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EDITIONS
Monday, 22 July, 2002, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Historic Farnborough under threat?
Heritage listed wind tunnel at Farnborough
Future use of the wind tunnel is uncertain
Behind the spectacle of the Farnborough Air Show lies the future of one of the world's most significant aviation sites.

While the latest developments in the aerospace industry are displayed on the airstrip, next door the old Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) is slowly decaying.


No other site had such an impact on aviation advancement in this country. Airships, powered flight and military aircraft development all have their roots here

Ministry of Defence
Farnborough, south west of London, is still considered the "cradle of British aviation" and the air show this year pays tribute to that legacy with the re-dedication of a memorial to the country's first powered flight.

The legendary Colonel Cody made the flight from what was then a grassy field in 1908.

But four years ago the Ministry of Defence (MoD) sold off Farnborough to Slough Estates, who are now redeveloping it as a business park.

Many of the buildings, in which the Spitfire, Vulcan bomber and Concorde were developed and tested, have already been demolished, and the future of large number of those remaining is uncertain.

Historic value

In the sales brochure, the MoD wrote, "No other site had such an impact on aviation advancement in this country. Airships, powered flight and military aircraft development all have their roots here."

Flying started in 1905 when the Army's Royal Engineering Balloon Section was located at Farnborough.

The scientists at RAE also conducted the investigation of the crash in 1954 of the Comet, the world's first jet passenger aircraft, which established the threat of metal fatigue.

Colonel Cody's flying circus
Colonel Cody made Britain's first powered flight at Farnborough
Similar sites in Germany, what was left of Johannistal outside Berlin after the allied bombing and Chalais Meudon in France, though not as physically intact have been preserved as national monuments.

But only four buildings at Farnborough have been heritage listed - two wind tunnels and two buildings were built around an old airship shed.

English Heritage has said it is keen to re-evaluate the Farnborough in the hope of securing listed status for more buildings.

"We have always said Farnborough is one of the most important places in Europe in terms of aviation," said Jeremy Lake, English Heritage's listing inspector.

"There's nowhere else like this and I'm quite keen to look at the site again."

Redevelopment

Slough Estates plans to resubmit its development plan to the local council "in the next few months".

Until then they are prevent from further redeveloping the parcel of land that contains the four listed buildings and other unlisted ones.

"We plan mixed usage as business space, health and fitness facilities and some retailing," said John Danks, principle manager of the Farnborough Business Park for Slough Estates.

Heritage listed wind tunnel at Farnborough
The wind tunnels are considered unique
"We have proposals to put the buildings into good repair and ensure they are preserved. Our intention is to respect the historic nature of the buildings."

He also dismissed fears about Slough Estates' proposal to 'soft strip' the wind-tunnels.

"That was an unfortunate choice of phrase," he admitted.

"What we have been doing in the wind tunnels is carry out a careful inventory, and identify loose fittings and fixtures, like modern fridges and tools which have no heritage value," he said.


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