Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12b

Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12b

Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12b

The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12b was a higher powered version of the basic B.E.12 that was designed as a Home Defence aircraft but that entered service after the Zeppelin raids it was designed to counter had almost stopped.

The prototype B.E.12b was produced by fitting a 200hp Hispano-Siuze engine to a standard B.E.12. The production B.E.12b retained the equal span two bay wings of the B.E.12, partly because the B.E.12a had not been popular with its pilots. The new engine improved the aircraft's rate of climb so much that one hundred aircraft were ordered. The B.E.12b was designed as a night fighter. This explains why the forward firing Lewis gun was mounted above the upper wing, firing over the propeller – the upper wing prevented the muzzle flash from the gun from damaging the pilot's night vision. The B.E.12b also had navigation lights and Holt flare brackets under their lower wings to make it easier to land at night, and some had their exhausts modified act as flame dampers.

Of the hundred B.E.12bs that were ordered, at least 36 reached Home Defence squadrons during 1918, serving with Nos.37, 50, 75, 76 and 77 squadrons of the R.F.C. and infant R.A.F. By the time they entered service the Zeppelins had been replaced by large bombers, many with a service ceiling far above that of the normal B.E.12. The B.E.12b was almost obsolete as it entered service, and many of the 74 unallocated aircraft may have been completed as standard B.E.12s.

Engine: Hispano-Suiza V-8
Power: 200hp
Crew: 1


Situated on the Yorkshire Coast just to the north of Atwick village, this is another WW1 site with very little history. Its location was 3 miles from Hornsea railway station and it was listed as a 2nd class landing ground. It covered an area of 50 acres in open surroundings, half a mile from the sea. The site was another used by 76 squadron, Royal Flying Corps.

There is no record of any regular use at Atwick until May 1918 when it was occupied by 504flight of 251 squadron, Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS)

which operated with DH 6s on anti u boat patrols. The landing ground closed immediately after the war and there is no trace of it today.

Pilot Ranald MacDonald of No 76 Squadron RFC by his Royal Aircraft Factory B_E_12b single seat general purpose biplane used for Home Defence duties Serial number C3094

Aircraft similar to or like Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.8

Single-seat biplane "pusher" aircraft which operated as a fighter during the First World War. The second pusher design by aeronautical engineer Geoffrey de Havilland for Airco, based on his earlier DH.1 two-seater. Wikipedia

British biplane fighter aircraft of the First World War. Developed at the Royal Aircraft Factory by a team consisting of Henry Folland, John Kenworthy and Major Frank Goodden. Wikipedia

Single-engined, single seat biplane designed and built at the Royal Aircraft Factory just prior to the start of the First World War. Soon written off in a crash. Wikipedia

British two-seat biplane reconnaissance and bomber aircraft of the First World War designed and produced at the Royal Aircraft Factory. Also built under contract by Austin Motors, Daimler, Standard Motors, Siddeley-Deasy and the Coventry Ordnance Works. Wikipedia

British two-seat single-engined general purpose biplane of the First World War, designed by John Kenworthy at the Royal Aircraft Factory in 1913. Small numbers were used by the Royal Flying Corps over the Western Front in the first year of the war, with the type being used as a trainer until 1916. Wikipedia

Prototype British two-seat fighter-reconnaissance aircraft of the First World War. A single-engined pusher biplane of 1917, the F.E.9 had poor performance and handling, and only three were built. Wikipedia

British First World War single-seat biplane fighter aircraft. Designed and manufactured at British aviation company Airco. Wikipedia

British single- or two-seat multi-role biplane aircraft of the First World War. Significant as the first British two-seat tractor fighter and the first British aircraft to enter service with a synchronised machine gun. Wikipedia

1 September 1983

A Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 interceptor armed with R-98MR air-to-air missiles. (Department of Defense) Подполковник Г.Н. Осипович. Майкоп, середина 1980-х гг.

1 September 1983: At approximately 1826 hours UTC, Lieutenant Colonel Gennadiy Nikolayevich Osipovich of the V-PVO, (Soviet Air Defence Forces—Войска ПВО, Voyska Protivovozdushnoy Oborony) flying a Sukhoi Su-15TM interceptor, fired two Kaliningrad R-98MR air-to-air missiles at a Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 which was in international air space over the Sea of Japan at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Both missiles’ 40 kilogram (88 pound) warheads were detonated by proximity fuses 50 yards (45 meters) behind the airliner and blast fragmentation shrapnel caused severe damage.

Over the next twelve minutes, the 747 spiraled downward until it crashed into the Sea of Japan near Moneron Island. All 269 persons on board were killed.

The airliner, KAL Flight 007, had departed Anchorage International Airport en route to Seoul, Republic of Korea. In command was Captain Chun Byung-in. The co-pilot was First Officer Son Dong Hui and the flight engineer was Kim Eui Doing. There were a total of 29 crew members and 240 passengers on board.

