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  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

    • Hi Ron & Mr Jarman (et all)

      Ron Henry says: July 1, 2017 at 12:35 “Although there was a Radar Labs building at Pershore, it was mainly used by contractors’ teams and very little experimental work was done there.”.

      To add a little more information about the Pershore site at the very end ….

      We were the small Marconi Avionics R&D & trials team at Pershore at the end.

      We were the last ones to leave the site !

      We then moved into a brand new building in an Unexploded Bomb forest near the Bletchley Park site and the ex MI6 Whaddon Hall site within the airfield in Thurleigh (Bedford) to finish our research (the research was wound up in 1980 when the possibility of feeding new mathematics from our research from the x2 model our radar into the production a1 model became impossible .. because at some point you need to freeze the production model design!).

      We were doing some of the world’s very most advanced Kalman prediction R&D in the world (although theoretically Marconi Avionics was just a MOD contractor, it was a really huge multi £Million contractor, doing work that in previous years might have been done by the MOD directly.

      So we were doing that very advanced R&D right there in Pershore and then obviously in Thurleigh (Bedford) when Pershore closed – while the much larger teams of pure mathematicians, computer scientists, and electronic engineers carried on with the production versions of Foxhunter back at main the Marconi base in Borehamwood.

      So our small Marconi Avionics Team did Radar Field Trials & further developed and tested the X2 Model of the Tornado Fighter Radar (i.e. The Foxhunter Radar) for the MRCA (Tornado) fighter version. We were in a ground based hut but we did real flight trials against Canberra targets navigated by our own navigators, with RAF pilots.

      Our final research team was just two computer scientists and just one visiting mathematician (i.e. excluding the much larger team in Borehamwood doing the production models). The team continued the development and advancement of the X2 model Radar Data Processor (RDP) in a little hut in teh Pershore site on Elliot 905 & Elliot 920 ATC computers. We were a tiny but highly significant mathematician and computer scientist team (I was a Quantum Mechanics Pure Theoretical Chemistry Graduate) and we were developing world leading state of the art tracking and prediction algorithms based on Kalman State-Space Filters and Predictors and our duty was to test and make mathematical advances and feed these improvements back to Borehamwood.

      Personally: I joined Marconi Avionics in 1974 and I left Marconi in 1980 and set up my own Military AI R&D software company after these X2 trials finished in Bedford. My companies then supplied AI hardware and software (as MTR AI Compilers) to GCHQ etc and my companies still do world-advanced AI R&D into “Sentient AI Entities” based on the work and aspirations of Alan Turing.

      Regarding the Foxhunter Radar project size: The electronic engineering team was much larger than the software side, and at Borehamwood it was about 100 graduates, and in Pershore and Bedford (Thurleigh) on the final R&D there were only five or six of us in total.

      Hope that all helps …. Brian Serafini (The Inferix Project)

      PS … there is a weird coincidence that I have often wondered about having moved from Whaddon (Bedfordshire) to Cheltenham … it is that Whaddon (Bedfordshire) is where MI6 was originally located in Bedfordshire near Bletchley Park and the Airfield and then when some parts of MI6 moved and then became GCHQ in Cheltenham they were located in an area called “Whaddon”. Surely that can’t be coincidence? Does anybody know if the MOD named the area in Cheltenham as “Whaddon” ?

      kbo Brian Serafini.

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