Boscombe Down

A&AEE Logos

Boscombe Down in Wiltshire is the UK’s premiere facility for testing aircraft. The facility exists to test, adapt and prove suitable for service aircraft or equipment accepted for use by any of the three UK armed services, a function that is reflected in the Latin motif on the facilities coat of arms ‘Probe Probare’ (Properly to Test). For most of its life Boscombe Down was known by the formal name of the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) although, since passing into the management of QinetiQ, it was renamed the ‘Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre’ (ATEC). Under the management of QinetiQ it was operated in a more market driven way, adopting a more open approach, advertising and competing for work both within the UK and abroad. In general terms, the facility is composed of units that are responsible for rotary winged aircraft (helicopters), single engine aircraft (usually fast jets, such as fighters), multi-engined aircraft (typically heavy transport, bombers etc), and infrastructure and support (including airfield radars, communication and advanced R&D facilities).

Boscombe Down from Eastern approach showing, in order away from camera, A, B, C, D & E Squadrons (Ack: Service Life)

Apart from testing, the facility is renowned for training being the home of the Empire Test Pilots School, enjoying all the trappings of a sophisticated airfield such as two runways, the longest one being 3,212 m (10,538 ft) in length and the second 1,914 m (6,280 ft). Understandably, most of the literature describing Boscombe Down focuses on its aircraft but the facility also boasts some equally impressive ground-based test facilities such as an environmental hanger, 90ft x90ft x18ft (27m x27m x5.5m), which enables aircraft to be tested in climate controlled conditions by varying temperatures between -40c to +50c and the humidity up to 100% (Rawlings 1983). Nearby this facility is a blower (wind) tunnel that emulates air speeds of up to 400 mph and supports the injection of liquid nitrogen to cause icing (up to -30c), which is a particularly important for cold weather trials. In addition to 18 hardened aircraft shelters, another notable feature is the very large Weighbridge Hanger (originally erected to house the Bristol Brabazon) which provides a clear span of 250 ft (76.2m) and incorporates a weighbridge that can weigh and determine the centre of gravity of aircraft up to 135 tons (137170Kg). In addition the establishment possessed an ‘ejection seat testing platform, originally made from a modified Canberra which had an in-flight test speed range of 150 – 500 mph with a ground test speed of up to just over 100mph. There was also an electromagnetic compatibility test rig, capable of testing complete aircraft using an electrostatic discharge of up to 35KV, a wide-frequency high-power RF power source and an electromagnetic pulse generator that could emulate energy from a nuclear explosion.   In addition there were various flying support assets such as an icing tanker (originally a Canberra taking the form of an airborne 900 gallon capacity, 60 gallons per minute, water spray system). Other aircraft, such a a modified Comet-4 and a Sea King helicopter, acted as instrumented flying laboratories to test, for example, navigation, radar and radio systems, while numerous other aircraft were used as photographic monitoring platforms, recording trial activities. The work at Boscombe Down went beyond simply certifying aircraft delivered from manufacturers but extended into the modification of aircraft over their life, so they could be adapted for particular needs and changing roles. Thus, in the new more open market oriented environment that Boscombe Down now operates, it represents a unique and invaluable national resource.

A&AEE Aircraft on Ground

Some Boscombe Down Aircraft (see notes at end of article for details)

Boscombe Down occupies an area of some 14,000 acres with a perimeter of about 13 miles situated on a hilltop that is part of the rolling chalky uplands of Salisbury Plain, an area famed for military installations.  Over its life, Boscombe Down has experienced numerous changes. Perhaps surprisingly, the history of Boscombe Down and flying armaments  stretches back to the 24th Century BC!  During April 2003 the graves of “The Boscombe Bowmen”, complete with their weaponry (bows and arrows), were unearthed as a water-pipe trench was being dug to service a 1950’s housing estate attached to the airfield (Catling 12)! The aerodynamic profiles of the flint arrow heads (with a little imagination) has a similar appearance  to a modern military aircraft and, of course, flew through the air towards they enemies, making an interesting connection to the past (see image of the ‘Boscombe Bowmen‘ arrowheads further down this article). Moreover, the Boscombe Down emblem features an arrow between clasped hands! More recently and, according to Wing Commander Bird (Bird 1957), the beginnings of the establishment can be traced to an ‘Experimental Flight’ that was formed at the Central Flying School, Upavon, in December 1914 “to devise methods of mounting guns in aeroplanes, to develop visual signalling in aircraft and bomb dropping apparatus and sights”.

