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RAE Farnborough - steeped in history

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RAE Farnborough - steeped in history

Old 7th Aug 2003, 23:04
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RAE Farnborough - steeped in history

BBC News Online
A new fight is on, to save 20th Century 'heritage sites' such as the innovation hothouse that gave us Concorde.

Some time after helping to found the Royal Aircraft Establishment preservation society, Laurence Peskett was rummaging through discarded test tubes in the institution's chemistry block.
"I found one with a bit of stuff in the bottom and a note stuck in top. It said 'First carbon fibre ever made at RAE. Could be of interest'."
Carbon fibre, the rigid, lightweight material that has revolutionised everything from Formula One cars to tennis rackets, is just one of the landmark discoveries to be made at the now defunct RAE's headquarters in Farnborough, Hampshire.

Key parts of the site, which is steeped in aviation history, have been saved from the bulldozers and wrecking balls. Earlier this year two of its wind tunnels were given Grade I protected status.


Built in 1934, the biggest of the two looks nothing like your typical heritage site. Driven by a six-blade mahogany fan (see picture) with a diameter of 9.1m, the tunnel was used to test full-sized aircraft prototypes like the Spitfire.

Campaigners such as Mr Peskett, who have fought for 10 years under the banner of the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) to save the RAE site, must now move on to phase two of their plan: restoration.

Restoration is about to become the new "makeover", with the launch of a major BBC television series. With a few exceptions - most notably a dilapidated World War II prisoner of war camp in County Durham - all the buildings are pre-20th Century.

"It is not architectural importance but immense historical importance that should save this site," 'Save British Heritage' says of Farnborough.

Certainly, the buildings are anything but attractive - a grey corrugated iron clock tower, 1940s brick huts and a collection of civil service-style office blocks.

Wind-tunnel from outside

But within these walls, some of Britain's most iconic aeronautical triumphs were forged.

Hothouse of innovation
Concorde, the bouncing bomb, the Harrier "jump jet" and the Spitfire were all developed here, to a greater or lesser extent, as was Sir Frank Whittle's first jet engine.
In 1908, Colonel Samuel Franklin Cody made the first powered flight in the UK at Farnborough.
Ten years later the Royal Air Force was founded here and the space suits for Nasa's Apollo astronauts were developed here.

Since the site was sold off by the Ministry of Defence in 1998, much has been demolished, its land given over to new office developments. But the historic core remains in tact, thanks largely to the campaigning of the preservation society and Save Britain's Heritage.

Not only have they helped achieve Grade I listing for the two main wind tunnels - fondly known as Q121 and R133 in their MOD days - but they have also won protection for the oldest wind tunnel on site, built in 1916, and another building.

"It's been a colossal struggle to get this far," says Mr Peskett. "We set out to do something positive and show how it could be turned into a science park or something and not just whinge about the destruction of historic buildings."

But the struggle has some way to go yet. They have to begin repairing the wind tunnels' crumbling concrete and figure out a use for them. Doing nothing is not an option since an empty building will decay faster than an occupied one.

While there is an obvious case for saving some of Britain's oldest buildings, Farnborough is a reminder that heritage did not stop with the death of Queen Victoria.

I imagine there are people in this forum with views on the above - and some interesting stories to share about the old days at RAE Farnborough.


Last edited by Flying Lawyer; 7th Aug 2003 at 23:20.
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Old 8th Aug 2003, 02:56
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The R.A.E. was also the birthplace of my aviation career!!!!. Apart from this Farnborough is one of the most important aviation heratage sites in the country but no body gives a damm, because the general public and the gutter press think aviation is the work of the devil!.
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Old 8th Aug 2003, 06:21
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Just like training apprentices, which gave many of us a good start I life. Heritage is not considered a core business by QuinetiQ
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Old 8th Aug 2003, 11:53
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Yesterday (7th August) was the 90th anniversary of Samuel Cody's fatal crash at Ball Hill, Farnborough. How things have changed since then!
I have a question to ask, which may well be answered someone interested in the history of Farnborough.
My grandfather, as a schoolboy in the early 1900s, had a classmate whose father was an "aeronautical engineer".Grandfather was often invited to tea at the aforementioned's house.
On several occasions, Samuel Cody was present, deliberating the merits/demerits of the "aeronatical engineer"'s new engine, to be used in one of Cody's "machines".
The location of the house would presumably be near to Farnborough/Ash/Aldershot.
I am intrigued as to the identity of the engineer....any ideas?

