Tag Archives: aviation

de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, London Colney, Hertfordshire

By Ruth Wainman

The Main Hanger, De Haviland Museum
The Main Hanger – the De Havilland trainer aircraft, the Chipmunk, lies at the front, followed by the Vampire whilst the Mosquito can be seen at the back.

‘The Birthplace of the Wooden Wonder’- The de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, London Colney, Hertfordshire

Aircraft are one of those technological creations that can stir strong emotions and reactions in people. Indeed the history of the aircraft industry simultaneously evokes a strange sense of nostalgia, heroism and glamour often shrouded in its own myths and legends as well as perpetuating them. No doubt that children’s magazines such as Modern Wonder, Eagle and Look and Learn with their intricate cross-section diagrams and action laden shots of aircraft and rockets did much to capture the imagination, particularly of boys, from an early age. In fact, the subject of the aircraft industry continues to spawn a whole host of documentaries and literature with titles such as Empire of the Clouds: When Britain’s Aircraft Ruled the World (2011) devoted to celebrating and preserving the memory of Britain’s glory days in the aircraft business with its host of fearless and glittering test pilots to match.

Behind some of the aircraft and the companies that produced them were men from typically privileged backgrounds such as Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, who used his name for the aircraft company he established in 1920 at Stag Lane, Edgware, and which later moved to Hatfield in Hertfordshire. Geoffrey de Havilland began his training at the Crystal Palace Engineering School followed by appointments designing and testing aircraft at the then Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough as well as heading design work for the Aircraft Manufacturing Company Ltd. (Airco) formed by George Holt Thomas. He later recalled his motivations as an aircraft designer in his memoirs, Sky Fever: ‘When I started on my first aeroplane the desire to do everything was almost fanatical and I felt almost a fierce resentment against outside help…I do know that the design and production of good aeroplanes has always been to me infinitely more important and rewarding than just making money’. The museum itself is located next to Salisbury Hall, a rather quaint looking country house where various personnel from the design, aerodynamics and stress departments worked on the wooden warplane, the Mosquito, otherwise affectionately known as the ‘Wooden Wonder’. Additionally, Sailsbury Hall had another role to play- it was also once the location for the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School, the training centre for the company’s engineering and trade apprentices.

In contrast to the rather serious tones conveyed about the practice of making aircraft by Geoffrey de Havilland, the back pages of the company magazine, the De Havilland Gazette, often took to lampooning the designs and names of many of its aircraft through cartoons and jokes. One such joke revealed all the names for the business jet the DH 125 which had been turned down including Deadbeat, Dither and Delinquent. We can be rest assured that this was a Company that could ‘manufacture’ a certain degree of humour as well as aircraft and aero-engines! Visitors can also be sure to view the majority of de Havilland’s most prominent aircraft which are spread across the site. A smaller hanger is solely dedicated to displaying pre-war aircraft whilst the larger hanger houses aircraft ranging from the Mosquito to the post-war jet fighter, the Vampire, often noted by its pilots for resembling an ‘aerial kiddy car’. A further two buildings contain various de Havilland aero-engines, (a subsidiary company was established in 1944 to produce aero-engines based at Stag Lane), alongside an exhibition dedicated to detailing the history of the de Havilland Company.

B.O.A.C. memorabilia inside the Comet simulator (Author’s picture)
B.O.A.C. memorabilia inside the Comet simulator (Author’s picture)

Most interestingly, the fuselage of one of the early versions of the first commercial passenger jet airliner, the Comet, is also on display which became infamous during its service due to a series of high profile crashes as a result of metal fatigue caused by the shape of its cabin windows. Furthermore, visitors can climb into the cockpit of a simulator from a later adaption of the Comet replete with memorabilia from former airline operator British Overseas Airways Corporation (B.O.A.C.). The Comet perhaps epitomized the ‘jet-age’ with its sleek and glistening metal exterior whilst it was also regarded as a prestigious hallmark of British aircraft design. The aviation weekly, Flight, even amusingly recorded: ‘the Comet has caused the American housewife to choose English China; her husband bought a Jaguar automobile, and her son asked Santa Claus for a Raleigh bike for Christmas’.