Some Officers of A&AEE Pictured at Martlesham Heath in 1934

In January 1917 this ‘Experimental Flight’ was then moved to Martlesham Heath in Suffolk (now home to BT Labs) being known as the ‘Testing Squadron’ under the control of the War Office. In October 1917 Martlesham Heath was designated the ‘Aeroplane Experimental Establishment’ and later, in March 1924, was changed to the ‘Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment’ under the Director of Technical Development at the Air Ministry. David Kindred’s, excellent article for the East Anglican Daily Times provides photographs together with a highly informative history of Martleshame air station (see “Days Gone By: 100 years ago Martlesham’s air station was created, take a look at its history“). The move to Boscombe Down was made in September 1939 (the outbreak of the World War II) where, in 1940, it came under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, passing to the Ministry of Supply in 1945. It then was passed around various ministries, as post-war governments were restructured, passing to the Ministry of Aviation then briefly to the Ministry of Technology in February 1967 (which subsumed the Ministry of Aviation) before being transferred to the Ministry of Defense (Procurement Executive) in 1970. The site was renamed the Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment when experimental work moved under the Defence Research Agency (DRA) formed in April 1992. On the 1st April 1995 the DRA was restructured into 4 new divisions, one of which was the Defence Test and Evaluation Organisation (DTEO) which assumed responsibility for the Boscombe Down facility, resulting in another new official name, DTEO Boscombe Down. This reorganisation also saw the rationalisation of UK aviation R&D with the cessation of experimental flying at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Farnborough, with their fleet transferring to Boscombe Down. This moment (24th March 1994),  was marked by six of the Farnborough fleet being flow to Boscombe Down, drawing in a crowd of about 1000 people to witness the final flypast over the Farnborough airfield. To illustrate further the extent of the changes occurring during that period its useful to revisit the words of Director of Air Operations, Air Commodore Colin Cruickshanks, who was quoted in an ‘Aircraft Illustrated‘ article of July 1995 as saying “As an Establishment, Boscombe Down doesn’t exist anymore!”. He went on to explain that instead of budgets and management being associated with particular locations (Establishments), it had been changed to be associated with activities that were dispersed throughout the country (Ashley 1995). The new millennium brought even more changes, notably a movement towards increasing privatisation which, in 2001, saw the formation of QinetiQ and a 25 year Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA)  to operate Boscombe Down on behalf of the MOD, creating the ‘Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre’ (ATEC) where civilians and military personnel work side-by-side.

A&AEE Aircraft in Flight

Some Boscombe Down Aircraft (see notes at end of article for details)

Since the demise of the Cold War and the transfer of responsibilities to QinetiQ, Boscombe Down has become a much more open organisation and, while still conducting confidential work, now openly touts for business, advertising its services, hardware and capabilities in public media. As a result there are a number of excellent books written that are available to those interested in learning more about this fascinating establishment (many informed by ex-employees). A comprehensive list of books and magazine articles is included at the end of this page. It is evident from these publication that Boscombe Down has played critical role in the development of the British aviation industry and, in the process, completing projects that are too numerous to list but which include the maiden flights of the Hawker Hunter fighter aircraft (Prototype P1067, a/c No. WB188, Flt Time 50 mins) by S/Ldr Neville Duke DSO, OBE, DFC, AFC on the 20th of July 1951, the Vickers-Supermarine N.113 (a naval carrier-bourne fighter) on the 31st of August 1951, the Folland Midge (Fo-139) a lightweight fighter (and forerunner of the Gnat) first flew on 11 August 1954 from Boscombe Down with Teddy Tennant at the controls, the English Electric P1 (forerunner of the renowned Lightning fighter that was a UK mainstay during most of the Cold War), and the fabled terrain following BAC TSR-2, on the 27th September 1964, an aircraft which had been hoped would replace the V-Bombers (Valiant, Vulcan & Victor) as a front line nuclear bomber, when high flying bombers became vulnerable to being intercepted. By way of an example of such momentous occasions at Boscombe Down, the TSR-2 (piloted by Mr R.P Beamont, deputy chief test pilot of BAC) conducted its maiden flight from A&AEE at 15.28 hours on the 27th September 1964, accompanied by a Lightning and Canberra. It made two wide circuits of the airfield, flying between 7000-1000 feet, before landing 15 minutes later. After the flight the pilot is reported to have said “I have just signed what we call the ‘snag sheet’ and there were no snags at all on it” (Dorrell 1964). The outstanding capabilities of the British Aviation industry of the time was perfectly captured in a statement by the then Minister of Aviation, Mr Julian Amery, who is reported as saying “The TSR-2 is probably the most complex airborne weapon system ever to be developed; yet, less than 4 years have passed between the placing of the development order and the first flight”! The image montage, above, includes a picture of the TSR-2 taking off from Boscombe Down (bottom right). Not all experimental aircraft tested at Boscombe Down made it into service as advances to technology or new combat tactics could quickly sideline expensive projects. For example, the Saunders-Roe SR.53 was a British prototype fighter powered by both jet and rocket propulsion systems, with the aim that its rocket propulsion would be used to enable it to quickly intercept incoming enemy aircraft, returning to base using its jet engines.  Unfortunately the design fell victim to rapid advances in surface-to-air missile technology, leading to the project being cancelled in July 1960.  Of course, beyond these published achievements, because Boscombe Down needed to maintain secrecy surrounding the testing of advanced military aircraft, its not surprising that rumours abound, some based in reality, others myths created by speculation and gossip! For example, the Daily Telegraph carried an article that reported a top-secret United States spy-plane (called Astra or Aurora?), rumoured to have been developed in the 1980s as part of a secret US government “black programme”, crashed at Boscombe Down in September 1994. Officially, the US denied the aircraft existed, although there were many reports of mysterious sonic booms and sightings. The plane, supposedly, flew on the edge of space at five times the speed of sound. It’s inevitable that secret high-tech aircraft were glimpsed from time to time, leading to rumours and misconceptions, (perhaps even being mistaken as alien craft)!

