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Worker shares memories of old Farnborough wind tunnels

Looking back at how Farnborough's wind tunnels were used by the Royal Aircraft Establishment from 1907 to the 1960s

 

As Farnborough’s historic wind tunnels have opened to the public for the first time, a former Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) apprentice has shared his memories of the site.

Pete Stanford, 50, from Aldershot, worked as an apprenticeship for the RAE between 1981 and 1985, when the wind tunnels were no longer in use.

He spent many of his teenage years working inside the wind tunnel buildings and assisting with their maintenance.

He said: “I originally worked in the 24-foot wind tunnel and that was really good, it was like walking through a time-warp.

“You would park up outside then go in and it had that old smell inside and there were old wood panels everywhere.

“We used to look after the up-keep of it and we would spend our tea breaks up on the roof and you could see for miles from up there.”

The five wind tunnels were used as a research tool to study the effects of air moving past solid objects, particularly aircraft, and played an important role in the development of aviation in Britain.

The first factory wind tunnel was built in 1907 and a second was built in 1917 to provide for the increasing performance of aeroplanes and the complexity of their development.

A third tunnel was built the following year and in 1932 a recommendation was made for a 24-foot wind tunnel to be erected at the establishment. Work began in April that year and it was officially opened in 1935.

As aircraft speeds increased there was a need for higher-speed wind tunnels and the final tunnel opened in 1942. The tunnels were closed down in the 1960s and volunteers from the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) fought to save them from demolition, eventually succeeding in getting the buildings to be granted listed status in December 1996.

Mr Stanford said: “I went inside the buildings one Saturday morning, long after I had stopped working there, in the early 90s and it was heartbreaking seeing the history gone from the buildings I knew so well.”

In 2005, SEGRO, then known as Slough Estates, which own the buildings, announced that three of the wind tunnels were suitable for re-use and would be available for commercial use.

The Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) produced a brochure about the opportunities for the wind tunnels, in collaboration with SEGRO, and they have since been reopened by Artliner as an art project, which will run until July 20.

Richard Gardner, FAST chairman, said: “Farnborough Air Sciences Trust has always supported an appropriate re-use for the magnificent former RAE wind tunnels at Farnborough and is very pleased that at least for a few weeks this summer the general public has an opportunity through the Artliner initiative to see just how unique and awe-inspiring these historic structures are inside.

“If visitors wish to find out more about their history and the work that was carried out there, then I would encourage them to visit the FAST Museum, which is open every weekend in Farnborough Road.”

 

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