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The Royal Aircraft Establishment at Bedford

Aerodynamics Flight Division

The Aero Flight Story

The Flight Division of Aerodynamics Department of RAE was colloquially known as ‘Aero Flight’. The Division’s personnel moved to Bedford from Farnborough from Spring 1955 onwards, with Danny Lean (future Division Head) being one of the last to move in January 1956. The main group of research aircraft moved to Bedford in November 1955. One of the first research aircraft flying at Bedford, in April 1955, was the jet-deflection Meteor RA490, re-locating from Farnborough each day.

Boulton Paul P111 VT935

When Aero Flight moved to Bedford, it consisted of just three research sections: Supersonic Flight, Subsonic Flight and Dynamic Stability Research. The role of the Division was to investigate aircraft stability and control and flying qualities at high and low speeds.

In later years, these research areas widened to include Gust Research, Military & VSTOL, Handling & Performance, Flight Simulation and, for a short period in 1969/1970, Helicopter Research & Operations.

By 1971, a separate Helicopter Division had been formed within Structures Department, with elements at both Farnborough and Bedford.

Standard aircraft included Gloster Meteor, Hawker Hunter, DH Venom and Canberra, while specially built research aircraft included Boulton Paul P111 (pictured), Avro 707, Short SB5 (shown in the RAE Story here), Hunting Jet Flap, Fairey FD2 and Handley Page HP115.

The two Fairey Delta 2 aircraft, WG774 and WG777, arrived at Thurleigh in late 1956.

WG774, flown by Peter Twiss Fairey’s test pilot, broke the world speed record – achieving 1132 mph on 10 April 1956.

The photo below shows WG777 on the apron ready for flight.

Fairey Delta 2 WG777

‘Flying Bedstead’ XJ314

The ‘Flying Bedstead’ (XJ314 pictured), one of the two built, was transferred to RAE Bedford on 21 June 1956. This research vehicle was known officially as the Rolls-Royce ‘Thrust Measuring Rig’.

Early research themes included the aerodynamics and flying qualities of delta and swept wing aircraft, using the BP111 and Short SB5, and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), initially using the ‘Flying Bedstead’ and then the Short SC1.

Two Short SC1 aircraft were built – both were operated at Bedford. XG900 was used in the investigation of stability and control; XG905 for systems development.

The first Short SC1 XG900 (now in the Science Museum London) made its first conventional flight at Boscombe Down in April 1957.

SC1 XG905 made the first transition of a VTOL aircraft from forward flight to hover at RAE Bedford on 6 April 1960.

Watch a Pathe newsreel here.

This was one of many aeronautical ‘firsts’ to take place at Bedford. XG905 made its last flight, also at Bedford, on 10 May 1973.

Short SC1 XG900

The Hunting 126 XN714

The Hunting 126 XN714 ‘Jet Flap’ research aircraft, built at Luton, made its first ever flight, at Bedford (Thurleigh), on 26 March 1963.

This unusual looking research aircraft was capable of flight at speeds as low as 51.5kph (32mph) by virtue of air ducted to the wings to from ‘jet flaps’. It was employed in high lift flight research.

It was demonstrated at the Paris Air Show in June 1965 and made its last recorded flight, at Thurleigh, on 9 Nov 1967.

Another aircraft to make its first flight at RAE Bedford was the HP115, XP841, flown by Sqn Ldr Jack Henderson on 17 Aug 1961, and hitting the front page of the Daily Express the following day. See a Pathe Newsreel here.

After 500 hours of research flying in support of the Concorde programme, the HP115 made its last research flight on 31 Aug 1973 and its final flight, leaving Bedford, on 31 Jan 1976.

HP Slender Delta

Early Harrier prototype P1127 WP976

The Harrier era may be said to have begun when Hawker pilot Bill Bedford made the first conventional flight in Hawker P1127 prototype (XP831) at RAE Bedford on 13 March 1961.

Many years of research and development were undertaken, much of it at Bedford, leading progressively to the operational Harrier and Sea Harrier. The photo shows one of the early prototypes – P1127 WP976 – outside Aero Flight Hangar.

As a result of re-organisation in 1974, the historic name of Aero Flight disappeared, to be replaced by a new Division, Flight Dynamics Division (also known, rather prosaically, as just FS1).

The sister division, BLEU, became Operational Systems (FS2). Over the next few years several varieties of ‘Flight Systems’ department were created, culminating (in 1997) in all the ‘systems’ research at Bedford coming under a single Flight Management and Control Department.

From 1991, when DRA was formed, the convention of calling major groups Divisions was changed to departments, and Superintendents of Divisions became managers.


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