Boscombe Bowmen Arrowheads

With some imagination, these ‘Boscombe Bowmen‘ arrowheads might look like military aircraft

An Apprentice’s Perspective – Most of the published experiences of life at Boscombe Down were written by pilots of the wondrous aircraft that were evaluated there. However, an organisation such as Boscombe Down requires a huge and varied workforce to complete its work. As a result there were numerous sub divisions at Boscombe Down, with the main ones being ‘Trials Management‘, ‘Performance‘, ‘Engineering‘, ‘Armament‘, ‘Navigation & Radio‘, ‘Photographic‘, ‘Flying‘, ‘Technical Services‘, ‘Empire Test School‘ and finally, ‘Administration‘.  Technical Services was numerically the largest division, responsible for keeping serviceable the constantly changing fleet of aircraft and weapons on trial.  It also maintained an electronics workshop (eLab) to build special equipment, not available elsewhere, for trials. With the civilianisation that occurred during the 1960’s, so did a need to train Boscombe’s own specialist staff, from scratch, in the skills needed to work with cutting-edge avionic technologies, resulting in the UK government offering what must have been the best apprenticeship scheme ever in the UK.  The  establishments apprentice training scheme was managed out of the ‘Technical Services‘ division. I was one of those lucky few that got a Boscombe Down apprenticeship and began my 5-years avionics training in July 1966 as part of the ‘Technical Services‘ division. It was a privileged experience as the aircraft industry represented the cutting-edge of high-technology. Apprentices started with little knowledge of how an aircraft worked, so educating apprentices to assume useful roles at A&AEE involved teaching them concepts and skills that were well beyond their school or daily life experiences. The training programmes at A&AEE were more than capable of doing that and, over the 5 years of my apprenticeship, I was given experience in every conceivable aspect of avionic systems ranging from learning the intricate workings of complex aircraft communications navigation & computational systems, through gaining an understanding of airfield support systems such as how radar operated, to developing novel gadgets in an R&D lab (eLab). Together with on-the-job practical training, apprentices received generous schooling consisting of periods in Boscombe’s own schools as well as day-release to local technical colleges in Salisbury and Southampton. Apprentices even got a chance to have flights (that were not part of dangerous trials); I remember one flight to RAF St Mawgan (Cornwall) and getting the chance to take the controls of a Viscount (under strict supervision)! Such was the quality of the apprenticeship that, as I neared the end of my apprenticeship, I found myself creating novel avionic systems, including contributing to patents. In my case, this all culminated with the A&AEE generously funding the continuation of my studies in Electronic Engineering at the University of Sheffield, something that changed my life in a very positive way and has left me with an eternal gratitude to the establishment and people who supported me at Boscombe Down. Beyond work, A&AEE was a great social environment being a mix of military, ex-military and civilians, offering a great social club and numerous activities including a wide variety of sports. For example, while there I played for the A&AEE table tennis team in the local Salisbury league, climbing from division four to one in successive years and having much fun on the way! Most of my happiness was due to being part of a great group of fellow apprentices and staff (some apprentices and staff I worked with are listed on ‘A&AEE People‘).

Finally, of course, all of us that worked at Boscombe Down were just very small cogs in a massive machine but one that made a huge difference in making the world a more secure place, something that remains very precious, even in these current times.  If you have recollections of working at Boscombe Down, please consider adding them to the ‘A&AEE blog‘ at the end of this page as, for example, it might lead to rekindling lost friendships or, at least, play a role in preserving memories of a very special place and period in UK history.


Web Links

  1. Wikipedia entry for the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment
  2. Wikipedia entry for MoD Boscombe Down
  3. Boscombe Down Aviation Collection (a collection located on Old Sarum airfield showing aircraft, cockpits, and models to illustrate the story of flight test in the UK). A very insightful description of the collection and history has been written by Serge Van Heertum on his SBAP website.
  4. Boscombe Down Museum (A collection of aircraft and artefacts located inside a hardened shelter at Boscombe Down airfield)
  5. QinetiQ (the company now managing the Boscombe Down facility)
  6. Empire Test Pilots School at Boscombe Down


  1. Patrick Allen “Rotary Wing Test & Evaluation Squadron: Testing the UK’s Helicopters“, Combat Aircraft, Vol 11 No 5, p45-47
  2. Adrian M. Balch “Testing Colours: British Test, Trials and Research Aircraft of A&AEE, RAE & ETS Since 1960”, Airlife Publishing Ltd, 1993, ISBN 1 85310 349 7
  3. David Berryman “Wiltshire Airfields In The Second World War“, Countryside Books, 2002, ISBN 1-85306-703-2, p30-53
  4. Colin Cruddas “In Wiltshire Skies”, Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2004, ISBN 0-7524-3235-4
  5. Brian Johnson & Terry Heffernan “A Most Secret Place; Boscombe Down 1939-45”, Jane’s Publishing Company, London, 1984 ISBN 0 7106 0203 0
  6. Brian Johnson “Test Pilot”, BBC Publications, 1986 “ISBN 0 563 20502 4
  7. Tim Mason “The Secret Years; Flight Testing At Boscombe Down 1939-1945″, Hikoki Publications, 1998, ISBN 9-781902-109145
  8. Tim Mason “The Cold War Years; Flight Testing At Boscombe Down 1945-1975″, Hikoki Publications, 2001, ISBN 1-902109-11-2
  9. Bernard Noble “Properly To Test: Book One, The Early Years”, Old Forge Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0-9544507-1-X
  10. Bernard Noble “Properly To Test: Book Two, The Golden Era”, Old Forge Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0-9544507-4-4
  11. Norman Parker “The Boscombe Down Faireys: A Short History of Their Time on Boscombe Down“,  Self-Published, 2006.
  12. John Rawlings, Hilary Sedgwick “Learn To Test, Test To Learn: The History Of The Empire Test Pilots’ School“, Airlife Publishing Ltd, 1991, ISBN 1-85310-080-3

