A former aircraft testing and development establishment where huge wind tunnels were used.
The former RAF Thurleigh had been built in 1941 as a new RAF Station. Its first use was by No. 160 Squadron, forming on 15 January 1942, equipped with U.S.supplied B-24 Liberator bombers, known by in RAF service as the “Liberator II”. 160 Squadron trained and flew operational missions from Thurleigh until 5 July.
Following the Second World War, RAF Thurleigh became the second Royal Aircraft Establishment site and was renamed RAE Bedford. 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. A new control tower was opened in 1957. The airfield was decommissioned in 1994.
The site had several reasonably large wind tunnels, one supersonic and one large subsonic. It also had a ‘drop tower’, which is now used as a skydiving training venue. The 8ft x 8ft supersonic tunnel was dismantled in 2005.
A good description of the supersonic wind tunnel is available on the Open University website.
RAF Thurleigh Control Tower
We started off in the control tower of RAF Thurleigh. The rest of the base is now in use as car storage and repair workshops.
Royal Aircraft Establishment Wind Tunnels – Control Room
Next we moved on to the control room of RAE Bedford’s Wind Tunnels
Royal Aircraft Establishment Wind Tunnels – Wind Tunnels
The 8ft x 8ft supersonic wind tunnels themselves, and all equipment have long been removed, however the entry and exit points of the huge pipes are still clearly visible
Smaller wind tunnels control room
Finally we visited the control room of a smaller former wind tunnel set-up in another building.