After leaving Anchorage airspace, the airplane, a 12-year-old Boeing 747-230B, registration HL7442, continuously deviated to the north of its planned course. The airliner entered Soviet airspace, crossed over the Kamchatka Peninsula, and then flew over Sakhalin Island. Based on these two airspace incursions, the Soviet military chain of command specifically ordered Lieutenant Colonel Osipovich to shoot down the airliner, even if it was over international waters.

A Korean Air Lines’ Boeing 747-2B5B, similar to the 747-230B flown as KAL 007, 1 September 1983. (Wikipedia)

It is believed that the KAL 007 flight crew had placed the autopilot in the heading mode when it should have been in the Inertial Navigation Mode. From review of cockpit voice recorder tapes that were later recovered, it is not believed that the crew was ever aware that they were flying north of their course.

The intended and actual track of Korean Air Lines Flight 007. (Central Intelligence Agency)

When interviewed by The New York Times for the 9 December 1996 edition, Colonel Osipovich, by then retired, said, “I saw two rows of windows and knew this was a Boeing. . . I knew this was a civilian plane. But for me this meant nothing. It is easy to turn a civilian type of plane into one for military use.”

Aviation Feature – Bournemouth-Hurn 1985-1994

Bournemouth was always a sleepy regional airport, but with the occasional interesting visitor you just never knew what you’d find on the ramp.

I was often passing through while working for Channel Express in Guernsey, and sometimes I even carried my camera with me, although not as often as I should have.

My earliest photo from this airfield is of All Cargo Airlines Bristol Britannia 307F, 5Y-AYR, taken sometime in 1979. This aircraft was stored at the time and was eventually scrapped here in 1982.

All Cargo Airlines Britannia 307F 5Y-AYR – © Paul Filmer –

I never took another photo here until 1985 when I had a little spurt of activity. A Dutch Navy P-3C is seen here departing the airfield one morning.

Dutch Navy P-3C – © Paul Filmer –

One really unusual visitor was Ecuadorian Air Force L-100-30 Hercules FAE893, seen here parked on the ramp in September 1985. What it was doing here is unknown, but it may have been connected with the BAe Strikemasters that they operated and were manufactured here.

Ecuadorian Air Force L-100-30 Hercules FAE893 – © Paul Filmer –

Dan Air HS748-2A G-BIUV is seen here awaiting passengers in September 1985. After service with Dan Air this aircraft flew with Emerald Airways before being exported to Kenya as 5Y-BXT.

Dan Air HS748-2A G-BIUV – © Paul Filmer –

Channel Express Herald 209, G-BEZB, is seen here still in its basic Arkia (Israel) colour scheme that previous operator Express Air Freight never changed.

Channel Express Herald 209 G-BEZB – © Paul Filmer –

Fast forward to the next set, which are all from 1994.

More Heralds, first up this lovely looking example from British Air Ferries, G-ASVO.

British Air Ferries Herald G-ASVO – © Paul Filmer –

Another Channel Express example, G-CEXP, this time in full livery. This was the example that ended up on the viewing deck at Gatwick Airport, and now resides in a remote part of the airport, seemingly neglected. I flew on this aircraft many times with Channel Express.

Channel Express Herald G-CEXP – © Paul Filmer –

These photos show her at Gatwick in July 2012.

Channel Express Herald G-CEXP at Gatwick Airport July 2010 – © Paul Filmer –

Channel Express Herald G-CEXP at Gatwick Airport July 2010 – © Paul Filmer –

New at the time to Channel Express was F-27-500 G-JEAE, which was a replacement for the venerable Herald. As the registration suggests, this was a Jersey European airframe which was being leased at the time. This later served with Air Contractors before being sold to Knight Aviation of Kenya as 5Y-BTX.

Channel Express F-27-500 G-JEAE – © Paul Filmer –

That concludes the operational shots I took at Hurn, and, as usual, I wish I’d carried my camera more often.

All the following were taken at the 1986 airshow on 31 May. All were during my black and white phase.

First we see F-100F N415FS belonging to Flight Systems. At the time they were based at Hurn performing target towing operations for the UK military. This airframe was later transferred to the USA and operated out of Mojave for Flight Systems.

Flight Systems F-100F N415FS – © Paul Filmer –

This aircraft still flies as N26AZ with the Collings Foundation.

French Navy Nord 262Es were common in the UK during this period, and were seen all over the country until they were retired.

French Navy Nord 262E 79 – © Paul Filmer- Global Aviation Resource

French Navy Br1050 Alize aircraft were also common at this time, especially at the Royal Naval airshows.