Magazines / Bulletins & Miscellaneous Publications

  1. Aeromilitaria Magazine (The Air-Britain Military Aviation Historical Quarterly), Edited by James Halley & Ray Sturtivant, No.4, 1998.
  2. Boscombe Bulletin (The Magazine of the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment), Issue 9, October 1992
  3. Boscombe Bulletin (The Magazine of the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment), October 1990
  4. Boscombe Down Information Handbook (for new employees), confirmed editions include 3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 12th, 13th & 14th (all printed by ‘The Constitutional Press Ltd, who operated at premises in Surrey and Sussex before ceasing business).
  5. Empire Pilots’ School 40th Anniversary commemorative display brochure, Printed by Alamein Forces Press, Salisbury, UK.
  6. Boscombe Down 70th Anniversary (1991) Souvenir Book. Contains various interesting articles discussing topics such as Armorial Bearings of A&AEE (p5), Boscombe Down Early History (p6-10), History of Empire Test Pilots School (p16-21), description of Boscombe’s Gate Guardian (p31) etc


  1. Anonymous “Aircraft to Weapons System; The work of A&AEE Boscombe Down”, Flight 11th September 1954, p423-426.
  2. Anonymous “Bombers at Boscombe“, Flight & Aircraft Engineer, 21 June 1957, p 825
  3. Anonymous “TRS2; The Most Important Weapon In Britain’s Armoury”, Air Pictorial, November 1964, p347-348.
  4. Anonymous “A Boscombe Occasion”, Flight International, 1st April 1971, p458-459.
  5. Anonymous “Boscombe Trio (Harvards Photo Special)”, Aeroplane Monthly, August  1978, p418-421.
  6. Anonymous “Testing To Perfection; The Work Of The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment”, Air International, July 1983, p13-18 & p34-37.
  7. Anonymous “All in a Year at A&AEE”, Air Pictorial, January 1987, p30-31.
  8. Anonymous “Empire Test Pilots’ School Today“, TVS 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Airshow Programme/Magazine, 9-10 June 1990, p14-16.
  9. Anonymous “Boscombe Down At Work“, TVS 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Airshow Programme/Magazine, 9-10 June 1990, p18-19.
  10. Anonymous “Aircraft Accidents: Sea King HC4 ZG829 (21 October 1992)“, p6-7,  PROFILE Flight Safety Magazine, published by MOD(PE) Flight Safety, 3rd Edition, 1992.
  11. Anonymous “Air Tournament International,Boscombe Down 13/14 June 1992“, published in Flypast Airshow Souvenir magazine, p18-21, Key Publishing Ltd, December 1992
  12. Anonymous “Boscombe Down”, Air Forces Monthly, November 1996, p24-26.
  13. Anonymous “The Truth is Out”, Air Forces Monthly, March 1997, p16-25.
  14. Anonymous “More Truth is Out”, Air Forces Monthly, June 1997, p17-22.
  15. Patrick Allen “Fifty Testing Years; The Empire Test Pilot School Has Celebrated 5 years Of Testing The Testers”, Flypast, September 1993, p25.
  16. Dave Allport, “Boscombe Down – Base Tour“, Air Forces Monthly, January 1990 p37-43
  17. Mark Ashley, “The New Boscombe Down (Part 1)”, Aircraft Illustrated, July 1995, p74-79
  18. Mark Ashley, “The New Boscombe Down (Part 2)”, Aircraft Illustrated, August 1995, p72-76
  19. Mark Ashley, “The New Boscombe Down (Part 3)”, Aircraft Illustrated, September 1995, p28-33
  20. Mark Ashley “East Meets West at Boscombe Down”, Air Pictorial International, August 1992, p407-410
  21. R Bird “The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment – Part 1”, Air Clues, Vol11, No.10, July 1957, p291-303
  22. R Bird “The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment – Part 2”, Air Clues, Vol11, No.11, August 1957, p328-334
  23. C. B. Brown “A Feast of Flying Part-1)“, Aeroplane Monthly, September 1991, p530-534
  24. C. B. Brown “A Feast of Flying Part-2)“, Aeroplane Monthly, October 1991, p600-604
  25. Charles Burnet “Oh To Be An FTO! (Part 1)”, Aeroplane, January 2007, p28-32
  26. Charles Burnet “Oh To Be An FTO! (Part 2)”, Aeroplane, February 2007, p34-39
  27. Dino Carrara “Last Bastion of the Tornado F3″”, Aviation News, July 2012, p26-32
  28. Dino Carrara “MOD Boscombe Down’s BAC One-Elevens and Andovers”, Aviation News, August 2012, p26-32
  29. Peter J Cooper “Training To Test”, Royal Air Force Yearbook 1995, ISSN 0954-092X, 1995, p66-69
  30. Peter J Cooper “DRA Sea King Retires; Gone But Not Forgotten“, Air World International, February 1996, p40-44
  31. Peter J Cooper “Appendages and Protrusions”, Air International, Vol.53 No.2, August 1997, p86-92
  32. Neil Da Costa “John Blaha at Boscombe Down”, Spaceflight, Vol.40, May 1998, p159-160
  33. Lettice Curtis “Down at Boscombe”, Aeroplane Monthly, July 1994 p44-46
  34. Paul F Crickmore “Getting the best from Tornado“, Air International, Vol.32 No.3, March 1987, p142-144
  35. Kev Darling “Testing Time For The Canberra”, Aviation News, Vol.20 No.13, 8-21 November 1991, p584-591
  36. Kev Darling “The Comet Clings On”, Aviation News, Vol.22 No.7, 27th August – 9 September 1993, p314-317
  37. Jack Dawe “Comet Reprieve; A&AEE’s Famous Flying Laboratory”, Aviation news, Vol.24 no.5, 25th March – 7th April 1995, p170-172
  38. John Dibbs, “Boscombe Beauties!” (four stunning photographs of Boscombe aircraft by John Dibbs)”, Aircraft Illustrated, October 1995, p74-75
  39. Malcolm English, “QinetiQ’s Diverse Fleet: From Harvard to Harrier“, Air International, November 2004, p40-44
  40. Alan W. Hall “Boscombe Down; A Step Ahead Of The Rest”, Aviation News, Vol.15 No.15, 12-26 December 1986, p726-730