Aircraft museums certainly raise interesting questions about how aeronautics is presented to the public especially when they form one of the most archetypal museums. Like many small scale aircraft museums, it serves a mostly didactic purpose aimed at enthusiasts as well as carrying out restoration projects on aircraft. In comparison, the presentation of aircraft in national museums such as the Science Museum have long taken into consideration the need to keep a balance between providing a historical narrative about aviation and the scientific principles behind flight. It has also made sure to interweave these aspects with the aircraft and aero-engines on display. Often missing from aircraft museums, however, are aspects which deal with the design and production processes of aircraft and the amount of people this typically involved, particularly when De Havilland also extended its manufacturing operations to Canada and Australia.

Aerial view of de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre.
Aerial view of de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, courtesy of de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre

The de Havilland Company started to come to an end as it merged with the Hawker Siddeley Group (1959) whilst its engine division went to Bristol Siddeley (1961) as a result of rationalization measures taking place within the aircraft industry. Nevertheless, the de Havilland name continues to live on around the world and it has certainly left its mark in areas such as Hatfield. Many of the road names as well as a hotel are named after de Havilland and its aircraft whilst the University of Hertfordshire also has a campus named after the Company. The de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre is just one of many aeronautical museums where you feel as if you have somehow embarked on a weird and wonderful journey to witness the continued homage to Britain’s aircraft industry and its many creations first-hand.

Further Information

‘Comets- and Transatlantic Psychology’, Flight, February 1954, p. 176

‘De Havilland Signature Page’, [Cartoon], De Havilland Gazette, No. 123, June 1961, p.120

Braun, Hans-Joachim. The Science Museum’s Aeronautics Gallery Redisplayed, Technology and Culture 36(3) (1995): 625-629. For a comparison with the Science Museum’s Aeronautics Gallery.

de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre website: http://www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk/index.html [Accessed 28 May 2013]. Provides more information about the museum and the aircraft on display.

de Havilland, Geoffrey, Sky Fever. (Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1979)

Edgerton, David, England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation. (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991). For an overview of the organization of the aircraft industry during the war and post-war periods.

Hamilton-Paterson, James. Empire of the Clouds: When Britain’s Aircraft ruled the World, (London: Faber and Faber, 2011)

Sharp, Cecil Martin. DH: A History of de Havilland. (Airlife, 1982). On the history of the de Havilland Company and its aircraft.

Museum Information

Address: De Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, Salisbury Hall, London Colney, Hertfordshire, AL2 1BU

Location: The museum is located next to Salisbury Hall at Junction 22, M25.

Website (includes opening hours): http://www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk/

Farnborough and the History of Aviation, England

By Jakob Whitfield

Farnborough Airship Hangar Frame at Night

This small Hampshire town is the birthplace of British aviation, being the site of both the UK’s first powered heavier-than-air flight, and the location where its first military aviation units were formed. In 1905, the Royal Engineers moved their Balloon Factory and Balloon school to a site on Farnborough common; these establishments both trained, and manufactured the equipment for, the Army’s observation ballooning units. The American showman and aviation enthusiast Samuel Cody had invented and sold a box-kite system to the Army for observation, and he was allowed to continue his researches into gliders and powered aircraft at the Factory. From September 1908 he performed a number of short hops on the common, culminating in a flight of over 1,600 feet on 16 October 1908 in his ‘Army Aeroplane no. 1,’ generally recognised as the first powered aeroplane flight in the UK.

In 1911 the Air Battalion Royal Engineers, the predecessor of the Royal Flying Corps (and so also of the Royal Air Force) was formed at Farnborough. The Balloon Factory was soon renamed the Royal Aircraft Factory, and was responsible for designing equipment for the Army’s air units, as well as conducting aeronautical research. During the First World War, the factory’s design role became a source of conflict with the aviation industry, and after the conflict, the Factory’s role was changed to be solely research. Reflecting the change, it was renamed the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), and for the next 80-odd years it was to be one of the world’s premier aerospace research centres. In 2001, much of the RAE site was privatised as part of the Qinetiq group spun off from the UK’s defence laboratories. The airfield itself is now owned by the TAG group and operated as a business airport, although the Farnborough Air Show (an industry and trade exhibition) is still held there biannually.

Major sites of interest

Wind Tunnel Models at Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) museum
Wind Tunnel Models at Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) museum

Run largely by former RAE staff, the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust museum is housed in a 1907 building on the edge of the airfield. In 1914 Hugh Trenchard, the future ‘father of the Royal Air Force,’ used this as his offices whilst he organised the training of recruits. Outside the building are a number of aircraft used in research at the RAE; inside the museum is a large collection of artefacts from the RAE, ranging from wind tunnel models through to jet engines and supersonic target drones. Next to Trenchard House is a pavilion housing a replica Cody Army Aeroplane; the museum also has a library and collection of documents obtained from the RAE library, although the cataloguing effort is still on-going.