Phil H.
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Old 9th Aug 2003, 04:05
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RAE Farnborough... also holds a soft spot in my own aviation history.

One of the things I used to do (when on a break) was visit the library next to "A" shed and across the road form the ATC building (N1, of which more later). If you went down a dusty corridor you would enter the "historical" section.

Few people ever went down there but amongst the gems I had the pleasure of reading were hand written test pilots notes on various aeroplanes. I remember very well the notes someone made up for the Shackleton MR3. Lots of red ink and exclamation marks! I've often wondered why.

What has happened to all that? And all the museum "pieces" like the beautifully crafted wooden wind tunnel test models? I saw some of them as well and they were wonderful. Sad to think of them in a skip somewhere.

Back to ATC. When first posted to RAE Farnborough I went through the usual briefing from "Master Spy" (the RAE security people really were paranoid about the Soviets at the time). Next up was to find the ATC building. This I did, noting that some pillock had put the sign by the door on upside down so it read N1 instead of IN.. or so I thought. Except that it was me that was (still is?) the pillock as all the buildings at the RAE had letters and numbers to identify them. ATC really was the N1 Building

Anyway I have many happy memories (and a few stories) of the place, watching the Dak, Comet, Varsity etc doing their various trials. A pity if it's all gone.

rgds BEX
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Old 9th Aug 2003, 05:58
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We cannot live by looking back, I know that, but it is hard for me to accept what has happened to the old RAE ‘factory’ site over the last few years.

I started my five year apprenticeship there in 1950 at the age of 17. Then I got the RAF to teach me to fly so that I could go back there on the course at ETPS in 1963. Over the years since then I have been lucky to work for the RAE in a variety of capacities, but the scene at Farnborough in the early 50’s was remarkable. During my apprenticeship I kept a list of all the aircraft types (not marks) that I saw on the airfield. It totalled 104. Not so long ago I met the RAF Wing Commander who was in charge of flying at RAE when I was an apprentice. I told him about my list. “Wrong” he said “it was 106 -you missed a couple”

The Roman Catholic Church has influenced a few youngsters over the years but not (I suspect) as much as the RAE has influenced me.
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Old 9th Aug 2003, 22:54
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I've attended many Farnborough events - It's great to have bits if it saved.

Hey Windy don't knock QinetiQ - once you get past the grafted on sales people the old DERA chaps and chapesses are so un commercial they will do almost anything for free
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Old 10th Aug 2003, 04:30
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I guess I've got mixed reactions.

For my present career its great to fly in with loads of tarmac for parking and a feel of permanency about it.

However like John F, there is more than a tinge of sadness about it when I think back to my days in electronics, when I occasionally worked at Farnborough and there was lots of new equipment around and aircraft to see.

Many of the hangers that I either worked in or visited are now blocked off or just have "mundane" aircraft residing. However, I can recall with much fondness a week spent during the Airshow just being available there in case our equipment went wrong ( it didn't ) whilst the representatives of a certain country were there to view it with the intention of buying it ( they didn't !). There were suggestions that to avoid wasting my week I should do a bit of "stand manning" at the main exhibition site, but fortunately this did not materialise and so I spent the whole week loitering in and around the black hangar observing at close quarters the Red Arrows and the Comet Racer that were all parked in the vicinity.

Happy days!
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Old 11th Aug 2003, 00:08
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I'm another who started his career there, in my case as an 18 year old Student Apprentice at the SETC in what had previously been ETPS' buildings. After leaving there, at various times I worked in Aircraft Dept, Base Engineering, Engineering Services (and Aero at Bedford).