  41. Alan W. Hall “Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment Boscombe Down”, Aviation News, Vol.11 No.25, 6th-19th May 1983, p4-5
  42. J.J.Halley, A.J.Wright “Unison’67‘ (the Commonwealth Inter-Service study demonstrating the latest military techniques of the time at Boscombe Down and the Salisbury Plain), Air Britain Digest, October 1967, p 277-279.
  43. T.H.J.Hefferman “The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment“, Royal Air Force Souvenir Book 1972,  p28-42 (this is one of the best concise accounts of A&AEE operations and history written)
  44. Martin Horseman “A&AEE Boscombe Down”, Armed Forces, August 1983, p309-311
  45. David Hunter “The Evaluators: An Overview of SAOEU Work at Boscombe Down“, Aircraft Illustrated February 2000, p58-63
  46. Jamie Hunter “The Evaluators” (The work of the strike attack operational evaluation unit at Boscombe Down), Royal Airforce Yearbook, 2001, pp16-18
  47. Paul Jackson “Testing for War”, Air Forces Monthly, January 1993, p32-37
  48. Paul Jackson “ETPS – Learning To Test“, Air International, Vol 25, No 4, October 1983, p175-178
  49. H. F. King “Boscombe Down: Work and Organisation of the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment“, Flight and Aircraft Engineer (Official Organ of the Royal Aero Club – The first aeronautical weekly in the world – founded 1909),  No.1985 Vol L1, 9th January 1947, p29-35
  50. Helen Krasner “Testing Times“, Today’s Pilot, May 2008, p52-58
  51. Jon Lake “RAF Hunter Revival“, Jets, November/December 1998, p8-11
  52. Terry Lawless “DERA’s Last Harvard“, Warbirds Journal, No 49, July 1999, p52-53, ISSN: 1462-2432
  53. Jerry Lee “RAF Test Pilot: Life With The A-Team  (Boscombe Down, 1968-1972)“, Jets, Winter 2001, p36-41 (in the same issue Mike Gaines has interesting article “Comet With Attitude” which, while not featuring Boscombe Down explicitly, Nimrods (the converted Comets in question) were tested there).
  54. Alec Lumsden & Terry Heffernan “Probe Probare – Part 5″ The Hawker Hart trial”), Aeroplane Monthly, July 1984, p352-356 & p375
  55. Alec Lumsden & Terry Heffernan “Probe Probare – Part 8″ The Bristol Blenheim trial“), Aeroplane Monthly, November 1984, pp584-588
  56. Daniel March “Goodbye ‘Snoopy” (story of a modified C-130 Hercules used by the Meteorological Research Flight that was originally based at RAE before being moved to A&AEE), Royal Airforce Yearbook, 2001, pp38-41
  57. Peter R. March “The Empire Test Pilots’ School”, Armed Forces, October 1983, p380-382 ISSN 0145-4696
  58. Peter R. March “Properly to Test; A&AEE Boscombe Down, 1971”, Aircraft Illustrated, June 1971, p214-217
  59. Peter R. March “Battle of Britain Airshow (at Boscombe Down on 9-10th June 1990 to mark 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain)“, Air Display International, September-November 1990, No. 15, p 16-21
  60. Peter R. March “Air Tournament International (at Boscombe Down 13th-14th of June 1992)“, Air Display International, August-September 1992, No. 25, p4-9
  61. W.L.M. Mayer “The Empire Test Pilot’s School“, Royal Air force Magazine 1991, No 3, p35-38
  62. Alistair Mclean “ETPS Hawk: An Alternative Finish For The Airfix Kit“, Scale Aircraft Modelling, March 2005, p22-25
  63. Graham Napper “RAE Boscombe Down; What Goes On Behind Closed Doors”, Air Pictorial, April 1990, p144-147
  64. Tom Neil “Boscombe Down Memories; Reflections Of An A&AEE Test Pilot”, Air Enthusiast, No.54, Summer 1994, p36-51
  65. R.W.Noades “Boscombe Down: Today & Tomorrow“, TVS 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Airshow Programme/Magazine, 9-10 June 1990, p20-22.
  66. Bernard Noble “Boscombe the Second Time Around“, p24-29,  PROFILE Flight Safety Magazine, published by MOD(PE) Flight Safety, 3rd Edition, 1992.
  67. Lindsay Peacock “Battle of Britain Airshow (at Boscombe Down)”, Aviation News, 17-30 July 1992, Vol.21 No.5, p224-228
  68. Lindsay Peacock “Boscombe Bonanza”, Aviation News, 6-19 June 1992, Vol.21 No.2, p76-79
  69. Lindsay Peacock “Air Tournament International ‘92 (at Boscombe Down)”, Aviation News, 20th July – 2nd August 1990, Vol.19 No.5, p210-212
  70. Lindsay Peacock “ETPS 40th Anniversary”, Aviation News, 15th-28th July 1983, Vol.12 No.4, p152
  71. Arthur Pearcy “The Empire Test Pilots’ School“, Aviation News, 15-30 September 1978, Vol.7 No.8, p4-5
  72. J.D.R. Rawlings “A&AEE Boscombe Down; A Report on Current Activities”, Air Pictorial June 1983, p208-211
  73. J.D.R. Rawlings “Boscombe’s Regal Day (with a check list of aircraft that were on display)”, Air Pictorial, May 1971, p169-170
  74. J.D.R. Rawlings “Learning To Test: The Work Of The Empire Test Pilots’ School”, Air Pictorial, November 1969, p400-405
  75. Don Robertson “A Testing Time (Part 1)“, Aeroplane Monthly, December 1982, p659-661
  76. Don Robertson “A Testing Time (Part 2)“, Aeroplane Monthly, January 1983, p10-13
  77. Keith Saunders “Learn to test, test to learn” (Empire Test Pilots School 50th Anniversary), Air Pictorial, June 1993, pp280-282
  78. R.A.Smith “Boscombe Down: The First Eight Decades Reviewed“, TVS 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Airshow Programme/Magazine, 9-10 June 1990, p7-11.
  79. David Stephens “Empire School: The History of the Empire Test Pilots School at Boscombe Down“, Aircraft Illustrated, November 1988, p584-585
  80. Hugh Trevor “Sheltered Accommodation; Boscombe Down Museum project”, Flypast December 1999, p51-53
  81. Keven Wills “Hastle and Hawk Trails; The Trans-Atlantic Deployment of Boscombe Downs SAOEU fleet to the USA”, Air Forces Monthly, January 1998, p19-23

