, and drums. Small practise bombs of up to 14Kg (28lb) with either lay down or dive attacks being made against this target. It can also be used by Helicopters for strafe attacks.

Target 2 - Centre

Target 3. The Helicopter Strafe Target. As its name implies this target is used for Helicopters only, using weapons of 7.62mm calibre.


Target 4. The Visual Bombing Target - 'The Tank'. A relatively small target outlined with white tyres about the size, as the name implies, of a tank. This target is used only for dive attacks using practise weapons of up to 14Kg.

Target 5. The Heavy Bomb Target. This is distinguished as a series of 30ft tall stakes surmounted with white and orange drums. Practise bombs of up to 2000lb can be used on this target.

Target 5

Target 6. The Convoy. This consists of two barges tied together to form a longer target, painted with orange and green panels. This target is available for use with 14Kg practise bombs, 2000lb practise bombs in high angle dive bombing attacks. Strafing by helicopters is also permitted on this target with weapons of up to .50 calibre.

Target 6 - North

Target 7. The Barge. A small boat target painted white and orange; this target is available for use with weapons up to 14KG.

Target 7 to the left of the shot - seen from a position near Target 3

Target 8. The Tanker. This larger white and orange painted boat target is available for use with 14kg practise bombs. It is also available to be used with practise weapons of up to 2000lb in high angle dive, and loft/toss bombing attacks. Strafing is also permitted for Helicopters on this target with weapons of 7.62mm calibre.

Target 8

Target 9. Peters Folly. A small ship target, for use only with practise weapons of up to 3Kg in weight.

The Environment

The marshes of the Wash have been designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest (SSI).The Range at Holbeach works very closely with English Nature, to ensure the environment is respected, and to this end agreements have been reached whereby the total area of the targets at Holbeach with not exceed 3% of the total range area. As a direct result of this policy there is an outstanding variety of wildlife in the range area.

The main range area is salt marsh intersected by deep gullies which flood with the tide. The whole area is home to many rare species of marsh plant as well as the more abundant Sea Lavender, Samphire, and Zoster weed. The weed is itself important as it is the main diet of many thousand Brent Geese that arrive during the winter months, this does not however stop the Geese visiting the local fields for a taste of the winter Wheat much to the chagrin of the local farmers.

The range also houses a growing seal colony to the south west of the range, which merely by their presence occasionally stop proceedings. Large groups of wading birds, such as Curlew, Plover, and Redshank also call the Wash home. There are also frequent sightings of Barn Owls, Merlins, Marsh Harriers, and even a couple of pairs of nesting peregrine falcon.

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© On Target Aviation 2008