In 1918 the Royal Aircraft Establishment was built at Pyestock (nr Farnborough) to develop aircraft engine technology. Sir Frank Whittle established Power Jets Ltd nearby to test and develop gas turbines / jet engines. In 1944 (or 1946 – it changes depending on where you read) it was nationalised and became the National Gas Turbine Establishment. The NGTE was one of the leading centres in the world and played a major role in developing jet engines for many years, including the one used in Concorde.
In the 1990s it became the Defence Research Agency and then the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. The government was reluctant to invest further in the agency and in 2002 it was privatised, with the government creating the company known as Qinetiq. Since privatisation the site has gradually closed down, with only a small portion of the site still being used by Qinetiq and Sigma.
Covering around 108 acres, the site is huge. Tesco want to knock it all down and build a distribution centre. A fantastic piece of Britain’s industrial heritage will be lost.
I’m not going to pretend to know how anything there works or what it does. All I know that there are huge pipes and huge machines. The titles of the buildings are based on a 1956 map, so may not be totally accurate.
I can’t even begin to describe how huge the place is. You can see the size of some of the buildings and pipes here.
The pictures still don’t really convey the size. Wait till we go into some of the buildings…
We went through a random door and ended up in this. It is pretty much the largest building on site. There were eight huge generators in here. Being an “air house”, I imagine these generated and pushed the air through the huge pipes on site.
Eight generators – one massive (super-retro) control room.
The guy who worked in one of the offices must’ve been really bored. It was packed with classic early-90’s Amiga games like Worms, Beneath A Steel Sky and Lemmings. And an obligatory nudey calendar.
Between the turbine hall and the offices was a huge corridor with a load of locked doors. One was open though. Inside was a hatch which led down to the insides of one of the huge pipes (you couldn’t actually get into the pipe though). The walls weren’t actually walls, rather some huge air filter elements. So, I assume that every room was used in some sort of air-filtration process.
This was next. The altitude test cell was used to test engines at ultra-low temperatures (as found at high altitudes!)
We had a little investigate underground at the end of the day and ended up in the bowels of the cell. The huge doors look like something out of a crazy sci-fi film.
This must be a new addition as it wasn’t on our map. Just one huge generator and mini control room in here.
This one isn’t on the map as well so I don’t know what it is. All I know is that this machine is the largest thing ever. You can see Speed standing on top of it in the second photo. A recent film – Sahara – was filmed in here. There were signs and props lying around.
Plant Compressor House
Another huge building – this one full of compressors and instruments.
There was another retro control room here.
Cubicle C3. There were five cubicles like this along one side of the building. Each contained a raised viewing/control room overlooking the main testing cubicles.
Cubicle A3. There were also three larger cubicles on the opposite side of the building. One of them was an “Isentropic Light Piston Facility”, and the one pictured was a “Ludwig something or other“. I love the wooden control board – it made a change from the light green everywhere else.
The three didn’t run the full length. At one end was the “Cathedral” – a huge testing cubicle, about 6 storeys high!
There were a few offices and meeting rooms too.
Cells 1 & 2
The offices of this section looked like something straight out of Star Trek (the really old episodes).
Some combustion tests of some sort went on in here.
There was also large office/drawing room.
We made our way to the power station next. There was a beautiful little control room there – I can imagine sitting at the desk all day just watching the controls and pushing buttons. It didn’t look like it had been used since the 70’s, although there was some sugar in a drawer dated 1995.
The main hall in the power station had one huge generator.
By this time the sun was disappearing quickly. We had a little poke around some other little office buildings too, but didn’t really bother getting into them.
We went back to the altitude test cell and had a little look under it. We and found a tunnel. This was about 200-300 metres long and led to the Control Building (sort of under the bulb on the map). It was dark and I didn’t take any photos in there, but there were some modernish desks and controls.
Quite content with the 9 hours we spent on site we decided to leave. We went a ludicrous route which involved going up and over about 9 huge pipes. After 3 of them we were knackered and saw there was a nice flat walkway going accross them all.
I had time for one final photo. Setting up in the dark was a bad idea. My tripod decided to make me bleed for the third time in the day, and it broke. So I ditched it.
I think that just about shows what we saw – we were there for nine hours and still didn’t see everything.
Since writing this entry, probably the most detailed NGTE website ever has been launched. And it’s still a work in progress. Check it out…