The airfield at Farnborough has held many monikers since its construction, but what has remained constant is the contribution of this small piece of South East England to the global aviation industry. As a proud resident of the Farnborough site, we at AeroProfessional have learned much from the great innovators of the past.
Here’s our take on what makes Farnborough so special:
The Early Days
Farnborough’s illustrious association with aviation innovation began when the Balloon Section of the Royal Engineers was moved to the site back in 1905. The world’s first factory wind-tunnel was constructed on the Farnborough site in 1906, paving the way for future aviation innovation.
British Army Dirigible No. 1 in was successfully launched in 1907, and this set in motion a fascination with airships that lasted until the start of WWI in 1914. Fortunately, the brains of Farnborough refused to rest on their laurels, enabling Samuel Cody to climb into the cockpit of the D1 and make the first official sustained and controlled powered aeroplane flight in the UK in October 1908 – although pilots today would baulk at the measly 12hp, flight time of just 27 seconds and altitude of only 40ft. Legendary aviator Geoffrey de Havilland then broke the world record for altitude in 1912 when he climbed to 10,000ft.
Farnborough’s advanced equipment enabled aviation technology to advance at pace, with engineers achieving much for the ‘magnificent men in their flying machines’ by the end of the war, including the development of:
- Engines with up to 350hp (nearly 30x 1908 levels)
- The first ever unmanned aircraft and wireless communication set
- Engine technical charts and drawings
- Optimised aviation materials and engine air cooling
- Advanced aerodynamic theory
Aviation Takes Off
After a brief period of neglect following WWI, Farnborough was again at the forefront of aviation development with research into the recently developed fields of wireless radio and photography, culminating in the release of the ubiquitous F24 camera in 1929. The now-famous wind-tunnel was enlarged to meet contemporary challenges, starting with the testing of the early Brennan Helicopter in 1919, which then took to the air in 1925.
The site was bombed after WWII in 1940, but that didn’t stop Farnborough’s famous engineers from coming to the nation’s defence once again. Following considerable expansion, experts at the site were behind wide-ranging developments, such as:
- The first British jet-propelled aircraft (Gloster Meteor) tests
- A gyro-stabilised gun sight that doubled accuracy
- Ground-based radar
- Rocket and catapult-based take-off systems
- Reverse engineering of V2 and German aircraft
The end of hostilities saw attention turn to the burgeoning civil aviation industry. Many of the larger aircraft tested at Farnborough would go on to become staples of the start of the commercial flight era, which stretched horizons for the war-weary public.
The Modern Age
Although Farnborough would not begin serving the civilian market until 1989, it was to play an integral role in the engineering that facilitated the commercialisation of air travel, comprised part of our Cold War defences and even took us to the Moon.
The airfield is indelibly linked with the iconic Vulcan, having undergone testing at the site and demonstrated military readiness as part of the bi-annual Farnborough Airshow in 1960. The ‘60s would also see other critical developments made at Farnborough, including the invention of commercially viable carbon fibre in 1963, the Normalair Spacesuit life support back pack circa 1962 and development of the head-up display.
The influence of Farnborough is still felt strongly today, with the advent of military UAVs and on-site development of a pioneering solar-powered long-distance aircraft called the Zephyr. The site now provides services for private commercial flights, and is home to the UK branch of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
Staying ahead in the aviation industry
Farnborough remained at the forefront of aviation development thanks largely to a culture that encouraged engineers to look beyond immediate goals, and instead focus on implementing methods and processes that would guarantee their long-term future.
It’s an ethos that could also help you enhance your business through strategic recruitment, and a mantra that we at AeroProfessional keep at the heart of everything we do.