The state of the place now is appauling, and I'm not too distressed to be working elsewhere these days - but in it's heyday (although a relative youngster, I was there at the end of that happy period of blue-skies research and constant experimental flying) it was fantastically exciting, and created several generations of Britain's best aeronautical Engineers (although Genghis Sr. who was a rough contemporary of JF but at Supermarine would probably dispute that;-) ).

Having said that, when I was there much of RAE was like a shanty town - presumably it's years of lack of investment of in the buildings and facilities, not the 1990-1995 creation of DRA by Chisholm that did the real damage.

Like Bexil I used to lurk when I had a couple of hours spare in the historical section of the library - what happened to that fantastic collection of old manuals, textbooks and airfield logs? For that matter, what happened to the rest of that amazing library? - I heard an awful rumour a while ago that DERA/Qinetiq had simply disposed of a lot of the older journal collections, which if-true is criminal.

It was always inevitable that RAE would have to change, but complete withdrawl from the main site, closing down all flying, and scrapping much of the library I can't ever forgive as a way of bringing the site into the 21st century.

On the odd occasions I have meetings with anybody from Qinetiq, I make a point of wearing my old RAE tie, just in case it causes offence to any of the management!

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Old 11th Aug 2003, 16:58
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You want it when?
I have nothing but admiration for the old school employees of QunietiQ. However there aren't many left. Whilst I realise that you can't live in the past, forgetting your history or in this case destroying your skills base can't be good.
I was not actually at Farnborough but at one of the outstations Had I not been able to take up a trade as I did, I would be stuck in an area with no work other than meanial holiday season jobs.
Computer modeling and consultation are fine to a point, but it has limitations as the place I now work at are finding out.
Experimental work needs a certain touch, CAD/CAM is fine where you have an established product but when things don't work quite as planned the ability to make quick modifications on site becomes vital. That's when you find that a Dreadnought file is a bl**dy site more useful than a .DWG file.
Thinking about where some of my fellow ex Apprentices have ended up and the things they are doing, I would say that the money spent on training was well spent.
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Old 22nd Aug 2003, 05:50
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I too spent some time in the old R.A.E. library looking at some of the gems there. I am sure that it all ended up with all the stuff from the R.A.E. museum. This was all looked after by Brian Kervell the chief librarian. He retired at about the same time as the R.A.E. wound up. All of the artifacts then went to the Science museum. Shame it didn't stay in the Farnborough area though.
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Old 22nd Sep 2004, 15:18
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Historic air industry site saved

Report in today's Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/st...309812,00.html):

Historic air industry site saved

Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
Wednesday September 22, 2004
The Guardian

A £20m scheme was announced yesterday to restore a tatty collection of sheds which hold some of the most important aviation relics in the world.

Scientists, historians and conservationists have been fighting for decades to save the main structures of the former Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in Hampshire, which was a secret world for almost a century until the site was sold by the Ministry of Defence in 1999, for a reputed £57m.

Work was done there at every stage of 20th century aviation, from giant airships to analysing the wreckage from the 1954 Comet crash, when the problem of metal fatigue at high speeds was first identified.

Samuel Cody flew Britain's first powered controlled aircraft there in 1908, and later there were tests on the Spitfires and Hurricanes which were to play a crucial role in the second world war, and on Frank Whittle's first jet engine.

Under plans announced yesterday by Slough Estates, backed by English Heritage, the campaign group Save and the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust, which includes many scientists who worked at Farnborough, the 10 hectare (25 acre) core of the site will be restored and reused.

The most spectacular structure, the 120 metre (400ft) concrete wind tunnel, with its beautiful nine metre diameter mahogany blades, may have a new life as a theatre and cafe.

The original development proposals for a business park on the site would have involved flattening most of the buildings.

The breakthrough came last year, when many of the structures were listed, some for the second time.

Before the site was sold several were de-listed, a move denounced by conservationists as a scandalous attempt to make it more attractive to developers.

The most spectacular aspect of the new scheme will be a new public park with the extraordinary hangar frame re-erected as a feature.

