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Coordinates: 51°16′46″N 0°47′17″W / 51.279475°N 0.787926°W / 51.279475; -0.787926 The Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), was a British research establishment, known by several different names during its history, that eventually came under the aegis of the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), before finally losing its identity in mergers with other institutions.

The first site was at Farnborough Airfield ("RAE Farnborough") in Hampshire to which was added a second site RAE Bedford (Bedfordshire) in 1946.

In 1988 it was renamed the Royal Aerospace Establishment before merging with other research entities to become part of the new Defence Research Agency in 1991.

Royal Aircraft Factory BS1 003

Royal Aircraft Factory B.S.1 in 1913


In 1904–1906 the Army Balloon Factory, which was part of the Army School of Ballooning, under the command of Colonel James Templer, relocated from Aldershot to the edge of Farnborough Common in order to have enough space for experimental work.[1][2] Templar retired in 1908 and his place was taken by Colonel John Capper.

In October 1908 Samuel Cody made the first aeroplane flight in Britain at Farnborough.[3] In 1909 Capper was replaced as Superintendent of the Balloon Factory by Mervyn O'Gorman

In 1912 the Balloon Factory was renamed the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF).[4] Among its designers was Geoffrey de Havilland who later founded his own company, John Kenworthy who became chief engineer and designer at the Austin Motor Company in 1918 and who went on to found the Redwing Aircraft Co in 1930 (Flight International) and Henry Folland – later chief designer at Gloster Aircraft Company, and founder of his own company Folland Aircraft. One of the designers in the engine department was Samuel Heron, who later went on to invent the sodium-filled poppet valve, instrumental in achieving greater powers from piston engines.[5] While at the RAF, Heron designed a radial engine that he was not able to build during his time there, however upon leaving the RAF he then went to Siddeley-Deasy where the design, the RAF.8, was developed as the Jaguar.[6] Heron later moved to the United States where he worked on the design of the Wright Whirlwind.[7]

In 1918 the Royal Aircraft Factory was once more renamed, becoming the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) to avoid confusion with the Royal Air Force, which was formed on 1 April 1918, and because it had relinquished its manufacturing role to concentrate on research.

During WWII the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment, then based at Helensburgh in Scotland, was under the control of the RAE.

In 1946 work began to convert RAF Thurleigh into RAE Bedford.

In 1988 the RAE was renamed the Royal Aerospace Establishment.

On 1 April 1991 the RAE was merged into the Defence Research Agency (DRA), the MOD's new research organisation. Then, on 1 April 1995 the DRA and other MOD organisations merged to form the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).

The Bedford site was largely shut down in 1994.

In 2001 DERA was part-privatised by the MOD, resulting in two separate organisations, the state-owned Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), and the privatised company QinetiQ.

Royal Aircraft Factory[]

Aircraft Factory designs[]

Between 1911 and 1918 the Royal Aircraft Factory produced a number of aircraft designs. Most of these were essentially research aircraft, but a few actually went into mass production, especially during the war period. Some orders were met by the factory itself, but the bulk of production was by private British companies, some of which had not previously built aircraft.

Up to about 1913 the designation letters referred to the general layout of the aircraft, derived from a French manufacturer or designer famous for that type:

  • S.E. = Santos Experimental (Canard or tail-first layout)
  • B.E. = Blériot Experimental (Tractor or propeller-first layout)
  • F.E. = Farman Experimental (Pusher or propeller behind the pilot layout)

From 1913/4 onwards this was changed to a designation based on the role for which the aircraft was designed:

The B.S.1 of 1913 was a one-off anomaly, combining both systems: Blériot (tractor) Scout (fighter).

R.T. & T.E. were also used for strictly one off prototypes.

Designs produced[]

Royal Aircraft Factory type designations are inconsistent and confusing. For instance the "F.E.2" designation refers to three quite distinct types, with only the same broad layout in common, the F.E.2 (1911), the F.E.2 (1913), and finally the famous wartime two seat fighter and general purpose design, the F.E.2 (1914). This last aircraft was the one that went into production, and had three main variants, the F.E.2a, F.E.2b, and the F.E.2d. As if this wasn't enough, there is the F.E.2c; this was a generic description rather than a subtype proper, and refers to several one-off conversions of F.E.2b's that experimentally reversed the seating positions of the pilot and the observer.

The B.E.1 was basically the prototype for the early B.E.2 but the B.E.2c was almost a completely new aeroplane, with very little common with the earlier B.E.2 types apart from engine and fuselage. On the other hand the B.E.3 to the B.E.7 were all effectively working prototypes for the B.E.8 and were all very similar in design, with progressive minor modifications of the kind that many aircraft undergo during a production run. The B.E.8a was at least as different from the B.E.8 as the B.E.7 was.

The S.E.4a had nothing in common at all with the S.E.4, while the S.E.5a was simply a late production S.E.5 with a more powerful engine.

Several early RAF designs were officially "reconstructions" of existing aircraft, because the Factory did not initially have official authority to build aircraft to their own design. In most cases the type in question used no parts whatever from the wreck, in some cases not even the engine. Included in this list are the Cody and Dunne designs built and/or tested at Farnborough, although these were not strictly Royal Aircraft Factory types.



