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August 23rd 2016 - Society Visit - Angels and Aeroplanes

31st August 2016

Our group of 18 society members had an interesting day out in Farnborough, visiting not only the famous aerodrome, but also  Saint Michaels Abbey, a mausoleum to Napolean 111  and a little piece of France set within 26 acres of farmland on the edge of Farnborough town.

In 2003 the MOD stopped operations at Farnborough and transferred its activities to Boscombe Down. The airport and its civil enclave were taken over by TAG Aviation, part of a larger multinational group.  Meantime, commercial & defence research by QinetiQ (formerly DERA) continues in the adjoining Cody Technology Park.

TAG invested £ 65 million in a series of infrastructure projects, a new radar unit and a resurfaced runway. New constructions included a control tower, two curvilinear hangar units, and a new terminal building all dedicated exclusively to business aviation. Apart from TAG operations, the airport is also home to a number of the UK's largest business jet companies with some 47,000 operations per year.

Our guide, Tony Knight (call sign “ Engineer 1) has been on the site for over 50 years and he gave us an introduction to the site; now far removed from the glorious period of 50’s and 60’s British aviation and its role as the national centre for aviation research and the exhibition home for the British aviation industry

Our coach took us to the ramp area and the impressive hangars, so spotless inside that one literally could eat from the floor.  We heard about the types of VIP customers, mix of aircraft types and the on site services that were offered.

Heading out onto the airfield, we learned about the environmental and logistical challenges that were faced during re-construction of the airport. Special reeds, for instance, purify the drainage water. An entire hilltop was removed and redistributed to comply with safety regulations for the flight path.

Passing by the nearby QintiQ research site we were amazed to see, rare Przewalski's wild horses that graze their land adjacent to the airfield and which are being returned to the wild in their central Asian homelands.Skirting round the perimeter, we learned a little about the RAE, the Aviator hotel, the FAST Museum, the old balloon factory, the airport fire services and, of course, Samuel Cody's famous first flight.

We stopped outside the terminal building but were unable to enter. It is a staffed like a regular airport with customs, immigration and security staff but with that finesse that allows high net worth clients to be speedily moved from limo to jet.The climax of the tour was the control tower. Our group was split into two. One section going off to hear firstly from the environmental manager Mark Thomas about such issues as noise management whilst the others visited the tower and its radar rooms where Tony explained the work of the NATS air traffic controllers.From the top we could see the entire airfield laid out below. We looked on whilst executive jets lined up for take off to somewhere exotic.

It was then time for refreshment and we moved to the nearby Swan  Pub overlooking the active runway before moving on again to St. Michael’s Abbey where we were greeted by Jo, out enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide from the neighbouring Farnborough Society. Established in 1895 and hidden away on the Hampshire- Surrey border the Abbey is a little known treasure –trove of history, faith and Gothic – Romanesque architecture constructed by English and French Masons at the behest of the widowed Empress Eugenie as a witness to God, her late husband and son.

There is a small community of Benedictine monks living and working within the Abbey complex and farm, in a “ continental fashion  to carry out their religious studies and liturgy and manual work and farming labour.. A really unexpected delight to visit.