Report - RAE Bedford 3X3 Wind Tunnel Complex - Dec 15

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The Amateur Wanderer

28DL Regular User
Regular User
Jul 22, 2012
God's own county of Yorkshire
The Royal Aircraft Establishment Bedford Site


Not really sure where to start with this one, what a place... As someone with a massive interest in Military Aviation I can only say that this one was more than a little bit special for me! To most it'll probably just come across as another derp, but for me it was knowing what had gone on here over the years and seeing the place I'd seen in so many old archive films first hand that will make it one to remember.

Visited with @ledgehammer , was a little bit of a mission getting in here with site secca rolling up as we were crossing the field meaning an amusing dive behind the only tree in the said field... Not sure how we got away with that but we did fortunately :D

As you're about to see in the images, the scale of the place once you're inside is truly breath taking, and I hope you enjoy this report as much as I have enjoyed putting it together!


The Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF) was formed in 1912, the name was soon changed to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in 1918 to avoid confusion with the newly formed Royal Air Force. The main RAE site was Farnborough which had been in use as early as 1904 with the Army Balloon Factory.

In 1946 the RAE decided to branch out creating a new site at RAF Thurleigh an airfield constructed in 1940 for RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War. The airfield although a part of the RAE Bedford site isn't what we explored on this occasion however, we explored the wind tunnel test site which was built as an extension of the site approximately a mile and half away. It's worth mentioning a few interesting facts about the airfield whilst where on that subject however, notably the fact that it was where the development of the Hawker Siddley Harrier took place from the flying bedstead prototype. It was also home to the radar research squadron of the RAF who operated the English Electric Canberra and Westland Seaking Aircraft in the famous red white and blue RAE Livery.


My Photo of EE Canberra WT333 Taxing at Bruntingthorpe, an ex RAE Bedford Machine note the said colour scheme and extended nose cone for radar testing purposes.

The Wind Tunnel site was opened in 1956 by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The site consisted of four wind test tunnels, various administration and office blocks and a Power Station made up of a pair of 25mw units. The tunnels where designed to test aircraft components for weaknesses, stress patterns and to test aerodynamic design.

As mentioned four wind tunnels were constructed, here they are listed in order of construction: a 3 x 3 Supersonic Wind tunnel, a 13 x 9 low speed tunnel, a 8 x 8 Supersonic wind tunnel and a 3 x 4 high speed supersonic wind tunnel.

We explored the 3 x 3 supersonic test tunnel, this tunnel was capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 2.0, twice the speed of sound and was used mainly for testing scale models of aircraft for aerodynamic and stress pattern analysis. At the time of construction in 1952 it was unique in being the fastest wind tunnel in operation in the world. The tunnel was powered by a pair of centrifugal compressors which operated at 12,000bhp.

RAE Bedford is responsible for the aerodynamic testing of almost every British aircraft design and indeed many from overseas since 1957. The contribution that these tunnels have made to the British aircraft industry and nation security are simply staggering, just think of the airframes that have been tested in these tunnels. Everything from the Hawker Siddley Harrier to the Anglo French Concord. You can probably get a sense as to why I was so excited to see this place as an aviation anorak now...

Sadly the RAE became merged with the MOD in the 90's loosing it's identity. The airfield was closed in 1994 with operations moving to Boscombe down. The wind tunnel site remained operational until 2002 when it too was closed and relocated to Farnborough who still operate some of their research tunnels to this day.

Today the 3 x 4 HSST is still in operational use by the Red Bull Racing team, as is the 13 x 9 low speed tunnel, in use with a sky diving club.

The 8 x 8 and 3 x 3 tunnels and power station are now in a state of abandonment the 8 x 8 tunnel closing in 2002 and the 3 x 3 tunnel closing in 1983.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh opening the site in 1956


I have a feeling that this could end up been a pic heavy one!

Compressor Hall:

Let's start off in the compressor hall, this is where those two mighty 12,000bhp compressors would have been situated, now sadly removed. The size of this hall can't really be grasped from the photo's, but it is a breath taking size.




Wind Tunnel:

This area is now pretty much an empty void, I'm led to believe however that this flooded area is where part of the wind tunnel itself would have resided.




Nothing too interesting up here, but we did catch sunrise!







General plant maintenance...





Corridor Pornography:

I have to say, it's pretty obvious that this place has been abandoned since 1983... Just look at that peelage!




The Observation Room:

Saving the best part until last, the observation and control room. It's in here where all the information from the air frame tests would be recorded and where the operator would control the speed and settings of the air flow.



Nice to see a few famous names lying around, Armstrong Whitworth and Gloster to name a couple...


On Her Majesties Secret Service ;)


and to finish with a couple of the final test chamber.



And that's all from me!
Apologies for the cock up earlier, hopefully all sorted now...
Hope you enjoyed the report,
TAW :)
Last edited:


28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
Dec 25, 2014
nice photos, and good write up. Massive place really, and the flooded section made it interesting. Still taking in the control panelling, some of the best I've seen...

always good when you get past secca, bearing in mind this place houses an immigration detention centre I think we did quite well, of course we could have just strolled in later - but prefer the more challenging entry ;-)

cheers for the company, I'll get my vid edited, I'm just finishing a backlog...


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