French Navy Br1050 43 – © Paul Filmer –

French Navy Br1050 43 – © Paul Filmer –

RAF Tornado GR.1 ZD892/FP of 16 Squadron – this airframe was later upgraded to GR.4 standard.

RAF Tornado GR.1 ZD892/FP of 16 Squadron – © Paul Filmer –

Last noted as just a fuselage stored at RAF Leeming for spares, but shown below at RAF Shawbury before being moved.

RAF Tornado GR.4 ZD892 in storage at RAF Shawbury 29 January 2010 – © Gordon Jones –

RAF Tornado F.2 ZD901/AA from 229OCU was eventually scrapped.

RAF Tornado F.2 ZD901/AA from 229OCU – © Paul Filmer –

Meteor T.7 VZ638/G-JETM ended her RAF career with 237OCU at RAF Cranwell and was then stored at RAF Kemble. In 1972 she was moved to the Southend Historical Air Museum and in 1983 was sold to the Hunter One collection at Bournemouth. In this photo, the aircraft was actually a primer green/yellow colour.

Meteor T.7 VZ638/G-JETM – © Paul Filmer –

After a period with Aces High from 1987 she ended up at the Gatwick Aviation Museum in Charlwood from 1988 and is still displayed there.

Sea Hawk FB.5 WM983/G-SEAH was owned by the Brencham Historic Collection when the photo was taken, and was previously displayed at the Cornwall Aero Park at Helson, Cornwall.

Sea Hawk FB.5 WM983/G-SEAH – © Paul Filmer –

The airframe is currently displayed at the Military Aviation Museum in Soesterberg, and is painted as D-131 in Dutch Navy colours.

Sea Hawk FB.5 D-131 – © Michael de Boer –

At some point WM983 and XE498 had their rear fuselages swapped out, and XE498 also still survives at the Gatwick Aviation Museum.

Meteor TT.20 WM167/G-LOSM was a flyer at the time of her display in the static park, unlike the above Meteor, which was being restored.

Meteor TT.20 WM167/G-LOSM – © Paul Filmer –

She still flies with the Classic Air Force at Newquay to this day.

Meteor TT.20 WM167/G-LOSM at RAF Waddington July 2008 – © Paul Filmer –

There were a pair of Boeing 727s stored here at the time from Jetair, D-AJAA and N837N. D-AJAA is now at Oklahoma City Airport as an instruction airframe. N837N ended up with Torosair, who had a fleet of Boeing 727s, as TC-AJZ, and was broken up in the late-80s.

Jetair Boeing 727s – © Paul Filmer –

Spanish Air Force CASA C-212-200 TE.12B-40/792-2 these were not common visitors to UK shores. This aircraft is now an instructional airframe.

Spanish Air Force CASA C-212-200 TE.12B-40/792-2 – © Paul Filmer –

Spanish Air Force CASA C-101 E.25-47/793-37 is now out of service and stored in Spain.

Spanish Air Force CASA C-101 E.25-47/793-37 – © Paul Filmer –

81TFW A-10A 82-0656 from RAF Woodbridge/Bentwaters is seen here in the typical green camo’ of the day.

81TFW A-10A 82-0656 – © Paul Filmer –

She is still active, last noted with the 354FS at Davis-Monthan, and was last seen still carrying the SP tailcode of the 81FS from Spangdahlem, Germany.

81FS A-10C 82-0656 at Nellis AFB, NV March 2010 – © Paul Filmer –

With Bournemouth’s close proximity to MoD Boscombe Down, it was nice to see a quite large presence from this normally secretive airfield.

Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) Bassett CC.1 XS770 went to the civilian register as G-HRHI and was cancelled by 2009.

A&AEE Bassett CC.1 XS770 – © Paul Filmer –

The star of the show for me was the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Varsity T.1 WL679, which flew with the unit until 1991 and then went to the RAF Cosford Museum, where she still sits now inside a hangar. This was the last Varsity to ever fly.

RAE Varsity T.1 WL679 – © Paul Filmer –

RAE Varsity T.1 WL679 at the Cosford Museum in 2007 – © Karl Drage –

RAE Dakota C.3 ZA947 is still flying with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

RAE Dakota C.3 ZA947 – © Paul Filmer –

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota C.3 ZA947 at RAF Coningsby September 2013 – © Paul Filmer – Global Aviation Resource

RAE Viscount 838 XT661 was eventually scrapped at RAE Bedford, but the forward fuselage was donated and transferred to Bruntingthorpe, although that was never really confirmed.


