EGVW RAE Bedford

Photos from Tony Mannion



this one, with someone looking over Tony Mannion’s shoulder, was during an ‘American Veterans air display – Tony was doing ‘display radar’ with John Vann coordinating.





photo above from Barry Davidson

Bob Pearson sent me this Google aerial view


Bob also sent in some reminiscences of Bedford and elsewhere

The PAR equipment used at R.A.E. Bedford was the SLA3c. Other radars I used there: Type 14H & L., SRAs on the 424, S232 & MADGE. The SATCO was Pete Ward-Hunt. Peter was an excellent SATCO. He is of course mentioned in Guy Gibson’s famous book “Enemy Coast Ahead.”

I was posted to R.A.E. Bedford in June, 1970, upon graduating from No. 11 Course.  When I first went to Bedford liaison between tower & approach relied on a speaker in the ceiling of the approach room! I remember the day when Lynn Waddington called out “the Trident has hit the Comet..”

Bedford was a very interesting place to work, as plus our own trials aircraft,  BOAC, BEA, Court Lines & even Qantas would come and train.. Plus 20 odd Varsities from R.A.F. Oakington, always wanting training visits.  Masses (80?), of USAF F4s based at Alconbury – eleven miles N.E., R.A.F. Wyton Canberras & other aircraft and Wittering Harriers to look at the “pit”..

Bedford had a supersonic overland corridor – 045T out to the Wash… To get the speed up for the BAC221 we took the 221 through the ambers, (just in tangential fade area!), & ran it back again through & out to the Wash.. The aircraft was a test bed for Concorde shape, of course. Had a very critical fuel load. The aircraft could reach M 2.0. I remember one day the aircraft ran out of fuel & did a dirty dive into the disused R.A.F. Upwood…

Bedford did the trials on the ILS (originally developed for the R.A.F. V-Force) via the BLEU (Blind Landing Evaluation Unit) Comet. I remember having quite a few flights in very thick fog in the Comet.. The Comet would auto land in IIIC. Bedford had all the R/W lights, but no taxi lights for 3C. 

I also had a flight in N2A, the Goodyear airship. Operated from Cardington. About five miles S.W. of RAE Bedford. The world famous wind tunnels were at  the ex R.A.F.Twinwoods Farm airfield just outside Bedford’s airfield boundary.

Bedford also had an arrester runway & a low & high catapult, to test FAA aircraft.  Interestingly on R/W 18/36 we had the VTOL”pit”.  About 60ft square, griddled, & 15-25ft beneath, water filled.  This was built initially to test the SC5s (worlds first VTOL aircraft, after the Flying Bedstead), – of which Bedford at one stage had two SC5’s.. Only ones in the world..

R.A.F. Wittering which was about 20 miles North would send any of their Harriers with u/c problems to land on the “pit”.

I also was the first ATCO to “oversee”, from a mobile R.A.F. caravan alongside the “hole”,  the first Harrier operating, from a “hole in the wood,” which Bedford had on the north side of the airfield. Very, very noisy! Leaves were a problem!

Another trial of interest on 18 was the trial of using polystyrene, or similar to act as R/W over-runs. A Comet was launched at it & it went straight through! Quite a sight to watch.

The main R/W at Bedford was/is 10,500 x 300 & ultra thick – was built to take Brabazon & heavier aircraft on the drawing board at time of construction.. Had Cat IIIC lighting, of course.. Main rail & a roads all very close.., both on East & West sides. What a lost opportunity to build and develop a superb new International airport.. Masses of space available. Look at what Turkey has and is doing at Istanbul….

I was posted to Boscombe Down in December 1975. Like Bedford it was a Vulcan dispersal. In both the towers was the link to the Bomber Controller. Quite often we’d get a visit from four Vulcans..which we’d scramble via the B.C. The Vulcans would just go, aircraft on final or no! Quite finger tipping at times..  Can you imagine the fuss that would be made to-day if civilians scrambled H-bombers! 

Whist training units attached to: Hurn airport, R.A.F. Sopley, S.A.T.C.C. in huts north-side at LL, witnessed shrimp boat trials on large flat radar tube here.  O.K. until a poor ATCA jogged the tube.. West Drayton, Mediator stage 1/2, ScATCC – Oceanic & Cardiff – old & new towers.. Flying at Cambridge. Already had PPL, so 30 hours gash flying!

Enough, I hear you call! Relief Zone ATCO at Farnborough for the Air Show, ATCEU trials, Fully validated at all ratings of course, OJTI etc etc! ATC College, RAE Larkhill & RNAS PORTLAND (Lyme Bay range controller). Tower & approach validated at Land’s End airport, in 1995.

My son, Chris ex 100 Course is SATCO & manager of Land’s End airport. Two good solid R/Ws now.

Terry Clark tells us

Shortly after WW2, Twinwood Farm airfield was chosen as part of a National Aeronautical Establishment and construction of several wind tunnels was commenced north of the airfield; at the same time, neighbouring Thurleigh airfield was being re-developed as a test flying site.
Towards the end of 1953, with the wind tunnels coming on line, it was decided to extend the air ferry service from Farnborough to RPE Westcott using Dominies (the piston engined biplane variety) to serve Twinwoods too, so in early 1954, one ATCO and 2 assistants were posted there to commence ATC operations from the original control tower. There was already an ATC presence at Twinwoods in the form of 2 assistants operating a VHF/DF station adjacent to the control tower, this being one of a chain of 3 DF stations (the others being at Leckhampton, Glos. and Medstead, Hants) established by RAE Farnborough to provide a VHF fixer service; the station at Twinwoods could also be used as a ‘homer’.
On one occasion, there was a visit by government officials to ‘inspect’ the 2 sites, but the aircraft which took them to Twinwoods went u/s on arrival, so a Hastings was sent from Farnborugh to pick them up, its arrival and departure both being described as ‘interesting’ on the ‘truncated’ (presumably runway 06/24) runway.
By August 1954, the runway at Thurleigh was ready for use,but the new control tower wasn’t so ATC operations were transferred to a runway caravan at Thurleigh.
This wasn’t the end for Twinwoods however; when I was posted to Farnborough I was required to read and sign the Flying Order Book and I remember it contained details about using Twinwoods instead of Thurleigh, the control tower at Thurleigh being quite tall, the controller would h
ave an adequate view of Twinwoods

5 thoughts on “EGVW RAE Bedford”

  1. Well the things you find in an accidental “Google” ,hope you are doing well Tony…and I seemed to have missed both photo’s..
    And as Terry said the “uniquely Bedford ‘trick’ of using both ends of the runway at the same time” and the for ever remembered Jean on Ground movement’s
    “Works 2 cross the main at Kesoe Crossing …after the land Hercules” ….aaaaaaagh


  2. I remember at Marham we used to reguarly get Seas Vixens and Viscounts from Bedford doing circuit work.

    And at Cranwell we used to get military registered 748 from Bedford. The staff at Bedford always emphasised that it was a 748 and NOT an Andover!


  3. One day I took the Devon ‘ferry’ to Bedford from Farnborough for a liaison visit. In the tower, I was treated to the uniquely Bedford ‘trick’ of using both ends of the runway at the same time; a Monarch B720 doing ‘standard’ ILSs along with an Andover doing 5 deg MLSs and in the opposite direction, a Hunter doing 1 in 1s with all aircraft executing a go around at whichever threshold it was using and turning left immediately.


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