At the time of the "Fokker Scourge" in 1915, there was a press campaign against the standardisation of Royal Aircraft Factory types in the Royal Flying Corps, allegedly in favour of superior designs available from the design departments of private British firms. This slowly gained currency, especially because of the undeniable fact that the B.E.2c and B.E.2e were kept in production and in service long after they were obsolete and that the B.E.12 and B.E.12a were indisputable failures. Some of this criticism was prejudiced and ill-informed.[8]

Some aviation historians continue to perpetuate the resulting belittling of the important experimental work of the Factory during this period, and the exaggeration of the failings of Factory production types, several of which were described in sensationally derogatory terms.[9]

A modern, rather more "pro-factory" point of view, can be found in several of the volumes of War Planes of the First World War, by J.M. Bruce—MacDonald, London, 1965.

Changes to RAE[]

After the end of the First World War design and development of aircraft types ended – although work continued on general research, and the development of missiles.

In 1930 the RAE developed the Robot Air Pilot, an autopilot that used a gyro and flight controls that functioned by compressed air.[10]

During the Second World War the RAE worked on engine problems at Farnborough. It was here that Beatrice Shilling invented the Miss Shilling's orifice for RAF's Hurricane and Spitfire fighters during the Battle of Britain.

Aircraft that were developed or tested at the RAE included the Hawker Siddeley Harrier and Concorde.


  • RAE Hurricane
  • RAE Scarab
  • RAE Zephyr


  • RAE Target—Surface-to-surface missile project from the early 1920s.
  • RAE Larynx—1927 unmanned pilotless aircraft, surface-to-surface anti-ship missile.
  • Malkara missile


In the late fifties and through the sixties work proceeded at the RAE on several rocket projects – all of which were eventually abandoned

M52 model

A model of the Miles M.52 undergoing supersonic wind tunnel testing at the RAE circa 1946

Space satellites[]

  • Orba X-2 – space satellite
  • Prospero X-3 – space satellite

Current use of the Farnborough site[]

Airship Hangar

Reconstructed airship hangar at IQ Farnborough.

The former RAE Farnborough site is (as of 2011) occupied by:

  • Farnborough Airport.
  • QinetiQ.
  • Housing, hotels, offices etc. The IQ Farnborough[11] development includes several refurbished former-RAE buildings.
  • The Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) museum, which has several former RAE aircraft and other exhibits.
  • Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

The National Aerospace Library (NAL), located in the former Weapon Aerodynamics building (Q134 Building) has a collection of over 2,500 technical reports produced by the RAE.[12]

The historic Farnborough factory site houses three major wind tunnels, the 24' low speed wind tunnel (Q121 Building), constructed during the early 1930s, the No. 2 11.5' low speed wind tunnel (R136 Building) and the 8' x 6' transonic wind tunnel within R133 Building, which was originally commissioned in the early 1940s as a 10' x 7' high subsonic speed tunnel, but converted during the mid-1950s. A smaller 2' x 1.5' transonic tunnel is housed in R133 Building, while R52 Building contains the remaining 4' x 3' low turbulence wind tunnel. R52 Building had previously housed two early 10' x 7' low speed tunnels in separate bays, which were replaced by the No. 1 11.5' and 4' x 3' tunnels respectively. The former remains in operation at the University of Southampton.[citation needed] R52 building also previously contained a 5' open jet low speed tunnel, originally built as a sub-scale prototype for the larger 24' tunnel, but subsequently modified for use as a noise measurement facility. Both Q121 and R133 are now Grade I listed buildings.

To the west of the Farnborough site is the 5 metre pressurised low speed wind tunnel, which was commissioned in the late 1970s. This facility remains in operation by QinetiQ, primarily for the development and testing of aircraft high lift systems.[citation needed]

Fictional appearance[]

The hero of Nevil Shute's 1948 novel No Highway is an eccentric "boffin" at Farnborough who predicts metal fatigue in Britain's new airliner, the Rutland Reindeer. Interestingly, the Comets failed for just this reason in 1954. A film of the novel, No Highway in the Sky, appeared in 1951. James Stewart work shadowed Fred Jones OBE, one the RAE Accident Section founder members to prepare for the role. Fred Jones went on to become head of Structures Section (formerly Airworthiness Section) through 1957-1980.

See also[]

  • FAST aviation museum on the site of the RAE
  • RAE Bedford, Farnborough's sister site at former RAF Thurleigh, Bedford
  • Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe
  • National Gas Turbine Establishment, a branch of the RAE used for design and testing of gas turbine engines
  • Arnold Alexander Hall


  2. Colonel Templer and the birth of aviation at Farnborough, May 2007, Royal Aeronautical Society, p13
  3. Colonel Templer and the birth of aviation at Farnborough, May 2007, Royal Aeronautical Society, p3
  4. Colonel Templer and the birth of aviation at Farnborough, May 2007, Royal Aeronautical Society, p12
  5. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "1963 | 1252 | Flight Archive". Flight International. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  7. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Wright Whirlwind J-5A-B Radial Engine – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum". Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  8. John Lloyd Aircraft of World War I 1958 Ian Allan publisher, Surrey, UK
  9. Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War I Military Press, New York 1990—ISBN
  10. "Robot Air Pilot Keeps Plane on True Course" Popular Mechanics, December 1930
  11. Farnborough Business Park
  12. "National Aerospace Library" RAeS Retrieved: 27 January 2011.

External links[]

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