Royal Aircraft Establishment

Royal Aircraft Establishment

The Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) England, was a British research establishment latterly under the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD).

The first site was at Farnborough Airfield ("RAE Farnborough") in Hampshire to which was added a second site RAE Bedford (Bedfordshire) in 1946. The Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment was incorporated into the RAE around the start of the Second World War, the marine side relocating from Felixstowe on the vulnerable East Anglian coast to Helensburgh in Scotland.

In 1988 it was renamed the Royal Aerospace Establishment before merging with other research entities to become the new Defence Research Agency in 1991.

Royal Aircraft Factory

It was created in 1908 as HM Balloon Factory. In October that year Samuel Cody made the first aeroplane flight in Britain at Farnborough.

In 1911 it was renamed the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF). Among its designers was Geoffrey de Havilland who later founded his own company, and Henry Folland - later chief designer at Gloster Aircraft Company, and founder of his own company Folland Aircraft.

Aircraft Factory designs

Between 1911 and 1918 the Royal Aircraft Factory generated a number of aircraft designs. Most of these were essentially research aircraft, but a few actually went into mass production, especially during the war period. Some orders were met by the factory itself, but the bulk of production was by private British companies, some of which had not previously built aircraft.

Up to about 1913 the model letters came from the general layout of the aircraft, referring to a French manufacturer or designer famous for that type:
* S.E. = Santos Experimental (Canard or tail-first layout)
* B.E. = Bleriot Experimental (Tractor or propeller-first layout)
* F.E. = Farman Experimental (Pusher or propeller behind the pilot layout)

From 1913/4 onwards this was changed to a designation based on the role for which the aircraft was designed:
* S.E. = Scout experimental (single seat fighters)
* F.E. = Fighting experimental (although they remained "Farmans" in the sense of being pushers)
* R.E. = Reconnaissance experimental (two-seat machines)

The B.S.1 of 1913 was a one-off anomaly, combining both systems: Bleriot (tractor) Scout (fighter).

Designs produced

Royal Aircraft Factory type designations are inconsistent and confusing. For instance the "F.E.2" designation refers to three quite distinct types, with only the same broad layout in common, the F.E.2 (1911), the F.E.2 (1913), and finally the famous wartime two seat fighter and general purpose design, the F.E.2 (1914). This last aircraft was the one that went into production, and had three main variants, the F.E.2a, F.E.2b, and the F.E.2d. As if this wasn't enough, there is the F.E.2c; this was a generic description rather than a subtype proper, and refers to several one-off conversions of F.E.2b's that experimentally reversed the seating positions of the pilot and the observer.

The B.E.1 was basically the prototype for the early B.E.2 — but the B.E.2c was really a completely new aeroplane, with very little commonality with the earlier B.E.2 types. On the other hand the B.E.3 to the B.E.7 were all effectively working prototypes for the B.E.8 and were all very similar in design, with progressive minor modifications of the kind that many aircraft undergo during a production run. The B.E.8a was at least as different from the B.E.8 as the B.E.7 was.

The S.E.4a had nothing in common at all with the S.E.4, while the S.E.5a was simply a late production S.E.5 with a more powerful engine.

Several early RAF designs were officially "reconstructions" of wrecked aircraft, because the Factory did not initially have official authority to build aircraft to their own design. In most cases the type in question used no parts whatever from the wreck, in some cases not even the engine. Included in this list are the Cody and Dunne designs built and/or tested at Farnborough- although these were not strictly Royal Aircraft Factory types.