It resembles a garden pergola, but on the scale of a row of office blocks, and was originally designed to be covered in canvas and used to park airships.
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Old 24th Sep 2004, 16:54
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On the basis that actions speak louder than words - where would be a good place to start for example, a PPRuNe action group? Just speaking as I see it to start with but I also understand that with a large sum of money coming from the Lottery the plan might need muscle help too. Is that right?

Would the current attempt to save so much benefit from some of the talented people we have on PPRuNe? Is anyone close enough to it to get an idea of what is going on, what help if any they need and could PPRuNe assist?

Discuss and speak people.
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Old 25th Sep 2004, 00:59
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Cody's Tree

During my year at Farnborough I used to often wander past the remains of Cody's tree which had a little fence for protection.

I would look at that tree and imagine Cody tying his elementary aircraft to a selected branch of the tree, climbing aboard and running up the engine. There must be many others who have done the same thing. Oh for a photograph?

Does anyone know how he calibrated a tree branch?

I will be aghast if those irreplaceable remains of Cody's tree have not been preserved and given a place of prominence in an aviation museum.

And what of the Black Sheds?
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Old 25th Sep 2004, 22:18
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I was at Farnborough today. Not on the airfield but visiting kin across from the main road.

There is much talk around. From the papers and the locals. Seems that there is a runway extension planned so that the road at the Laffans Plain end could be moved underground! Other ground around there is now being cleared so who can tell.........

The black sheds have almost gone - I say almost because you cannot get close enough to see. The old control tower is still there - as a listed building.

The general view of the place is one of expansion, expansion, expansion. GA move over and let us big boys in! (Maybe!)
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Old 26th Sep 2004, 19:30
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The old control tower is still there - as a listed building.
I wish. It went in less than 24 hours a while ago. You may be thinking about the 24ft
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Old 26th Sep 2004, 20:32
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Ah John, I thought the big grey building with the clock was the control tower - next to the black hangars on the Eastern end of the field. Not so? Thought it was up those stairs that GP Spiers gave me a bol......... telling off one time!

Have to say that they are destroying the 'OLD' place with seemingly gay abandon though.

What is the 24ft?
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Old 28th Sep 2004, 10:19
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I did my apprenticship at the R.A.E. For the fist two years we were under the tutorage of Reg Weeding and Doug Beckford. Every morning we had two hours of theory lessons. Pinned to the wall was a large picture of a very young John Farley holding a trophy of some sort. Reg and Doug used to say to us "Study hard and you can be just like him!!"..... I didn't and I wasn't!!!!!
I feel that my time spent with Reg and Doug was briliant and their teaching still influences me today.
in the words of Doug Beckford
"Well, my pr**ks a bloater and we'er having fish for tea!"

Rgds Dr.I. (1978-1982)
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Old 28th Sep 2004, 12:49
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By the 24 ft I was referring to the 24 ft tunnel which is listed and currently still preserved. Sorry that I relapsed into the vernacular of the place in the early fifties when the tunnels were all just called by the size of the working section - the 8ft or the 13x9 etc. the word tunnel was seemingly just 'understood'

So the 24ft was probably the building you mistook for the Control Tower now that all the stuff between the two is no more!

So Reggie gave you a telling off. We must exchange notes sometime. I expect it was the same one he gave me. His stock of same was limited, but that did mean he was less likely to fluff his lines.

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Old 28th Sep 2004, 13:22
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Reminds me that at school in the early 80s we had a "Science Society" lecture by a scientist from Farnborough who had been involved in the development of carbon fibre or GRP or some such similar material at Farnbrough in the 1960s.

This chap came on stage looking for all the world as I imagine Mr Honey in Nevil Shute's "No Highway" would look - short, bespectacled, balding and sporting a tie liberally smeared with his dinner... And perhaps just a little eccentric...

"Oh no", we all thought, "this is going to be dreary."

He was brilliant, funny and informative; I quote practically verbatim: 'Well, me and the boys were at work one day, and thought "let's invent carbon fibre..." '

Several weeks later, a dozen of us went to Farnborough to take a look at the lab, etc. I also visited the tower and met the chaps who were Farnborough Radar to whom I listened on my air-band most of the time I wasn't in class...
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