some 30 miles south west of the capital, Farnborough was already
the home of army flying with the siting of the Farnborough
Balloon Factory. The site was later renamed the Royal Aircraft
Factory from May 1912.
The first military airship named Nulli Secundus ("Second
to None") was taking shape as early as 1905, in the first
airship shed which was completed in the same year. The ship
was not ready to fly for another two years, with it's inaugural
flight on 10th September 1907. The first flight was launched
from Farnborough common, not far from the Military Balloon
However, the flight which was planned to be over the capital
was short-lived, as the airship was forced to land at Crystal
Palace, which was an impressive 30 miles from Farnborough
and only 3 miles short of central London. The ship was forced
down by strong winds, where it was seriously damaged by the
wind. The ship was later taken back to Farnborough, to be
rebuilt, and humorously renamed "Nulli Secundus II"
(Second to None, the second!).
Two more ships, the
"Baby", a smaller sized non rigid airship, named
after it's smaller size, took to the skies in 11th May 1909.
The ship performed poorly, and was rebuilt with a larger
It was renamed "Beta"
and in June 1910, undertook a successful night flight over
the capital. Again in 1910, Beta took part in Army exercises
and during this time, during one of it's flights, it stayed
aloft for almost eight hours.
Farnbrough also was
home to the production of the Army's third airship, Gamma,
and like Beta, made it's first successful flight in 1910.
With financial support
from the newspaper, The Morning Post, which ran a campaign
to raise funds to boost the British airship fleet, enough
money was raised for a new shed at Farnborough.
The Cleveland Bridge
and Engineering Company of Darlington was employed to build
new shed to house the Lebaudy airship, which was purchased
by the Morning Post. The shed was a steel framed structure
with a vaulted roof, and two bands of glazing to give light.
The shed itself was
painted white, which made it very easy for airship crews
to be able to spot from a distance. In the early part of
the 20th century, and with aviation in it's infancy, navigation
was by compass and also line of sight, so a white shed would
have been a marker for the crews to see.
The Cleveland Bridge
and Engineering Company went on to win the contracts for
many more of Britain's airship sheds. The Lebaudy airship
would have easily fitted in the new Farnborough shed, however
the French builders of the airship omitted to tell the British
War Office, that they had increased the height of the new
ship by 10ft in height.
On 26th October 1910,
the Lebaudy arrived at Farnborough after a non stop flight
from Paris. The handling party was able to haul the ship
down and began maneuvering the ship in to the shed. In doing
so and confusion arose as to the instructions to the handling
party, and the top of the envelope was torn on the edge
of the new building, and the envelope deflated. Once repaired
the ship only made one more flight, when disaster stuck
again on landing. The passengers on board sustained minor
injuries but no fatalities. The Lebaudy never flew again.
In 1912, the Beta shed
was extended to double it's original length, and the shed
enjoyed a long life right up until the 1960's when it was
finally demoished. A smaller "portable" shed was
erected that year, again the contract going to the Cleveland
Bridge and Engineering Company. Fifty men erected a lattice
of frames which were completed covered in heavy canvas sections.
Due to it's lightness,
the shed was vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. Not
long after it was erected, it was agreed that it should
be dismantled and a stronger structure should be put in
it's place. The "C Shed" was erected on the same
ground as the original canvas shed.The portable canvas shed
was re-errected beside the new C Shed.
As the emphasis moved
from balloons to aeroplanes,the Balloon Factory became the
Army Aircraft Factory April 1911.The Royal Flying Corps
was formed on 13th May 1912,and with it,the first Squadron
,No 1 Sq, was formed.Throughout WW1 the establishment,by
now renamed the Royal Aircraft Factory,produced and repaired
hundreds of aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps.
As 1913 drew to a close,
the factory originated the Inspection Methods for Aircraft
& Accessories and on 1 January 1914, the Navy and Military
Airship Section were amalgamated, the Admiralty taking over
the military airships and equipment from the Army, signaling
the end of the Airship phase at Farnborough.
Midway through the First
World War, in August 1916 the Annual Report of the Advisory
Committee for Aeronautics recorded the work at Farnborough,
brevity considering the country was at war as:
i) Full scale research by experiment and observation of
aeroplanes in flight as well as wind-tunnel tests on scale
ii) Aerodynamic tests to streamline wires, demonstrating
that the resistance of Raf-wires, which were
a simple, symmetrical
ellipse, was so little greater than wires of true streamline
form that their universal adoption was recommended.
iii) The design and development of aircraft instruments
and of bomb sight.
iv) The design and development of wireless sets
v) The design and development of variable pitch airscrews
and their testing by means of the newly-constructed 70
vi) Experiments with fabrics and dopes.
vii) Testing of all metals used in aircraft construction.
viii) The design and construction of new experimental
aircraft based upon new knowledge and devices.
ix) Special tests on fuels, oils, magnetos and spark plugs.
At the end of the First
World War, 1st April 1918 the Royal Flying Corps became
the Royal Air Force,and the Royal Aircraft Factory was renamed
the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) to avoid confusion
with the Royal Air Force (RAF).This was the starting point
of some 70 years of aircraft research and experimental work
which has made Farnborough world famous.
In the period from 1914
-18, the Factory had built some 509 aircraft, some 85% as
production aircraft for the RFC, which included 24 Handley
Page HP 0/400 bombers in 1918. In comparison, between 1911
and the end of 1913 the Factory produced only 24 aircraft,
all of them experimental, the largest number being the BE2
During World War 2,
the hard runways, which had been extended several times,were
again extended, and in the 60s the main runway was added
to yet again. The Farnborough site became the centre for
excellence in experimental aircraft and research, using
the high speed wind tunnels and high pressure technologies,
to supersonic levels.
The termination of the
war brought about a considerable reduction in commitments,
particularly the urgent day-to-day kinds that characterised
the war period. Also the change over to new policies, such
as turbine aero engines and rocket aircraft and guided weapons,
led to a period of policy reorientation.
In 1948, the site was
the of the first Farnborough airshow. The inaugural show
took place on the first week of September 1948, and over
the next few years, the event grew to become the second
largest airshow of it's kind, only to the Paris airshow.
In 1988 the Royal Aircraft
Establishment had changed its name to the Royal Aerospace
Establishment to reflect the increased breadth of the research
and development that it was undertaking. On the 1st April
1991 the RAE ceased to exist. The Establishment was renamed
the Defence Research Agency (DRA) and remained an executive
agency of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). The DRA lasted
until 1st April 1995 when it was re-arranged into DERA (Defence
Evaluation and Research Agency)