RAE Bedford Wind Tunnel Site, Thurleigh, UK

A former aircraft testing and development establishment where huge wind tunnels were used.

Royal Aircraft Establishment  RAE Bedford, Thurleigh
 

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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.

Our Visit
We started off at the former airfield which is now used for storage of motor vehicles and crash testing. After having a look around the old control tower we started to head over to towards the wind tunnels but found our exit had been blocked by a closed gate. The gate was open when we drove in, and after finding no other exit route we had to have an awkward chat with security who kindly set us free!

The wind tunnel site was the main target for the day and it was interesting to see the old control panels. The main area where the wind tunnel used to be has now been stripped out, but points where the huge pipes once entered and exited the building were still clearly visible.

 

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.

RAF Thurleigh - Control tower external

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RAF Thurleigh – Control tower external

RAF Thurleigh - Inside the control tower

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RAF Thurleigh – Inside the control tower

RAF Thurleigh - Staircase

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RAF Thurleigh – Staircase

RAF Thurleigh - Line jack panel

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RAF Thurleigh – Line jack panel

RAF Thurleigh - Room in control tower

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RAF Thurleigh – Room in control tower

 

Royal Aircraft Establishment Wind Tunnels – Control Room

Next we moved on to the control room of RAE Bedford’s Wind Tunnels

RAE Bedford Control Room - Central station with control banks behind

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RAE Bedford Control Room – Central station with control banks behind

RAE Bedford Control Room - Panels

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RAE Bedford Control Room – Panels

RAE Bedford Control Room - Dials and gauges

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RAE Bedford Control Room – Dials and gauges

RAE Bedford Control Room - Central Station

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RAE Bedford Control Room – Central Station

RAE Bedford Control Room - The large control panels

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RAE Bedford Control Room – The large control panels

 

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

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Air pipe entry point

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Air pipe entry point

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Entry point

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Entry point

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Exit pipe

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Exit pipe

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Air portals

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Air portals

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Elevated view

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Elevated view

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - The huge test space

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – The huge test space

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Portals

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Portals

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Crane in side area

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Crane in side area

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Area to one side

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Area to one side

RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels - Overview

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RAE Bedford Wind Tunnels – Overview

 

Smaller wind tunnels control room

Finally we visited the control room of a smaller former wind tunnel set-up in another building.

RAE Bedford - Older control room

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RAE Bedford – Older control room

RAE Bedford - Control desk

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RAE Bedford – Control desk

RAE Bedford - Control panels

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RAE Bedford – Control panels

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