Ele era claramente uma reconstrução do Voisin II impulsionado por um motor Wolseley refrigerado a água de 60 hp, o B.E.1 usava apenas o motor e o radiador daquele avião, sendo o radiador montado entre o par de "estruturas cabane" frontais. As asas tinhas envergaduras diferentes: a superior com cerca de 11 m e a inferior com cerca de 10,5 m. [ 4 ]

Seu primeiro voo ocorreu em 4 de dezembro de 1911 pilotado por de Havilland. [ 5 ] O avião não tornou a voar até 27 de Dezembro, quando foi modificado com a substituição do carburador original Wolseley por um Claudel, que permitia o controle de potência. Outras pequenas modificações foram efetuadas nas semanas seguintes: as rodas do trem de pouso foram movidas mais para trás 30,4 cm, as asas (que originalmente não estavam em diedro) foram reposicionadas e passaram a ter um ângulo de 1° em relação à horizontal, e a hélice foi reduzida no comprimento, tentando aumentar a velocidade do motor. [ 6 ] Mais tarde o motor Wolseley foi substituído por um Renault de 60 hp refrigerado à ar. [ 7 ]

Celebrating the Centenary of the RAE

In addition to 2018 marking the centenary of the RAF, it is also the centenary of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough. BILL READ FRAeS reports from the FAST Museum in Farnborough on the work of the RAE in many aerospace research projects.

On display at the FAST museum is this model of a W-wing Harrier GR5 which was adapted by DERA Farnborough in the early 1990s (in co-operation with BAe) to test the suitability of an M or W wing for use on a STOVL aircraft. The model, which incorporated fully scaled blown jets fed by high-pressure air (at up to 100bar) through the hollow support strut, was tested in the 5m wind-tunnel at Farnborough.

In addition to 2018 being the centenary of founding of the Royal Air Force, what may be less well-known is that this year also marks 100 years of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough. To commemorate this event, the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) museum at Farnborough is holding a special exhibition on the work of the RAE and its involvement in a multitude of diverse aerospace research projects.

While the name of the RAE was created in 1918, the Establishment traces its origins back to the Army Balloon Factory at Farnborough which was established in 1905. On 1 April 2012, the Balloon Factory changed its name to the Royal Aircraft Factory (the same date that the Royal Flying Corps was formed). The Royal Aircraft Factory (which confusingly had the same initials as the later RAF) specialised in building, testing and evaluating of new British and foreign-built aircraft and aero-engines. The Royal Aircraft Factory developed many early aeroplane designs, one of the first being the BE2 which had stable flight characteristics ideal for photographic reconnaissance. During WW1, the Royal Aircraft Factory introduced new manufacturing, testing and inspection standards for both aircraft and equipment such as petrol flow meters, tautness meters, petrol tank gauges, anemometers, pressure heads, compressors, gear boxes, lighting sets, cockpit lighting and aircraft engines.

The RAE Farnborough site in the 1920s. (FAST)

In 1918, when the Royal Air Force was founded, the Royal Aircraft Factory was renamed as the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) to avoid any confusion over the shared RAF acronym. Following WW1, the focus of the RAE moved to improving performance, safety and reliability. As new aircraft became more complicated, the need for more specialist training also grew, and RAE focused also on aeronautical and works apprentice training, leading to professional scientific and engineering qualifications. During the early 1920s, elements of aerofoil and airscrew theory were investigated and evaluated using the RAE’s facilities, which included the use of a whirling arm and wind tunnels. To reduce the number of crashes resulting from loss of control when aircraft entered a spin, much research work was carried out in the two 7ft wind tunnels, supplemented by spinning flight trials at low altitude. Other projects included research on electrical heating systems for guns, reliable navigation lamps, better engine magnetos and ignition systems.

High altitude flight

RAE Stratosphere space suit. (FAST)

One of the research areas of the RAE was into high altitude flight and the problems experienced by aircraft, engines and pilots in thinner air. Specialist department at the RAE adapted engine designs to give higher power through internally cooled exhaust valves, superchargers and more sophisticated propeller designs. The RAE also helped develop oxygen systems for pilots, as well as heated pressurised flight suits. During WW2, operational pressure suits were further developed by the RAE with the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine for use in high flying reconnaissance aircraft. High-pressure altitude chambers were used from 1939 onwards at the RAE Physiology Laboratory. Post war research into ultra-high altitude pressurised suits included advanced designs that were intended for stratosphere flights which also had potential space capsule applications.

Wind tunnels

The RAE also made extensive use of wind tunnels in its research into aerodynamics. The first specialised wind tunnel building containing two small 7ft tunnels was completed in 1920. In 1935 a new, 24ft large scale tunnel was opened to test cooling on air and liquid cooled engines, aerodynamic sections and aircraft to reduce drag, full scale airscrews and experiments on large, instrumented models. In 1938 a 11.5ft x 8.5ft tunnel was added, followed by the R133 high speed wind tunnel in 1942 and a 4ft x 3ft high constriction radio tunnel in 1944. In 1954 the high-speed wind tunnel was closed to be replaced by a new 8ft x 6ft Transonic Tunnel in 1956 which could test models at speeds between Mach 0.9 to Mach 1.15. A 2ft x 1.5ft by-pass tunnel enabled the facility to test models at speeds of up to Mach 1.4. Between the mid 1950s and the 1990s all major new military aircraft projects were tested using this tunnel, until it closed in 1993.

