Naval Air Department (NAD) was formed at the newly operational NAE Airfield at Thurleigh in the summer of 1954, primarily through the amalgamation of the Carrier Equipment Department and naval elements from Aerodynamics Department at RAE Farnborough. It was disbanded in 1970 following a decision, announced in the 1967 Defence White Paper, that the UK would withdraw from the operation of fixed-wing aircraft by the Royal Navy and would not therefore construct a new generation of conventional aircraft carriers. From 1954 until 1970, however, NAD conducted extensive research and development to improve the operation of jet aircraft from carriers.
NAD’s task was to improve catapults and arrester gear to cope with a new generation of carrier-borne aircraft, such as Phantom and Buccaneer, that were significantly larger, heavier and faster than their propeller-driven (and early jet) predecessors.
Major new facilities for Naval R&D were built at Bedford, on the North side of the airfield (see picture above) including raised and flush catapults, arrester gear, and a proving base, together with CALE (Catapult Alignment Equipment), and Jet Blast Deflectors (JBD).
The catapults and arrester gear operated by NAD were the only such shore-based equipment in the UK. The raised catapult was the prototype steam catapult, installed at Bedford after initial trials in Portsmouth harbour, where it was attached to the flight deck of a WW2 aircraft carrier. In addition to the two steam catapults, there was a cordite powered catapult at the proving base.
Bedford had the only R&D facilities for such work in the country. The French Navy also took advantage of the facilities to prove their Etendard and Alizé aircraft.