Cricket has Lords, Islam has Mecca, and Urban Exploring has Pyestock. Infamous amongst explorers as one of the biggest and best sites to visit in the UK, NGTE Pyestock is frequently visited by explorers keen to get a first-hand view of the all to familiar shots of the Airhouse and Cell 4. It was a bit different yesterday, though...
|Credit to Adam Patcham for this photo.|
Another explorer offered me a lift up, so off we set at 5am. When we arrived at the car park we met with several other cars. Within minutes a security van pulled up. I thought it was the Pye security, but it was for the car park, telling we couldn't park there without a permit, and suggesting somewhere just over the road.
Under the cover of darkness we made our entrance, with everyone but my bag scaling the fence swiftly. Soon enough, after some stealth, we had made it to the meeting point in the airhouse, with about 20 other explorers there with more to come.
Right, about time for some history. I'll give some details (taken from wikipedia) on the buildings as we go through, as well.
The National Gas Turbine Establishment (NGTE Pyestock) in Fleet, part of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), was the prime site in the UK for design and development of gas turbine and jet engines. It was created by merging the design teams of Frank Whittle's Power Jets and the RAE turbine development team run by Hayne Constant. NGTE spent most of its lifetime as a testing and development centre, both for experimental developments and to support commercial engine companies. The newly merged venture was nationalised. Pyestock, a former golf course in a secluded wooded spot between Farnborough and Fleet was chosen as the turbine development site, as the activities at the NGTE would be top secret and the surrounding woodland would dampen the noise.
Construction began in 1949 with small test "cubicles" inside buildings like the Plant House. When the possibility of supersonic jets arose, the site was expanded to the north west, with the Air House and several large test cells built circa 1961. For over 50 years Pyestock was at the forefront of gas turbine development. It was probably the largest site of its kind in the world. V bomber, Harrier and Tornado engines were tested on site. The power of the air house allowed Concorde's engines to be tested at 2,000 mph. Every gas turbine installed in Royal Navy ships was checked here; captured Soviet engines were discreetly examined. NGTE Pyestock closed down in 2000 and decommissioned to make way for a business park.
The first building we met in was the Airhouse, which I understand was built as an exhaust for Cells 3 and 4. After some time waiting in the control room, the sun was almost up, so we started getting santa-ed up.
The Air House (1961) was a modernistic structure. Its eastern side is sheet glass; 8 large blue exhaust pipes rise the full length of the building, for the 8 compressor/exhauster sets inside. The pipes transported the fast moving air to/from the test cells. The Air House had two functions: blowing or sucking air, at up to 2,000 mph (for Cell 4). There were eight identical GEC compressor/exhauster sets which aggregated to 352,000 horsepower, then the largest installation of its kind in the western world. This is the final design for the compressor/exhauster sets from the late 1950s. They are made up of an in-line arrangement (from left to right) of an 8,000 horsepower steam turbine, then two low-pressure compressors, a high-pressure exhauster, a 27MW 11kV synchronous motor that provided 36,000 horsepower, and finally the barring gear and the exciter (a small generator that provides a current needed to start the main motor). The 8,000 horsepower steam turbine, which was powered by the sites boiler house, gave the compressor sets a kick start before it was synced with the grid. They could also be used whilst they were being run but this was expensive and only used on the supersonic tests.
After posing for the group shots in the Airhouse, the 52 of us (not all dressed as Santa though, just most) made our way to Cell 4 for the other infamous piece of Pye.
The largest test cell on site, Cell 4 was built in 1965, at a cost of £6.5 million, as part of the Concorde programme but also to test other supersonic jet engines. The test cell, unique in the world, takes up most of the steel clad structure with its mass of pipes, blast doors and electronics. It is connected to the Air House by blue pipes and was designed to simulate Concorde's flying conditions - Mach 2 (1522 mph) at 61,000 feet, but could test Concorde's engines at a maximum wind speed of 2,000 mph. The amount of energy required to run the air house (see below) at the speed needed was too great for the site's own power station, so electricity had to be taken from the National Grid. By the early 1970s, Pyestock had to negotiate with the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) to have enough electricity generated. So as not to strain the grid, Cell 4 could only be powered up at night.
Like the Airhouse before it, I had seen countless photographs of this behemoth, although I didn't get one of the front of it, so I'll use someone else's group shot.
|Credit to Adam Patcham again.|
The pipes are huge, with more than enough room to walk down them. My silhouette photo didn't come out quite right though.
After Cell 4 the group decided to split up, with some off to Cambridge Hospital (in Aldershot), some continuing with a proper explore of Pyestock, and others a bit more willing to play games with security.
We went for continuing the explore properly.
The above machine underground in Cell 3 was about the size of my house.
Cell 3 was mostly underground and was a supersonic replacement of Cell 2, allowing for higher speeds and a greater engine temperature range. There was a fairly large building above ground. But that was just to allow engines to be lowered into the test chamber from a huge crane. The test chamber itself was almost entirely underground.
Having passed through Cell 3 on the way to Cell 4, it was decided that our group of six would go back there, and, with the aid of quite a bouncy ladder, four of us made our way down to the underground wind tunnel (that's what brother says it looks like, anyway).
Much to everyone but Greg's amusement, those doors can still shut.
Below is the first level.
With this being the second level. Had a minor scare with security just after this.
After heading back to the Airhouse we made our way over to the Plant House, which, compared to the Airhouse and Cell 4, I feel hasn't received enough love! Lovely building, with so much stuff in there.
For some reason the above is my favourite photo of the day.
I was also trying out my new 35mm lenses, so apologies for the 1.8 overkill.
After another people shot in the Plant House, we ran over to what I think was the New Fitting Shop, although looking at the map, it might have been a part of Cells 1 and 2. There was a disused office and that was about it. After some prior discussion in the Plant House it was decided that we were to try to find the aeroplane somewhere in a building on the South of the site.
After a brief run across where security patrol, and being visible for some time too, we eventually got into the power station. I was feeling quite lethargic at this point, so didn't bother going back to the other side of the building to fetch my tripod.
Should have done really, as I imagine it's the closest that I'll get to Battersea for some time.
The above book is dated 16/01/1962.
These pictures were taken on auto. I did feel dirty, don't worry.
After yet another run over exposed ground, we ended up in what I think is The Lab building, judging by the official map.
I have to admit, when the guys said about a plane, this is not what I had in mind. I guess the below counts as my chairshot though.
It was actually the emptiest room of the day, and by this point we called it a day.
So that was Pyestock. Well worth getting up at 4am for. The laughs with everyone dressed up were great, and the proper explore afterwards was great too, even if I was knackered. Would quite like to go back and do the rest of the site, and meet these lovely security chaps that we've heard so much about! Apparently they had to call in extra help when they realised the scale of the problem.
Thanks for reading.