*British Army Dirigible No 1 —1907
*Dunne D.1 —1907
*British Army Aeroplane No 1 —1908
*Dunne D.5 —1910


* RAF 1
* RAF 2
* RAF 3
* RAF 4
* RAF 5
* RAF 8


At the time of the "Fokker Scourge" in 1915, there was a press campaign against the standardisation of Royal Aircraft Factory types in the Royal Flying Corps, allegedly in favour of superior designs available from the design departments of private British firms. This slowly gained currency, especially because of the undeniable fact that the B.E.2c and B.E.2e were kept in production and in service long after they were obsolete and that the B.E.12 and B.E.12a were indisputable failures. Some of this criticism was prejudiced and ill-informed. [John Lloyd "Aircraft of World War I" 1958 Ian Allan publisher, Surrey, UK]

Some aviation historians continue to perpetuate the resulting belittling of the important experimental work of the Factory during this period, and the exaggeration of the failings of Factory production types, several of which were described in sensationally derogatory terms. ["Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War I" Military Press, New York 1990—ISBN]

A modern, rather more "pro-factory" point of view, can be found in several of the volumes of "War Planes of the First World War", by J.M. Bruce—MacDonald, London, 1965.

Changes to RAE

In 1918 the Royal Aircraft Factory was once more renamed, becoming the "Royal Aircraft Establishment" to avoid confusion with the Royal Air Force, which was formed on April 1 1918.

After the end of the First World War design and development of aircraft types ended - although work continued on general research, and the development of missiles - in particular.

* RAE Target—Surface-to-surface missile project from the early 1920s.
* RAE Larynx—Surface-to-surface missile project from the 1920s.

During the Second World War the RAE worked on engine problems at Farnborough. It was here that Beatrice Shilling invented the Miss Shilling's orifice for RAF's Hurricane and Spitfire fighters during the Battle of Britain.

In the late fifties and through the sixties work proceeded at the RAE on several rocket projects - all of which were eventually abandoned

* Black Arrow
* Black Knight
* Jaguar
* Skylark


During WW2 the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment was incorporated into the RAE, as its whole establishment was relocated from the East Anglian coast to a safer location in Helensburgh, Scotland.

In 1946 work began to convert RAF Thurleigh into RAE Bedford.

In 1988 the RAE was renamed the "Royal Aerospace Establishment".

On April 1 1991 the RAE was merged into the Defence Research Agency (DRA), the MOD's new research organisation. Then, on April 1 1995 the DRA and other MOD organisations merged to form the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).

In 2001 DERA was part-privatised by the MOD, resulting in two separate organisations, the state-owned Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), and the privatised QinetiQ, a Public-Private Partnership.


The Farnborough site is currently home to QinetiQ, DSTL, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the British National Space Centre. The Bedford site was largely shut down in 1994.

Many aircraft have been developed or tested at the RAE including the B.E.2, F.E.2, R.E.8, S.E.5, Hawker Siddeley Harrier and Concorde.

The historic Farnborough factory site houses three major wind tunnels, the 24' low speed wind tunnel (Q121 Building), constructed during the early 1930s, the No. 2 11.5' low speed wind tunnel (R136 Building) and the 8' x 6' transonic wind tunnel within R133 Building, which was originally commissioned in the early 1940s as a 10' x 7' high subsonic speed tunnel, but converted during the mid 1950s. A smaller 2' x 1.5' transonic tunnel is housed in R133 Building, while R52 Building contains the remaining 4' x 3' low turbulence wind tunnel. R52 building had previously housed two early 10' x 7' low speed tunnels in separate bays, which were replaced by the No. 1 11.5' and 4' x 3' tunnels respectively. The former remains in operation at the University of Southampton. R52 building also previously contained a 5' open jet low speed tunnel, originally built as a sub-scale prototype for the larger 24' tunnel, but subsequently modified for use as a noise measurement facility. Both Q121 and R133 are now Grade I listed buildings.

To the west of the Farnborough site is the 5 metre pressurised low speed wind tunnel, which was commissioned in the late 1970s. This facility remains in operation by QinetiQ, primarily for the development and testing of aircraft high lift systems.

ee also

*FAST aviation museum on the site of the RAE
*RAE Bedford, Farnborough's sister site at former RAF Thurleigh, Bedford
*Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe
*National Gas Turbine Establishment, a branch of the RAE used for design and testing of gas turbine engines


External links

* [ Historic Farnborough]
* [ Risky Buildings: Farnborough wind tunnels]
* [ Royal Engineers Museum] Royal Engineers and Aeronautics

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