Seaplane tank

In 1932 work was completed on a 650ft x 9ft x 4.5ft deep water wave tank designed to test the hulls of new seaplanes and flying boats. High-speed cameras recorded the passage of the models through the water to examine how they performed in take-off, landing and slow-speed taxiing.

Structural testing

Three aircraft in the RAE Cathedral test rig. (FAST)

Another activity at the RAE was structural testing. The first tests involved placing measured quantities of ballast on an inverted airframe to test its strength up to breaking point. As more knowledge was gained of torsion forces, materials limits and manufacturing techniques, the test rigs became more sophisticated and elaborate test structures were built that could replicate typical in-service wear and tear on an airframe. This work continued through WW2 and into the 1950s when the RAE’s huge ‘Cathedral’ test rig which could handle several aircraft simultaneously was used to test early jet aircraft.

Aviation medicine

Another important activity was work investigating physiological conditions of aircrew. This began as the Physiological Laboratory but was re-named in 1945 the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine (IAM). Initial experiments at the IAM concerned the effects of high altitude flying on air crews and used a decompression chamber to simulate high altitude conditions in which volunteers were filmed attempting to perform various tests. The laboratories tested emergency procedures for surviving loss of pressurisation and also providing heated flying suits.

In 1957 a centrifuge was commissioned fitted with a 60ft whirling arm, which could rotate at speeds of up to 55rpm and simulate high G Forces to see at what stage a pilot would black out in recovering from extreme manoeuvres. These tests led to the development of various preventative flying suits to counter these force levels, enabling pilots to undertake high G flying in modern jet aircraft.

Tests were also conducted using ejector seats launched both from the ground and modified aircraft. Some tests used weighted dummies, while others used actual pilots.

As advanced night-vision systems were developed, the IAM worked with other RAE departments to develop helmet-mounted vision systems that would not endanger neck muscles in high G situations and could still enable pilots to access flying controls.

Aerial photography

Early aerial photography with a camera fitted to side of a biplane. (FAST)

Another area that the RAE was involved in was aerial photography. In WW1 the RAE designed cameras which could take multiple images in quick succession, allowing maps of entire battlefields to be assembled. The RAE also developed the F.24 camera which was fitted to Spitfires, Mosquitos and other British military aircraft during WW2. The RAE also developed the concept of mobile Photo Recce Units which followed RAF reconnaissance squadrons over Europe and North Africa, producing millions of aerial images within minutes of being retrieved from the aircraft.

Engine developments

During WW1 the Royal Aircraft Factory developed a number of aero-engine designs, over 7,000 of which were built by industry between 1913 and 1917. In the inter-war years the Engine Experimental Department at the RAE continued to assist with engine design with exhaust turbo superchargers and more reliable components for piston engines. During the Battle of Britain, RAF Merlin engines were prone to flooding, reducing power or even cutting out in negative-G combat conditions but Miss Tilly Shilling at the RAE invented a fuel flow restrictor device which solved the problem. The RAE was also involved in early work on jet engines with Dr A. A. Griffith at Farnborough publishing a RAE report in 1926 proposing the use of a gas turbine as a new power plant. Work was sanctioned to carry out experiments at RAE to verify the theory and a simple single stage turbine driving a single stage compressor was built and tested in in 1929. Wind tunnel tests were also conducted on cascades of turbine and compressor blades, later known as the axial flow type. However, the Air Ministry withheld permission for a prototype turbine (jet) engine to be built, an opposition that continued until 1936-37. It was not until 1941 that the first experimental British jet, the Gloster E.28/39, made its first flight powered by a single Power Jets Whittle W1 centrifugal turbine engine developed independently by Frank Whittle. According to the FAST exhibition, if the government had given its approval to the original RAE research, a jet-powered fighter could have been delivered to the RAF by 1939.

Early jet engines were tested on special test-bed aircraft, flown from Farnborough, including a modified Lancaster with the jet engine in the rear fuselage with the jetpipe replacing the rear turret. There was much rivalry between the RAE’s favoured axial flow turbojet and Whittle’s centrifugal jet designs but, as industry was ordered to take up the production of both types of jet engine the new Labour government nationalised Power Jets and combined its personnel and research and development activities with the RAE Gas Dynamics Department to form the National Gas Turbine Establishment (NGTE). With extensive new test facilities on a site north of the Farnborough airfield at Pyestock, NGTE would grow over the next 50 years to become the major national centre for testing all aspects of aero engines – including the Olympus engines of Concorde. Test rigs at Pyestock included special environmental chambers simulating different climatic and altitude conditions, as well as testing noise levels, emissions, fuel consumption performance, vibration and thrust, at speeds up to supersonic and hypersonic levels.

