The National Gas Turbine Establishment – Pyestock

The National Gas Turbine Establishment, or Pyestock, was the countries leading Jet Engine research establishment.  In 1926 the Royal Aircraft Establishment under the guidance of Dr Alan Griffith begun theorising the development of the Gas Turbine for the powering of an aircraft.  The RAE authorised two experiments to be carried out to verify the theory and in 1929 a paper was publish that laid out the advantages of using a turbine to power an aircraft propeller.  Due to the Great Depression, the Air Ministry was not willing to back the funding of the new engine and development stalled.  At the same time, a young RAF Cadet, the infamous Frank Whittle, was conducting experiments at the RAE and had begun formulating his own ideas for a jet engine.  His idea differed from DR Griffiths and he proposed using the thrust of the exhaust to propel the aircraft.  His idea was also dismissed by the Air Ministry due to financial reasons.  It was almost 7 years, under the guidance of Haynes Constant, before the RAE plucked up the courage to ask the Air Ministry to provide funding for the development of a Jet Engine.  This time it was granted.

During those seven years, Frank Whittle had left the RAF and started up Power Jets Ltd with two RAF colleagues to continue the development of the engine.  It was only now that he was given help to develop the engine by the government.  In 1941 the first British Jet Plane took to the air. In 1944 the Power Jets Ltd and the RAE Turbine arm were merged together, this was to prevent the key expertise being lost to competition. Power Jets (research and development) Ltd was formed.  The Headquarters were located at Pyestock.  in 1946 it turned out that the venture was not a success at it was subsumed into the Ministry of Supply and renamed the National Gas Turbine Establishment.  By this time, Frank Whittle and his lead designers had resigned.  Two years later, the whole facility was moved to Pyestock, Farnborough, adjacent to the RAE wind tunnels.

The Pyestock site was extended to accommodate this move and 195 acres of surplus land was acquired from the War Office. The significant task of constructing the test facilities started during the 1950’s.  In 1952, the Battle Test House was commissioned and marked the NGTE’s foray into testing naval based gas turbines.  New research facilities were constructed, Test Cell 1 & 2, that were to be the first high altitude jet engine test beds in the country.  The construction took 3 years to complete and the cells were commissioned in 1957.  By this time, the large compressors and test beds had been commissioned in the Battle Test House, with power being provided from a new steam generating boiler.  In 1961, the largest testing facility in Europe, Cell 3, was commissioned.  This chamber provided a much more enhanced high altitude testing facility and to provide the enormous volumes of air to the cell, the Air House was built.  This contained four large air compressors and exhausters, the number was soon after increased to eight. In order to address the complex problems surrounding the high altitude flight of Concorde, Test Cell 4 was constructed in 1965.  This facility allowed for the simulation of supersonic flow conditions for high altitude height and proved invaluable when testing the new Concorde Olympus 593 engine and intakes.  The final test cell to be built, Cell 3 West, was the largest altitude chamber and was used to test 50,000lb thrust class turbofan engines.  It also allowed engines to be tested in icing conditions.  The construction of Cell 3 West and Cell four required the construction of two new exhausters.  In 1971, an anechoic chamber is consructed on the site, which led to the Queens Award for Enterprise being awarded to the Pyestock site.  By 1973, the site was at its largest extents and employed close to 1600 people. In 1995 the sire became part of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, a sub-agency of the Ministry of Defence.  In 2000, due to the advent of computer simulation and testing technologies, large parts of the site were decommissioned.

In 2001, DERA was split into the private company Qinetiq and the Government back Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.  By 2004, the site was largely disused and Qinetiq decided to sell the site to Astral Developments.  Astral plan to build the Heartlands Park on the site, with the former testing facility being demolished.  IN 2005, MoLAS concluded a major programme of building recording and research at Pyestock. Working with Astral Developments, the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) and Hampshire County Council, they made a full record of the site and ensures that all appropriate archive material was secured.  By 2013, after a long drawn out court battle over its future, demolition of the site had begun and is expected to take a number of years due to contaminated land.

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Modified: 2nd May 2017