Farnborough – 100 Years of British Aviation

Book Review

100 Years of British Aviation
by Peter J Cooper
Midland Publishing
208 pages, hbk
US$34.00, £24.99

Farnborough has played a pivotal role in the development of British aviation since 1905, when it became the site of the Balloon Factory of the British Army. The first aircraft flew from the site in 1908. The Balloon Factory became the Army Aircraft Factory in 1911 and then the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF) in 1912. The RAF designed and produced many aircraft for the RFC and RNAS during the First World War. In 1918 the organisation moved from aircraft production to research and development, becoming known as the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE).

From 1948 onwards the airfield became host to the Farnborough Air Show. Other units lodging here have included the Empire Test Pilots School, the Meteorological Research Flight, the Institute of Aviation Medicine, and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch. The RAE became the Defence Research Agency on 1991, and in the same year it was announced that this organisation would consolidate at Boscombe Down. The last DRA aircraft moved out from Farnborough in 1994. Part of the site became a business park, and in 2001 the airfield was sold to TAG Aviation for development as a business jet centre. A museum created by the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust remains on the site today.

Peter J Cooper’s book covers all these aspects of Farnborough’s history in great detail. The main chapters are presented in chronological order, with sub-sections describing the events for each year. Where possible the aircraft involved in flight testing are identified by serial number. The chapter on the SBAC displays describes the highlights of each show, and lists the significant aircraft that were in attendance. Each of the lodger units has a chapter to itself, describing it’s activities and detailing the aircraft used. The demolition and reconstruction of the site after 1994 is well described and illustrated, and the establishment of the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust concludes the main text.

The Appendix provides a list of the individual aircraft used by the various RAE/DRA research flights, with a brief note on what testing each aircraft was involved in. The largest operator was the Aerodynamics Flight – otherwise known as the Aero Flight, a good name for an aviation website perhaps?

The book is extremely well illustrated, with nearly 400 b+w and colour photos of the airfield and the actual aircraft mentioned in the text. Many of these are previously unpublished. The glossy paper used has ensured that reproduction of the images is very good. The endpapers show a useful plan of the airfield dating from 1988.

The author has produced an extremely well written and truly comprehensive history of aviation at Farnborough, which deserves a place on any aviation enthusiasts bookshelf. Highly recommended.

– John Hayles

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