Naval air department

Winkle Brown lands on the rubber deck of HMS Warrior. (FAST)

Other research conducted by RAE included the design and testing of catapults and arrestor gear, and barrier systems and angled decks for aircraft carriers. The RAE was also involved in the Flexible Deck Research Programme that originated in 1943 and saw initial RAE trials at Farnborough in 1948 using a Vampire jet landing on an experimental rubber deck.


The RAE also developed instruments to make naval flying safer, included the Air Position Indicator for the automatic navigation of an aircraft and which provided accurate air mileage and directional information to assist a pilot to return to his aircraft carrier at night and in overcast conditions.

The concept of head-up displays (HUDs) was started at the RAE with a HUD to be used as a flight director for TSR2. The development of helmet-mounted sights was accompanied by extensive laboratory and flight trials at Farnborough while night vision goggles technology was flight tested at Farnborough on a wide variety of aircraft.

Survival equipment

Water tank tests were conducted the RAE to evaluate ditching characteristics of aircraft, to trial new items of survival equipment, including floatation gear for aircrew, inflatable life rafts and air-droppable lifeboats for convoy survivors. The RAE also worked on the development of clothing to protect air and ground crew against nuclear, biological & chemical (NBC) attack.

The nuclear age

RAE expertise was also used deal with many of the highly classified scientific and engineering challenges posed by air-launched nuclear weapons, including the safe handling of weapons on the ground and in storage, aircraft loading and weapon and aircraft release characteristics. The RAE was involved in developing and evaluating Britain’s three V-bombers, the Vickers Valiant, Avro Vulcan and Handley Page Victor.

Space department

Skylark rocket launch. (FAST)

During the post-war years the RAE provided experts in all aspects of space science research and technology with specialist testing facilities established in laboratories at Farnborough and at out-stations, including rocket-testing and launch sites in the UK and Australia.

The Space Department covered both practical and theoretical work and played a leading role in the design, structural, aerodynamic, control, guidance and performance of space vehicles and platforms. and managed the launch trials. Among the space launchers developed by the RAE with industry was the silo-launched Blue Streak intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile. Although the rocket was abandoned as a military programme it was later adapted to become the first stage of a new European three-stage Europa satellite launcher. Other Space Department launchers were the Skylark rocket which was used as a test vehicle for upper-atmosphere research and the two-stage Black Knight. In 1967, Black Arrow became the first British launcher to place the Prospero research satellite into orbit.

Other projects carried out by the Space Department were the study of satellite orbits and their use in obtaining geophysical information, as well as looking into the potential of ion thruster for space travel.


The RAE was also involved in the early development of helicopters. In 1919, on the recommendation of Winston Churchill, the RAE commenced construction of a three-bladed (later modified to two-bladed) helicopter designed by Louis Brennan. Free flight testing began in 1925 and around 200 flights were made over six years and the machine was capable of carrying up to five men. Work was discontinued on the Brennan in favour of autogyros, the first Cierva making its first flight at RAE in 1926. An extensive helicopter flight research programme was resumed in 1946 when a Sikorsky R4-B Hoverfly was used to understand more fully the complex air flow conditions through a rotor.


A test cross-section of Concorde fuselage on display outside the FAST museum.

The RAE was also heavily involved in the design of Concorde, with RAE departments and the NGTE at Pyestock working closely with the main aircraft manufacturers, BAC and Sud Aviation, and the engine manufacturers, Bristol Siddeley (later Rolls-Royce) and Snecma, as well as with the many companies contributing systems, sub-systems and equipment. RAE wind tunnel testing of aerodynamic features played a major part in refining the final shape of Concorde, and the crucial working of the engine’s variable geometry intake system. A purpose-built structural test building was erected at Farnborough in which a complete Concorde airframe was subjected to (heat and mechanical) fatigue tests. This was the first such test rig ever built in the world and had to prove that the in-service fatigue life of the aircraft took into account the unique heating and cooling effect on the structure due to extensive supersonic cruising speed at high altitude.

Wireless communications

Wireless set in a Hurricane. (FAST)

Yet another research area conducted the RAE was into aircraft wireless telegraphy. The Airships R100 and R101 were equipped with radio installations designed by the RAE. Research was also conducted into the transmission and reception of airborne signals and the associated support equipment, including aerials and direction-finding equipment. In 1939 the RAE Experimental Wireless Department took a unilateral research decision to develop a complete system of air and ground VHF short-range radio telephone communication which resulted in the practical design of the TR1133 which later saw widespread operational use in the Battle of Britain and was also used by Bomber Command to control the Dambuster raids.

