RAE Thurleigh Wind Tunnel Testing Site - Bedfordshire - June 2012
A few years back I came across some weird industrial complex that looked a fair
bit like Pyestock whilst looking for leads on one of the many "film location"
web site. It was listed as ďAn industrial location 60 miles outside LondonĒ. I
had no idea where it was or about its past history but it sure as hell looked
interesting, control rooms with banks of Bakelite Flash Gordon dials and switches
plus an extensive space with various cranes left in place.
Then, a couple of months ago, I was reading an old 1950ís book about breaking the sound barrier which had a section on wind tunnels. I happened to Google wind tunnels which dragged up load of Photo Bucket pictures someone had loaded which I recognized as the same site in the film location web site. They were taken some time back in 2004, shortly before the site was largely dismantled and, rather fortunately, who ever published them had also given the location. The connection was made.
I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out which buildings on the site where what using Bing Maps and managed to come up with what I thought would be a workable strategy to get access, but until you actually get to a site and look for yourself, you can never really tell what's what. Plus, I didn't really get my hopes up to high as the site lies smack bang in the middle of an extremely live area sporting the usual 24 hour security with people, cars and lorries going about their business pretty much from sunrise to sunset. But, on the day, Lady Luck smiled on us and thus entailed probably one of the most serendipitous explores I've ever had.
It looks like construction was started after the war and quite of bit of the equipment seems to have been ďliberatedĒ from Germany. Things carried on until the site was closed back in 2004. A very good article about the site around the post war period can be found here and a site dedicated to it's heritage can be found here which should be your first call if your into finding out about the sites history. Some of the tunnels still remain, the vertical tower used to test stalling, is now used by Bodyflight Indoor Skydiving and the sub-sonic wind tunnel by Red Bull motor racing team. There are historic connections with the nearby RAE Thurleigh airport and at one point there was a plan to build a very long tax way to connect the two sites. A short Pathe movie can be found here about building the site and an article explaining the workings of the tunnels can be found here.
On arrival, it's a familiar story, a big impressive space with the lifting gear still in place but on the whole fairly stripped out. It's clear to see where the wind tunnel entered the building and where the aircraft testing chamber would have been placed. The motors to provide the compressed air would have sat on the plinth to the right.
Standing where the test chamber would have been. Obviously the air came in through the huge circle in the wall.
Poking about under the plinth.
Then it's up the lifting gear.
Long way down.
The first series of Bang Goes the Theory was filmed in the main hall. Plenty of
props have been left behind.
Note on the board, BGTT and episode date.
The spares store room. Empty apart from the shelving.
There is a goodish amount of paper work still left in situ.
In the pictures I saw on the film locations web site there were some ones of a couple
of very nice Control Rooms and they didnít disappoint once we found them. The
first one was the Wind Tunnel Monitoring room which unfortunately didnít really
have very good light; it was very dark just two small internal windows to let a
small amount of outside light in, so the pictures have come out a bit on the
Anyway, Iím going to let them do the talking from now on in
Vibration control panel.
Bakelite systematic of the gears and compressor shaft.
It's possible to see where some of the schematic has been updated with gauges removed and holes filled in.
The second Control Room was used to monitor the Power Station.
The arrow indicator in the top right of the instrument was still flickering, hence it is blurred.