On this page we publish interesting stories that we have gleaned from researching our historic archive. Click on the buttons/images to read the stories behind them.

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1 Response to Stories

  1. Ron Henry says:

    Dear Mr Jarman

    Your email has remained unanswered because no MRATHS committee member had any knowledge whatsoever of what you wrote about. My eye has now fallen on it and I’m one of the very, very few surviving ex-RRE staff who was involved – albeit peripherally, in my case. I’ve always been aviation-fixated and have also been an ‘Aeroplane’ reader since Issue 1.

    I joined RRE in Sep 1960, aged 17 1/2, as a very junior member of the scientific staff. I spent a couple of fairly uninspiring yrs in Guided Weapons Dept and then got myself transferred to Airborne Radar Dept. My senior boss was Gerry Steer who had a team of about 8. He had joined the establishment during WW2 and was well known in the airborne interception radar (AI) world. In the mid-50s he had been the project officer on the AI MK 20 programme and had also overseen its adaptation into a tail warning radar when an improved TWR was needed for the Vulcan and Victor – hence the radar’s codename ‘Red Steer’. It went into the Mk 1As.

    ISTR that it was a Thursday or Friday when the Firebar went into the lake. At tea break Gerry said that he’d been told that he would be having a long working weekend in Berlin! On his return a few days later he told me and my contemporaray, Noel, that we would have to move, straightaway, out of our small lab-cum-office. Two or 3 not-very-large wooden packing cases very soon arrived and were taken into the room. From that time, it became a behind-closed-door operation/investigation on which I remember only 2 people working. One was a senior member of the team and the other was one of his contemporaries from a nearby team. There may have been occasional visitors from elsewhere in the dept and also from ‘outside’ – it’s all a long time ago. I’d be very surprised indeed if there weren’t some ‘voyeurs’ from RAF TechIntAir.

    I remember well the departure of the ‘loot’. It had been put back into the cases which were nailed closed and carried outside to a waiting RAF van which was crewed by two regular RAF policemen – both armed! Total overkill, I’ve always thought. Noel and I then got our room back. It was fairly untidy with a good deal of wood-straw packing material strewn about. Noel and I searched the room thoroughly to see if anything had been left behind. I found a short length of EHT (ie high voltage) cable, a valve base (I mean a radio valve of the glass tube type), a small, broken-off, piece of an aluminium casting, and some small lumps of dried Stosensee mud. I kept these items for many years. That was the end of the story. It was never jointly discussed by the team.

    R&D for airframes, engines and aircraft radios was assigned to RAE Farnborough and it’s my personal conviction that components from those Firebar systems would have been investigated there. Tech reports on all of the investigations would certainly have been written but were undoubtedly classified ‘Top Secret’ and are most unlikely ever to be released into the public domain (pd). I did come across published material which is likely to be floating around somewhere in the pd. You may know of the RAF flight safety magazine ‘Air Clues’? It used to be available at RRE. Sometime after the Berlin Wall had ‘fallen down’ I found an article, written by an ex-RAF Gatow guy, about the Firebar. I remember it included mention of Gerry Steer’s name. I did take a copy of it, but it’s disappeared – I must try to get another copy.

    You asked which parts were examined in UK rather than Germany, and did the examination really help in countering Soviet equipment? The a/c wreck temporarily became UK property by ending up in the Brit Sector, so it became ‘ours’ to investigate. I think that secure UK-owned facilities in West Germany to make a good scientific investigation and analysis of anything recovered would be nil. I can be fairly confident that it was parts of the -28Ps AI system which came to Malvern. Yes, in my opinion, it would have helped counter Soviet equipment.

    I don’t have the Aeroplane article to hand, but I remember that it did get one thing wrong by bringing Pershore airfield into its story. The two main RRE sites were located in Malvern; Pershore airfield, 22 miles away, was the Aircraft Department. Its functions were to support flight ops and maintenance and modification of RRE’s fleet of aircraft (40 a/c when it opened in Sep 1957, and less than 20 when it closed in 1977). Although there was a Radar Labs building at Pershore, it was mainly used by contractors’ teams and very little experimental work was done there. The Firebar parts certainly never went to the airfield.

    If you are interested in finding out what was achieved with RRE’s large fleet of Canberras, I can thoroughly recommend ‘Black Box Canberras’ by Dave Forster 😉

    Your sincerely

    Ron Henry

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