Landing systems

A Trident landing in fog. (FAST)

In 1946 RAE Farnborough was tasked by the Civil Aviation Authority to investigate the problem of providing lighting to aircraft to land in poor visual conditions. Work by E S Calvert from the RAeS Electrical Engineering Department led to the development of the basic form of the Calvert cross bar lighting system, which still forms the basis for high-intensity airport approach lighting systems today. RAE staff also worked on the Blind Landing Experimental Unit (BLEU) based at RAF Woodbridge and RAF Martlesham Heath which developed a new Autoland system to enable aircraft to land safely in fog, which was first demonstrated in 1950 using a DH Devon. BLEU later went on to develop blind landing systems for larger aircraft, which was later used on the Trident commercial aircraft.

UAV pioneer

RAE Larnyx radio-controlled aircraft being tested in 1927. (FAST)

Among the many firsts pioneered by the RAE was the development of the first ever radio-controlled pilotless aircraft at Farnborough in 1917. In 1925 the Aerodynamics and Instrument Departments developed the Larynx, a 100 mile range radio-controlled flying bomb. In 1927 the first catapult launches were carried out from HMS Stronghold. Evaluation tests of the Larynx continued through 1928 and included the development of a safety device that was designed to prevent the aircraft from drifting off course. Six Larynx aircraft were shipped to Iraq where they carried out a full range of tests.

Although the Larynx programme was abandoned, further development work on pilotless aircraft continued with the design in 1929 of the Fairey Queen, a 20 mile range pilotless target floatplane for the Royal Navy. This was followed in the 1930s by the Queen Bee, a converted DH Tiger Moth radio controlled floatplane. After WW2, the RAE continued to develop and test a series of pilotless target aircraft, including modified Meteors, Canberras, Sea Vixens Fireflys and the Australian Jindivik.

Gun sights

Early in WW2 the RAE formed a collaboration with the Air Staff to use gyro mechanisms to improve gun aiming. The result was the Mk1 GGS, which was tested by Fighter

Command and the Mk 2 used by pilots and gunners, which resulted in a significant increase in the hit rate in combat. THE RAE also helped develop the Course Setting Bomb Sight (CSBS) which was first introduced in 1917 and adopted by the RNAS & RFC. In WW2, the RAE produced the Blackett Sight which began replacing the CSBS in 1942.

Enemy aircraft testing

A selection of aircraft at the RAE. (FAST)

The RAE was also involved in evaluating the performance of captured aircraft and had a collection of over 60 captured German aircraft by the end of WW2 which were test flown by the RAE’s Chief Test Pilot Lt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown and his team.


RAE research into materials began with the development of more fire-resistant fabrics and paints and then moved on to rust preventatives and corrosion inhibitors particularly for naval aircraft and equipment, as well as lightweight alloys.

Air accident investigation

The remains of a crashed Comet at Farnborough. (FAST)

The RAE also worked in close co-operation with the Accidents Investigation Branch of the Air Ministry, particularly in solving the mystery of why a series of Comet jet airliners had crashed in 1952. The remains of a crashed Comet were brought to Farnborough for reassembly while an entire Comet fuselage was tested in a dedicated water tank built at Farnborough to accommodate its full length which was subjected to repeated repressurisation and over-pressurisation. The tests provided that the aircraft had a weak spot in the square cabin windows which generated levels of stress two or three times more than across the rest of the fuselage which resulted in structural failure. As a result of the lesson learned from the test, subsequent commercial jet airliners were built using major structural parts made from solid alloy billets for extra strength.

The first carbon fibre

The RAE also conducting pioneering work in the mid-1950s into the development of composite materials. The Farnborough laboratories had been experimenting with the use of thin fibres combined with resins to produce a strong but light material, ideal for use as aircraft components. The impregnated sheet material could be laid on formers and cured in an autoclave and the resulting moulded components could be drilled and riveted. Tests were conducted on a Rolls-Royce RB 2-11 engine low pressure engine fan blades made from this new carbon fibre material but they did not survive simulated bird strikes and it would be another 20 years until composite blades would be used on a new generation of turbofan engines.

The RAE invention of carbon fibre also allowed the development at Farnborough, in co-operation with Westland Helicopters, of a revolutionary new rotor blade design under the British Experimental Research Programme (BERP). The advanced aerodynamic properties of BERP rotor blades greatly improved performance, reducing drag, raising speed and reducing tip stall problems, as well as reducing vibration levels by up to a half. Today, BERP blades are standard on Lynx, Wildcat and Merlin helicopters.

