Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Royal Aircraft Establishment (Bedford) or RAE Bedford, based near Thurleigh and Sharnbrook , was the site of much aircraft development work. Previously the home of the 306th Bomber Group during the Second World War, it was often touted as a possible site for the third London Airport (long before Stansted Airport took on that role). The local community was strongly opposed and many rural buildings were adorned with "No! No! No!" and such like.
The site suported some of the development work on Concorde's wings and was also a centre for the development (in the mid 70s?) of the Instrument Landing System - I fondly? remember our village being circled by airliners in the middle of the night on a take off- circle - land pattern.
We had another treat in the early eighties with the development of the Short Take Off & Landing STOL system for the Sea Harrier (the funny little ramps on the end of carrier decks) which brought hundreds more take offs and landings that circled over Sharnbrook School - ironic considering that Thurleigh has one of the longest runways in Europe and was previously one of the Avro Vulcan Bomber dispersal bases. The runway was extended in the post-war period to accommodate the Brabazon aircraft (which required a very long runway) that ultimately never went into production. One local road was dropped into a cutting so that it would not sit above the level of the runway.
The site retains some of its development work (under the banner of QuinetiQ)but also now hosts a motor racing school.
One of the rear gates of the airfield featured in Defence of the Realm, starring Gabriel Byrne. In that scene a young man is seen climbing over the gate only to be killed by a nuclear carrying aircraft overshooting the runway!
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