The emergency operations bunker in the Highland capital houses relics from the Cold War, including a helicopter whose passengers once included Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Dr Iain Maoileoin.

Passers-by could be forgiven for thinking they are back in the days of the Cold War with the latest arrivals at the Emergency Operations Bunker in Inverness.

Site owner Dr Iain Maoileoin purchased an armored personnel carrier and helicopter – which carried the then Prime Minister among his passengers in 1981.

He bought the old council property and the military installation at Mackintosh Road in 2019 and his long-term plan is to create a tour museum there.

He said: “The place is steeped in history and has been in constant use since it was built, as one of three bunkers in 1940.”

The Ptarmigan FV439 vehicle.
The Ptarmigan FV439 vehicle.

The armored personnel carrier is a Ptarmigan FV439 and is a specially modified version of a more general FV43X series. Dr Maoileoin said: “There were only 24 FV439s made – 14 for the UK and 10 for use in Germany – but around 3000 of the general FX43X model were made over the lifetime of the vehicle. . “

He said the generic Ptarmigan could carry up to 10 infantrymen on the battlefield and was approximately 5m long, 2.9m wide, 3m high and weighed just under 18 tons. It has a maximum road speed of 52 km / h, can climb a slope of 35 degrees and cross a trench of 2 m.

“The FV439 here was used as a specialized radio relay system – in combat it served as a conduit between the front line and headquarters, it is full of radio kit and has a 20m mast used to hoist the ‘antenna,’ he said.

“There was a driver, a captain and two people to pilot the FX439. Electricity was supplied by two 3 kW generators mounted on the roof of the unit. The radios offered very high frequency (SHF) relay capability on the Ptarmigan / Triffid kit. “

Vintage vehicles.
Vintage vehicles.

It is also nuclear, biological, and chemically hardened so occupants are safe after biological attack and fallout.

He said it came from Army storage and had only traveled 31 miles since it was made, adding: “That’s less than a mile a year.”

The helicopter is a British Westland Lynx AH1 helicopter which was used by the Army Air Corps (AAC) (British Army), it was built in 1979 and is powered by two Rolls-Royce GEM jet engines – this model held the world air speed record in 1986 of nearly 250 mph (400 km / h).

The 1979 Westland Lynx helicopter, painted to look like a Huey.
The 1979 Westland Lynx helicopter, painted to look like a Huey.

Dr Maoileoin said: “Once built and tested it was apparently picked up at Fleetlands in February 1980 by 662 Squadron AAC. This squadron had just finished training to fly the Lynx.

“It was due to be flown to Munster in Germany on February 29, but it is reported that it had hydraulic problems in Ostend and did not reach Munster for a few days.”

However, he said he flew to Aldergrove the following month and that on May 28 Tony Merrick had Margaret Thatcher travel around Belfast on one of her tours in Northern Ireland.

He added: “Some components of the XZ218 carry the serial number of a helicopter which suffered a tail rotor failure and crashed on its return to base in Northern Ireland. I have yet to find out how this marriage of bits happened.

“My Lynx is in the colors of the US Air Force and the British colors have been repainted.

“The helicopter is believed to have been repainted and used in the context of a movie – yet to be researched – it wasn’t Fast and Furious, I know that.

“Due to the paint job and markings, passers-by think it is Huey – also known as the Bell UH-1H.”

The entrance to the bunker.
The entrance to the bunker.

In the past, the bunker was used by the RAF as a filter room for processing raw data from the Chain Home and Chain Home Low radar stations which were located around the coast of Scotland, northern England, d ‘part of Ireland and also part of the Isle of Man.

It was then used by members of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) as one of the two bunkers they used and, when the ROC was disbanded, the local authority took over all three bunkers – two were later destroyed .

Dr Maoileoin said one now had houses on top, the other is now covered near the Raigmore interchange roundabout, and in the 1980s the threat of a nuclear attack brought the UK government to require each area to have a secure site from which to operate in the event of a nuclear attack.

Gas masks in a reenactment of the operating room.
Gas masks in a reenactment of the operating room.

Planned renovations will focus on the radar and the nuclear side of the building’s history and so far there is a creation of a 1939/40 radar system and filter room.

He said: “So far we have hosted around 700 people in the building on small group guided tours. Some of these visits took place as part of open days and some as part of the Highland Archeology Festival.

One of the more unusual visits was to get people out of the house on Christmas Day.

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