Archaeology of Boscombe Down

  1. Christopher Catling “Beaker Burials at Boscombe Down (Gold In Their Hair; Pioneering Travellers Along The Copper Road)“, Current Archaeology, April 2012, p26-33.
  2. Bob Clarke “Watching Brief at COB (Boscombe Down Conservation Group) West, MOD Boscombe Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire, 30 September 2014“, BDCG 2014-10-(1), Boscombe Down Conservation Group, October 2014.
  3. Bob Clarke “Watching Brief at Central Operating Base (COB) West, MOD Boscombe Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire“, 23-26 March 2015, BDCG 2015-3-1, Boscombe Down Conservation Group, March 2015.
  4. Bob Clarke “Watching Brief Adjacent to Building 416, MOD Boscombe Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire 19-28 November 2014“, BDCG 2014-11-(1), Boscombe Down Conservation Group, November 2014
  5. Bob Clarke “Watching Brief at Bulk Fuel Installation 980, MOD Boscombe Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire 05-07 August 2014“, BDCG 2014-08-(1), Boscombe Down Conservation Group, August 2014
  6. Bob Clarke “Watching Brief at COB West, MOD Boscombe Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire 13 May 2015“, BDCG 2015-5-2, Boscombe Down Conservation Group, June 2015.
  7. Bob Clarke “Watching Brief at the Rear of Building 98, The Officers Mess, MOD Boscombe Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire,11-12 November 2013“,  BDCG 2013-11-(1), Boscombe Down Conservation Group, November 2013
  8. Bob Clarke “Watching Brief at the Stop Butts, MOD Boscombe Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire, 5-7 May 2015” BDCG 2015-5-1, Boscombe Down Conservation Group, July 2015
  9. Andrew Fitzpatrick “The Amesbury Archer” (relates to the Amesbury Archer & Boscombe Bowmen story), Current Archaeology, No.184,  Vol XVI, No 4, February 2003, p146-152 (see BBC Article “The Amesbury Archer: The King of Stonehenge“)
  10. Andrew Fitzpatrick “The Boscombe: Builders of Stonehenge” (relates to the Amesbury Archer & Boscombe Bowmen story), Current Archaeology, No.193, August / September 2004, p10-16.  (See  Wessex Archaelogy article “The Boscombe Bowmen“).
  11. Andrew Fitzpatrick “A Sacred Stone Circle on Boscombe Down” (relates to the Amesbury Archer & Boscombe Bowmen story), Current Archaeology, No.195, December 2004 / January 2005, p106-107
  12. Richardson K M “The Excavation of Iron Age Villages on Boscombe Down West“, Wiltshire Archeological and Natural History Magazine, Vol liv, pp123-168
  13. Julia Sulikowska, Steve Beach, Linda Coleman “King’s Gate Phase 4(658 Unit Area), Boscombe Down Bassline Archaeological Assessment” (a report prepared for J.S.Bloor Homes Ltd to undertake an environmental assessment with regard to archaeology & culture for a new housing development at Boscombe Down on National Grid Ref 416250 140140), Wessex Archaeology, Salisbury, June 2013

Note: As will be evident from the above list, Dr Bob Clarke (a Research Manager at Wessex Archaeology) has written extensively about the archaeology of Boscombe Down and the Wiltshire area in general. His articles on Aviation and Conflict Archaeology (eg the cold war) are especially fascinating. If you are interested in this aspect of archaeology then you should visit Bob Clarke’s page where most of his articles are available free for download.


  1. Empire Air Day Programme  – Held at Boscombe Down on Saturday 20th May 1939 (this was just under  4 months before the outbreak of World War II, making this 67 page programme a treasure trove of insights into an industry and time that was destined to play a pivotal role in the history of the UK).
  2. Aeromilitaria is a quarterly magazine that provides meticulously-researched historical details of military aircraft (mainly British and Commonwealth), covering information on their use and fates. It’s the main publication of AIR-BRITAIN, an organisation of aviation enthusiast and historians. As such it frequently carries information about work that has taken place at Boscombe Down. Examples of articles include:
    • Testing the Corsair (1943)” [in No.1 1993, pp11-16],
    • Testing the Martlet (1941)” [in No.2, 1994, pp37-40),
    • “Testing The Royal Air Force Fortresses (1941 – Boeing B-17, Flying Fortress) [in No 3 1996, pp 73-76],
    • Testing The Mitchell (1942)” [in No.4 1998 p99-102],
    • The Saunders Roe SR.53 & SR.177 (1957)” [in Vol 29, Issue 116, 2003, pp147-150],
    • Developing the Whirlwind (1938) [in Vol 29, Issue 116, 2003, pp151-152],
    • Percival Provost (1950)” [in Vol 33, Issue 130, 2007, pp51-61],
    • The Handley Page HP.80 (1951 – forerunner of the Victor) [in Vol 33, Issue 130, 2007, pp62-64],
    • Barracuda Trials (1941)” [in Vol 33, Issue 130, 2007, pp69-72],
    • The SEPECAT Jaguar (1969)” [in Vol 36, Issue 141 2010, pp3-6].

