Report - - RAE Bedford (Wind Tunnel Site) - June 2012. | Military Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - RAE Bedford (Wind Tunnel Site) - June 2012.


Staff member

RAE Bedford (Wind Tunnel Site)

Ojay/Rookinella/Lawrence/Camera Shy


Biggup Els & Northern Ninja for cracking this place and bringing something new to the table

It's not often I drag myself from drains, let alone explore these days, but who could resist the temptation here

Cheers for the heads up fellas


In 1946 Thurleigh became the site for the second Royal Aircraft Establishment site

Two new runways were built in the post-war period to accommodate the Bristol Brabazon aircraft (which required a very long runway) that ultimately never went into production

One local road was dropped into a cutting so that it would not sit above the level of the runway

The site had several reasonably large windtunnels, one supersonic and one large subsonic

It also had a 'drop tower', the drop tower is now used as a skydiving training venue

It was often touted as a possible site for the third London Airport (long before Stansted Airport took on that role)

The local community was strongly opposed and many rural buildings were adorned with slogans such as "Thurleigh -NO!", "No! No! No!" and "Maplin Now"

The supersonic tunnel was dismantled by 2005 and the building which held the fans and driving motors is now used as the set for the BBC popular science programme, "Bang Goes The Theory"

The RAE was deeply involved in the development of Concorde and was also a centre for the development of the Instrument Landing System

Local villages were being circled by airliners in the middle of the night, with planes testing the ILS; the planes would take off, circle, and re-land continually

On 13 March 1961, a Hawker P.1127 (XP831), the prototype of what would become the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, took its first regular flight at RAE Bedford

Also in March 1967 the U-2 flew out of RAE Bedford

During the 1970s RAE Bedford became home to numerous flight simulators, originally using model belts and camera technology, but later utilising computers

In the early 1980s the Advanced Flight Simulator was constructed, allowing pilots to be immersed in a fully three-dimensional moving simulation

Also in the early eighties, RAE Bedford oversaw the development of the Short Take Off & Landing STOL system for the Sea Harrier

(the most visible part of which are the up-curved ramps (ski-jumps) on the decks of Royal Navy aircraft carriers)

This brought hundreds more takeoffs and landings that circled overhead — ironic considering that Thurleigh has one of the longest runways in Europe and was previously one of the Avro Vulcan Bomber dispersal bases

In recent years, engine housings and wings were developed/tested for the Airbus

In April 1991 the Royal Aerospace Establishment (as the Royal Aircraft Establishment had been renamed) which operated the airfield at Bedford, was merged with other agencies to become the Defence Research Agency (DRA)

The DRA would later become the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency

In February 1994 the airfield was decommissioned after a lengthy study determined that flight operations should be centralised at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire

The airfield has since been divided into two parts;

The southern part is now known as Thurleigh Business Park, and includes the runway, which is currently used for the mass storage of new cars

The northern part is now Bedford Autodrome which also houses Thurleigh museum​
Remnants of the former 'Test Chamber'


Lifting Gear/Gantry Crane


Looking down from the gantry crane; The concrete plinths which once housed the Turbines/Generators to provide the compressed air

(Also evidence that it has been used in recent years as a film set)



Wind Tunnel Monitoring (Control Room)





Central Control Room











Store Room


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