Looking out through the airfield perimeter fence from behind the museum, you can see the final surviving example of the ‘black sheds,’ aircraft hangars built for the RFC in 1912. Beyond the hangars on the other side of the airfield you might just be able to make out the old RAE wind tunnels.

The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays, 10AM-4PM, but they will often open at other times if asked far enough in advance.

Contact details:
Farnborough Air Sciences Trust
Trenchard House
85 Farnborough Road
GU14 6TF

Telephone: 01252 375050
Website: http://www.airsciences.org.uk/museum.html

A 24-foot wind tunnel, part of RAE's wind tunnel complex
A 24-foot wind tunnel, part of RAE's wind tunnel complex

On the other side of the airfield, many of the RAE’s buildings have been converted into offices as part of the IQ Farnborough Business Park. Q.134, formerly home to the RAE’s Weapon Aerodynamics department, is now known as ‘The Hub,’ and contains an exhibition about the site’s history. The building also houses the National Aerospace Library, a joint venture between the Royal Aeronautical Society and Hampshire county libraries. Open Tuesdays-Fridays from 10AM-4PM, this is probably the best single collection of aeronautical materials, both technical and historical, in the UK. If you are in need of refreshment, the Aviator Café in the Hub will provide sustenance. Coming out of the front of the Hub, you should be able to see the back of building Q.121 on your left. This building was part of the RAE’s wind tunnel complex, housing the massive 24-foot wind tunnel. Along with its neighbouring buildings R.52 and Q.134, it is Grade-I listed. Although generally closed to visitors, it is worth seeing if the buildings are open, as the 24-foot tunnel especially is very impressive.

If you go right as you come out of the Hub, you can see the skeleton of an airship hangar ahead of you. It is one of only three surviving pre-First-World-War airship hangars in the UK; in 1916 it was cut up and sections of its structure were used to build other buildings at the site. During the redevelopment FAST convinced the developers to re-erect the structure, allowing them to pull down the buildings that it had been used in. It now forms an impressive backdrop for office workers to eat their sandwiches in the sun against.

Frank Whittle Roundabout, Ively Road, Farnborough
Frank Whittle Roundabout, Ively Road, Farnborough


The National Aerospace Library
The Hub, Fowler Avenue,
IQ Farnborough,
Farnborough, Hants GU14 7JP

01252 701038
Website: http://www.raes.org.uk/cmspage.asp?cmsitemid=Library_NAL

Other points of interest

There are two further memorials in Farnborough of aeronautical interest. The UK’s first jet aircraft was tested at Farnborough during the Second World War; whether the Frank Whittle Memorial Roundabout is a suitable tribute will be left to the reader to decide.

Frank Whittle Roundabout, Ively Road, Farnborough

Past the roundabout are the headquarters of Qinetiq, the commercial successors to much of the work done at the RAE. Outside the main building is a replica of the ‘Cody Tree.’ In his early tests at Farnborough, Cody tied his aircraft to a tree stump to measure the propeller’s static thrust. The tree was kept on the airfield until the 1950s, when it was clear that the wood was deteriorating. In 1957 the RAE staff decided to use their knowledge of materials science to plasticise the tree, impregnating it with a resin compound. Unfortunately the tree continued to deteriorate, and in 1959 the RAE’s workshops cast a replica tree in aerospace-grade aluminium alloy. With the post-Cold-War contraction of the research facilities at the airfield, the ‘tree’ was moved down the road from the airfield to the Defence Research Agency headquarters. With the 2001 spin-off of Qinetiq, the building became the company’s head office, but the tree still remains as a link to Farnborough’s pioneering aviation past.

Replica of the 'Cody Tree', used by Samuel Cody in his early tests at Farnborough to measure the propeller's static thrust.

Cody Technology Park
Ively Road
GU14 0LX


Rail: Farnborough has a number of railway stations; Farnborough Main station is served by regular trains from London Waterloo. The airfield is a 5-10 minute taxi ride from the station.

Car: Farnborough town is just off junction 4 of the M3; follow the A325 for the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust and the A327 for the Business Park.