End of the RAE

The Farnborough Business Park today. (Farnborough Business Park)

In 1988 the Royal Aircraft Establishment changed its name to the Royal Aerospace Establishment to reflect the increased breadth of the research and development that it was undertaking. On 1 April 1991 the RAE ceased to exist and the Establishment was renamed the Defence Research Agency (DRA) and remained an executive agency of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). The Farnborough site was turned into the Farnborough Business Park and many of the buildings were demolished but three buildings containing five wind-tunnels have been preserved.

RAE 100 exhibition at FAST.

However, many documents and artefacts from RAE Farnborough and its other sites have been preserved by the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) museum. These include scientific, engineering, experimental and social artefacts, as well as photographic, film and report archives. Due to space limitations, only around 10% of the total archives are on display in the museum.


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APA Citation

Shiers, Walter Henry. (1916). Soldiers standing next to a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 biplane loaded with bombs, Middle East, ca. 1917.

MLA Citation

Shiers, Walter Henry. Soldiers standing next to a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 biplane loaded with bombs, Middle East, ca. 1917 [picture] / Walter Henry Shiers 1916 <>

Australian/Harvard Citation

Shiers, Walter Henry. 1916, Soldiers standing next to a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 biplane loaded with bombs, Middle East, ca. 1917 [picture] / Walter Henry Shiers <>

Wikipedia Citation
Soldiers standing next to a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 biplane loaded with bombs, Middle East, ca. 1917 [picture] / Walter Henry Shiers

Shiers, Walter Henry W.H. Shiers album of photographs from Egypt and the Middle East during World War I.

Title devised by cataloguer from caption list.

Part of the W.H. Shiers album of photographs from Egypt and the Middle East during World War I.

Condition: Faded, silvering and yellowing.

In album: W.H. Shiers album of photographs from Egypt and the Middle East during World War I


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FOKKER FODDER – The Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c – Review by Mark Barnes

Last week it was Spitfires and this time out we have the humble BE2c. You couldn’t get two more different aeroplanes if you tried and yet they have a connection you find in one of those degrees of separation things we all like. A colourful Member of Parliament by the name of Noel Pemberton-Billing stood up in the House and alleged the incompetence of the senior men running the Royal Flying Corps by their

persistent failure to introduce a better aircraft than the BE2 for the crews to fight with. He accused them of murder. His harsh words led to two enquiries but in the end the senior airmen were exonerated. In a varied life Pemberton-Billing had a company that built seaplanes and coined the name Supermarine. He sold out to the men who would build the Spitfire. Do you see what I did there?

But is it right to put down the BE2c? It was the primary artillery spotter and reconnaissance platform of the RFC. It was a placid aeroplane that could almost fly itself. Pilots could fly ‘hands off’ for long periods. It was a most undemanding aeroplane. You can get hot under the collar about the classic fighters of the Great War, but it was the BE2 that did the trench mapping and artillery spotting. At home it was used successfully to shoot down Zeppelins. It was a war winner. In fact you might argue that it was the most important British aircraft of the war. Pemberton-Billing’s showboating might have gained oxygen during the bloodletting of Bloody April, but the RFC found a way back and although it was the fighter pilot glamour boys who took the Albatri and Fokkers on head to head, the men who flew the BE2 and its successor, the RE8 were the real deal. They were the eyes of a victorious army.

Another thing about the BE2c is its pedigree. It was designed by none other than Geoffrey De Havilland but the most effective model, the ‘C’, was the work of the very hands on but, alas, ill-fated Ted Busk. His early death robbed the British aircraft industry of a star. The aeroplane was stable and sure footed. It might have lacked va-va-voom but it had a Renault engine and it was very reliable. For all its gentility, it was a quality product. Unfortunately it was just a little too well mannered for the vanguard of the Fokker scourge.

There is a lot to learn in this economically written volume. A one word description for it might be quaint. I found very little to dislike. It isn’t the longest but it gets all the important stuff in and it is a diverting read. There are a lot of interesting photographs and although the format doesn’t truly present them at their best it all works. It’s another coincidence that one snap shows a BE2 with a bunch of boy scouts because if this book was done for Bob a Job Week, it could have one of those little stickers you used to see in the front windows of our homes. They said Job Done. Nuff said.

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

The Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c
By Paul R Hare
Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978 1 78155 065 6

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About the Author

Since childhood he has been fascinated by all aspects of aviation history. Since passing his GFT for a Private Pilots License on the 30th June 1989 in the Cessna 152 G-WACB at Wycombe Air Park the gates of opportunity opened and he has, for example, flown an aircraft in every country in western Europe registered in each country.

And that includes a Robin DR.40 3A-MKQ from Cannes registered in Monaco. A tiny principality that does not have an airfield! He has also flown aircraft in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Another aspect of his involvement with aviation was moving light aircraft in a specialised truck for over twenty five years.

If you have anything to add to this project or would like to share your own experiances please get in touch with Dick or feel free to post a comment.

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