Nick Lewis

November 27 2021

Farnborough Photowalk - Aviation Heritage

The walk is taking place on the 27th November 2021 and I will edit this article after the event to include photos taken not just by myself but the other people who attend on the day.

I would like to thank Bob Gentry for providing the descriptions for the buildings we are going to visit. It is a truly incredible part of Farnborough and is somewhat understated. How British!

What you will learn

Whilst the walk isn’t going to be a workshop as such I will talk about the ways in which you can photograph large buildings, to really get up close and study them from a variety of different angles. Larger buildings can be tricky to capture as a whole and photographers tends to capture photos that are more record shots than anything else. I think that is a shame, as sometimes great ideas are missed. Learn to see in a different way.

We will visit each of the buildings below from the outside and come away with photos that perhaps we wouldn’t have considered taking previously.

Balloon Hangar

The Balloon Hangar

Construction of the portable airship hangar originally began in March 1912. It is made up of 112 riveted lattice frames, each weighing half a ton, and bolted together to form the 260-foot long structure. The building  stood at Farnborough as a single structure only in 1912 and 1913. The hangar was recovered by the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) restored to its former glory and then re-erected by Slough Estates Group in order to form the centrepiece of the business park created out of the refurbishment of the former Royal Aircraft Establishment site. It stands as a permanent monument commemorating the enormous history of World class aviation research and development at Farnborough.

The hangar is an imposing structure, not all that easy to photograph as it happens. I have seen some great photos of it over time but a lot of them follow a similar theme, even mine have been much the same. How can we capture something refreshingly different? Maybe you can?

Building Q120

Sea plane tank

This is all that remains of the Sea Plane Tank; the building originally housed the end of a quarter mile long water tank, approximately 2 meters deep by 2 meters wide. A vestigial ‘stub’ of the tank – since filled in – can still be seen but the Business Park development has now replaced rest. The tank was once fully enclosed; accurate scale models of sea and float plane hulls were lowered from a moving test carriage above the tank in very carefully controlled experiments designed study their behaviour in varying water surface conditions, speeds and angles. Land based aircraft ditching characteristics were also extensively tested in order to assess performance and buoyance in the event of an emergency landing on water.

I will talk a little bit about some of the key principles in photographic composition, such as perspective, lead-in lines and the “rule of thirds”. Tools that help improve your photography a great deal.

Building Q121

Wind tunnel

Construction of the building began in 1931 and was completed in 1935; at the time it was one of if not the largest wind tunnels in the World. Q121 is usually referred to as the ’24 foot wind tunnel,’ it was originally designed to create a cylinder of high quality precisely controlled air flow 24 feet in diameter. This was created by 30 foot diameter a six bladed fan, each blade made from laminated mahogany. Q121 was in operation until 1994 and is a Grade 1 listed building.

Sometimes it’s all about the angle and the light, that can lift an image and make it really stand out.

Building Q134

Wind tunnel

The Hub building at the Business Park is one of the few remaining original buildings from the Royal Aircraft Establishment era; although it has been modified with the addition of the ‘control room’ on the upper most level in order to make it appear as though it was once the terminal building, this was never the case. In the later years of the RAE it was the home of the Space, Missiles and Guided Weapons Department. Today, as well as being the Business Park Headquarters, it also houses the National Aerospace Library.

Building R52

Wind tunnel

Dating from 1907 this is the oldest wind tunnel building on the former RAE site and originally housed two ‘wind channels’ as the earliest designs were known. The building contains the wooden 4’x 3’ ‘Low Turbulence Wind Tunnel; constructed in 1946 entirely from ‘Douglas Fir’ and designed to deliver extremely high quality air flow. Among many other things, the tunnel was used to test early delta wing designs during the development of high speed flight. The building was also used as the ‘expert evaluation location’ when the Antiques Roadshow paid a visit to Farnborough.

Cody Statue

Wind tunnel

Originally an American Citizen, Samuel Franklin Cody was a pioneer of early British aviation; the inventor of many and ingenious large kites with military applications He is also the designer and pilot of Army Aeroplane number 1A which performed the first flight of a powered aeroplane in the UK on October 16th 1908. He took off from a location marked by a memorial stone very close to the Aviator Hotel and can be said to be the Father of aircraft development at Farnborough. Cody was also a renowned Wild West showman and is often mistakenly identified as William Cody - the more famous Buffalo Bill – from whom he certainly took inspiration. Cody was killed in a tragic accident at Farnborough in 1913 when his aircraft suffered structural failure while flying at an altitude of some 400 feet, his final resting place can still be seen in the Aldershot Military Cemetery.

FAST Museum

We will finish the walk at the FAST Museum, for which more information can be found here: