Number 10 Exhauster Cell
Number 10 Exhauster Cell control room
Hidden deep in woodland between the mainline railway and what is now Farnborough Airport, lies a huge, once top-secret aircraft engine test facility, abandoned and decaying, silent and eerie, no longer reverberating with the screaming wails of gas turbines and jet engines.
This area was once the hub of the postwar British aviation industry, and home to the biannual airshow. RAE Farnborough was a large aviation research establishment, much of it top-secret, and a large part of this was research done at the National Gas Turbine Establishment (NGTE) at Pyestock. This vast facility had some incredible facilities for the development and testing of jet engines and other gas turbines, and was involved in the development of the engines for Concorde and the Eurofighter Typhoon amongst other notables. With the advent of the post cold war asset stripping rundown privatisation rampage, the facility became part of DERA and then Qinetiq, which closed the site in 2000. Since then the place has remained abandoned.
I recently took a flight into Farnborough airport, and seeing this place from the air brought back memories of a madcap, intense, adrenaline fuelled day spent exploring this incredible site.
We weren’t the first people in, indeed, in 2007 the place was pretty much crawling with explorers, and hardly a week went by without another report appearing on 28 Days Later, showing all manner of awesome stuff. I put a thread up proposing a road trip for the north-west crew, but most seemed to want a 2 day trip involving camping and such like. That wasn’t really an option for me, so I held firm – one dayer, and I’ll drive. In the end there was 5 of us – myself, andyj, Azubi, Bungle and weekender, who for some reason we were to meet halfway despite being from the other end of Chorley from me.
This was very much one of Urbex’s holy grails – a vast, complete, virtually unmolested site which ticked all the boxes of the overused adjective ‘epic’. A number of people had made multiple trips, indeed, Simon Cornwell who has a magnificent website about Pyestock, has made many trips to document the place. However, not living anywhere near the place, meant that realistically it would have to be a one hit wonder.
To get there and back in one day meant an early start, which given we were going in July, meant that we were at least travelling in daylight. Even so, it still meant Azubi getting to my house for 530, and collecting Bungle and andyj from Manchester Victoria at 6AM.
An uneventful journey took us to a country park car park, and off we set for the first challenge – finding the exact location of the hole in the fence I’d been told about, no small feat given the size of the place. However, after half an hour of following the fence through woodland, we found it, and in we ran, making for the cover of Number 10 Exhauster Cell.
Once inside, we became aware of noises outside, which then came inside. Shit, busted at the first hurdle! Actually no, it was another group of explorers, panic over. Then we became aware of more noises outside and someone noticed it was security on the last active part of he site right next to where we were.
This cell was not actually a test cell, rather as an exhauster cell, its purpose was to suck air from a test cell, thus simulating the effect of altitude by reducing the baromatric pressure. This was one of the later buildings on site to close, but there was still 5 years worth of dust about the place.
Nearby was Cell 3, which was linked up to the Exhauster Cell. This was quite a size as it was built for the testing of large civil turbofans such as the RB211. It also contained an icing plant that allowed cold air to be generated to simulate altitude flying.
Cell 3 West
Cell 3 West
Bungle attempts to jump-start the gantry crane.
We made our way acoss the site beneath the criss cross of blue pipelines. Spotting a ladder up to an acumulator tower, we thought the ledge would make a jolly place for a spot of lunch! If nothing else it gave us a vantage point to see other movements on site.
Weekender, Bungle and me indulging in a spot of lunch, taking in the views
The aforementioned views