Note on Images in this page

The first  image illustrates various crests that have, down the years, been associated with Boscombe units. The A&AEE crest  (shown on the left of the first image bar) features many symbols, including the Great Bustard and colours found in Wiltshire’s coat-of-arms and four Martlets that, supposedly, link it back to the unit’s earlier location in Martlesham Heath in Suffolk. The second  image shows some Boscombe Down Aerodrome taken by a flight observer approach the main runway from the Eastern side while the third image shows five well known Boscombe Down Aircraft namely, a yellow North American Aviation Harvard 2 seat trainer (KF183), a Westlands Sea King helicopter (XV371), a McDonnell Douglas Phantom jet fighter/bomber (XT597) , Blackburn Beverly transport aircraft (XB259) and an Avro Vulcan bomber. The fourth picture is a section of a larger original photograph showing RAF Officers that were serving as part of Boscombe Down in 1934 while the establishment was based at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk (now the home of BT Research Labs). The fifth image-bar depicts more Boscombe aircraft, namely; a  BAC Hawk trainer (XX342), a Hawker Hunter fighter, Lockheed Hercules (XV208), BAC TSR-2 (XR219),  English Electric Canberra bomber (WT309), Handley Page Hastings (TG500), English Electric Lightening (XS422) and a de Havilland Comet Canopus (XS235). The final image shows arrowheads from a 24th Century BC burial at Boscombe Down (The Boscombe Bowmen) linking aerodynamic weaponry from the past to the present (its also interesting to note there is an arrow on the Boscombe Down coat of arms).

Any Comments?

Did you work at Boscombe Down, or have you got any interesting information to share about Boscombe Down; if so, why not leave a comment below?

10 thoughts on “Boscombe Down

  1. David Talbot (flying officer, RAF regiment)

    i have found your article so interesting…at the age of 19 I was the ground defence officer in 1954 and spent what I can only describe as the most exciting period of my young life at Boscombe Down. I had plenty of time on my hands and I was able to phone one of the squadrons to ask if there was a spare seat in any of the aircraft going up that day. I flew in many different types Ansons, Prentices, helicopters, DC3, Meteor NF11, Lancaster on ‘bombing raids’ over Salisbury Plain using 8lb smoke bombs ! And on one memorable occasion was able to scrounge a five day supply trip in a Hastings to Idris airfield in Libya, over the Sahara to Khartoum, then returned to Luqa in Malta and back to BD via RAF Lineham. One of my duties was to go up to Farnborough to supervise the RAF personnel in their annual small arms experience. Next to the firing range was the Comet Airliner in a water tank being tested to find out why it had crashed …. there were hydraulic jacks under the wings simulating flight. As an example of how security has changed when my father came to stay for the weekend we went up on to the airfield near to the weigh bridge hangar and he was shown round the Vulcan bomber !
    My pay then was £6.2.6 a week. Thanks once more for all the info !

  2. Gary Forsey

    Boscombe Down
    Electronics Apprentice 1970-74

    Just to mention a few… Some interesting memories of
    -hand filing square holes in flat plates of steel
    -wiring up plugs and sockets with 100 plus pins and sockets
    -football in those crazy standard issue shorts in the snow
    -early morning trips from Andover to Boscombe Down on frosty mornings by scooter or motorbike and how good it was to transition later to a car.
    -Spiky Norman, a great fun lecturer who always carried around a neon tube in his pocket in case someone switched on and played with the airborne radar kit.
    -The smell of bees wax and hot vacuum tubes in the radio Tacan site on the hill.
    -Having fun working in E-Lab on diverse challenging projects.
    -Escape to Salisbury Tech College for day release, and lunch down the pub.

  3. John Coppen

    Just found your website. I’ve just discovered that my grandfather, who had served in the 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars during the Boer War, and was a Royal Navy carpenter during the 1st WW, was staying in Amesbury (with an unrelated family) on 29 Sep 1939, the day that the “1939 Register” was compiled (see A few doors along there was someone described as an RAF civilian instrument maker and there were four other unrelated carpenters on the same page of the Register. I wonder whether skilled workmen such as these may have been assembled to take on the construction work involved in transferring the A & AEE from Martlesham to Boscombe Down. What do you think?

  4. Graham Horner

    Recollections of flying in a Lightning T5 in the 1960’s.

    I offer these recollections of my time at A&AEE Boscombe Down where I worked from 1961 to 1968 as a Scientific Assistant for the then Ministry of Aviation.

    I started my working life on what I guess would now be called a graduate apprentice scheme. My first post was working in the Armament Wing analysing films taken by onboard cameras of firing trials on numerous fighters undergoing evaluation at Boscombe. Here we checked for any problems that could occur during firing of guns, unguided rockets & guided missiles.

    My first experience with the Lightning was watching films of the Aden Cannon being fired & if memory serves me right there were engine problems caused by the disturbance to the air flow into the engine intakes. I also recall viewing films taken of a Lightning firing it’s 48 two inch unguided rockets from the two pods which I believe extended from under the nose of the aircraft. That showed some rockets being ejected, failing to ignite & coming back over the canopy missing it by inches!

