Aquila Air Traffic Management Services has delivered the new radar to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar to serve RAF Gibraltar. A UK Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter airlifted the massive new radar onto the top of the Rock on Wednesday 2 March 2022. The airfield also serves as Gibraltar’s commercial airport.

The new radar will replace the existing radar at Rock Gun Battery at the summit of the iconic rock on the British Overseas Territory. It will help to provide reliable and safe air traffic services for the airport, which serves tens of thousands of visitors each year as well as military air traffic.

The new radar system is part of the upgrade of air traffic management for UK military air terminals across the UK and overseas being led by Aquila. The £1.5 billion Programme Marshall includes upgrading air surveillance, navigation and communications systems across the UK and overseas for the UK military, including the RAF airfield at Gibraltar. It aims to ensure increased reliability for air traffic management, improved safety and estimated savings of £317 million for the MOD over the course of the 22-year partnership with Aquila to support the new equipment.

Helicopter is the only means to transport the 11.8 metre tall structure, weighing over 8,000 kgs to the inaccessible summit. The summit, site of the former Rock Gun Battery, sits within the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, famous for the apes that populate the Rock and are a major tourist attraction.

The new radar was transported as an underslung load by the Chinook in four parts. The radar’s rotational turning gear, two large antennae and the “horn” – the transmit and receive section of the antenna – were each lifted in four separate journeys. Also flown to the top of the Rock was a new navigational beacon.

A temporary helicopter landing platform was built at Rock Gun Battery especially for the operation. The platform allowed the helicopter to land the loads above the rough and protected ground of the nature reserve.

The operation to airlift the radar onto the Rock was planned jointly by Aquila, its Programme Marshall radar partner, Thales UK, and the MOD. RAF Gibraltar’s Station Commander, Wing Commander Nel Doherty, paid testament to the skill of the teams involved in the lift, saying “I am genuinely delighted at the manner in which this difficult task has been achieved. As always, The Rock poses its own set of unique challenges, which makes a like-for-like replacement trickier than normal.

“However, a talented and very broad team have ensured that all safety considerations were in hand, and that disruption to the people of Gibraltar was minimised. I’d like to thank them for their patience. We expect that today’s activity will be remembered by many for quite some years to come.”