    As an aside during this period the C in C of this department was a Wing Commander Wallis & I recall helping him during lunchtimes to wire up the prototype Auto-Gyro he invented. He went on to fly this wonderful little craft all over the place including in some of the James Bond films — he was a typical of the crazy flyers at Boscombe they called Test Pilots !

    Subsequently I was transferred to RMF section where our major task was the measurement of noise in & out of all the aircraft flown by the RAF, Navy & Army at that time. As the junior member of the team I was the one sent flying (presumably I was the least valuable member) & I got to fly in all sorts of aircraft from an Anson of the Queen’s Flight via helicopters, transport aircraft, numerous two seat fighters through to a Vulcan. As a “bonus” we got paid an extra 15 shillings (75pence in new money) per hour or part thereof & several times coming into land the pilots would ask how long we had been up, if it was a few minutes less than an hour they would do an approach, not touch down & go round again to give me 30 shillings. God knows how much it cost to keep a Vulcan in the air for that extra time! Regrettably during house moves my flying log went missing so I can’t recall all the aircraft. But I do recall the trips in a Lightning T5!

    I used to go flying with a Nagra tape recorder on my knee & hold a Bruel & Kjaer noise level meter in one hand to record the noise levels in the cockpits or flight decks.
    I remember the section leader saying “if you have to eject bring the bl—y recorder back it’s on my inventory”! I was put through the crew escape procedures & decompression chamber to check I knew how to operate the oxygen systems used on the aircraft & given what was called a “class B astronaut ticket” which cleared me to 60,000 feet.

    Time came when they wanted noise clearance for the Lightning T5 so off to A Squadron I went (this was the Fighter Test Squadron) to be shown the cockpit (mainly to be shown what not to touch!). I believe the aircraft was XS422 but I could be wrong. Having climbed up the ladder the ground crew helped me strap in & passed up the recorder & noise meter. Shortly after the pilot arrived who during the flight briefing informed me that he was an experienced Lightning pilot having been involved with the flight trials since 1959 & as it was my first flight he would “take it easy”. What I didn’t know was that his “party trick” was to stand the aircraft on its tail as soon as the undercarriage & flaps were safely stowed. Sure enough he did just that & he climbed out almost vertically at about 0.9 Mach to 40,000 feet where he bunted out to level flight. “You ok?” he asked. I could hear the chuckle in his voice!
    Little did he know that during the 2 minutes this took I had twice checked that I had my sick bag in my right leg pocket!

    He gave me a few minutes to recover & check the equipment as we confirmed the flight plan we had agreed. This called for us to fly out over Lyme Bay (South coast of England) at various different speeds & altitudes to allow me to record the noise at his helmet level. The last test was taken at 30,000 feet at 1.5 Mach in level flight.
    I must admit that after 45 minutes I was pleased to see the main runway at Boscombe come into view over the nose of the aircraft, my stomach beginning to regret the bacon butties I had for breakfast! I recall two further flights in the T5 both of which were equally interesting!

    Incidentally the analysis confirmed that the noise level in the cockpit of the Lightning was quieter than most of the other two seat fighters at Boscombe (Hunter, Javelin & Buccaneer all of which I had flown in). In fact the pilots believed the two seat version was quieter than the single seat version. I wonder why?

    The A Squadron test pilots at Boscombe were an adventurous lot & although I remember them criticising various aspects of the Lightning (especially the fuel system) they loved to “accidentally” slip into supersonic flight. There was a period in 1967 two years before the first flight of Concorde when they were encouraged to do this “legally”. I was part of the team sent out to record the noise levels of a Lightning flying at 1.4 Mach at 25,000 feet over southern England to simulate what they thought the noise pattern of Concorde would be. This caused considerable furore in the press when it took place over London.

    Happy Days!

  5. Pete Burden

    Im still there! Have been for the past 23 years. From appo to armourer to chargie to trials officer….
    I’ll write my memoirs one day.
    Stay tuned


    my father 43938 sq/ldr Benjamin Richard hall was stationed raf Boscombe down in the 1950s and we lived in a married quarter that used to be on the corner of the road that led to a small caravan site.he had something to do with what he called the flying bedstead and also had something to do with trying to placing the stones back on the uprights at Stonehenge. he was then posted to raf duryard Exeter and then retired he then spent his last years on the outer Hebrides before passing away in 1991with liver cancer.

    1. Mike Foster

      Hi, I started at Boscombe Down in 1966 after serving in the RAF. Initially a craftsman at Air Traffic Control (ATC), servicing the ground radar installations. I left BD in 1983, with fond memories. I worked as mentioned, in ATC, with 3 years at Lyme Bay Radar (1970 -1973), then back to ATC. Moving to EWS ‘A’ (1976’ish to 1983) where I met Vic Callaghan who was at UNI and returned for work experience during his Interterm periods, although I knew many of the names mentioned above. I enjoyed my years at BD and pass by quite frequently.

  7. Vivienne Glance

    I’m undertaking some family history research and wonder if you have any recollections of my father, Harold Stewart Brown
    Harold was ex-army (British Indian Army and BAOR). He worked at A & AEE in Boscombe Down 1965 to 1967 and I believe he was employed there as security personnel. He passed away from cancer at 55 in 1967. I’ve attached a b/w photo which may help jog a memory or two…
    I appreciate it was a very large establishment with many employees, but if you have any recollections of him, however brief, I’d love to hear them.
    If it helps, we have a letter from A & AEE signed by K. J. Hodges (secretary) offering condolences, dated 20 June 1967, saying ‘I am writing to convey to you the deepest sympathy of his colleagues and his many friends at the Establishment.’
    Yours sincerely
    Vivienne Glance


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