RAF Thornaby ‘At Home Day’, 14 September 1957

This is a programme from the last airshow to be held at RAF Thornaby before the airfield finally closed in 1958. The attached images give a list of other aircraft which appeared on the day as well as a selection of adverts featuring local well-known companies and suppliers many of which are familiar names although not with us today.

Images and details courtesy of David Thompson.

20 thoughts on “RAF Thornaby ‘At Home Day’, 14 September 1957

  1. Just to add what Frank and Derek have said about the Lightning. It was a superb aircraft, the design coming from WE.Petter, He was one of the few British Aircraft designers, who seemed to fully use the latest insights into aerodynamics whenever he embarked on a new design.

    Petter was responsible for the English Electric Canberra light bomber, which Frank and Derek and myself saw on many occasions.at displays at Middleton St George and Thornaby. It was one of the few aircraft Britain ever sold to the USA. Petter also designed the Lysander, another idiosyncratic design, used to transport spies into Occupied Europe in WWII.


  2. Derek. No criticism of the Harrier was intended. It is the greatest aviation development in Britain since WWII. Far surpassing Concorde, which was, objectively, an engineering and well as a financial failure.

    The Flying Bedstead sprang from the mind of Dr Arnold Griffith, who frankly was not much of an engineer. He tended to come out with bright ideas which if turned into hardware, either proved to be impractical, or would have proved so, if actually built. Griffith’s proposal required a batch of separate jet engines for vertical lift off, and a completely independent engine for providing thrust for normal flight.

    The Harrier came out of a French concept, using just one engine for vertical take off. This was taken up by the Bristol Engine Company and Hawker Siddley Aviation.


    • “Oh dear Fred” you were too young to remember I saw it at Farnborough. It was called the TMR, or thrust measuring device. The rig had two Nene Turbojet engines and it was Rolls Royce testing it. The machine looked a bit like a bedstead and was on a tethering rig to make sure it did not just take off and vanish. The problem of controlling the machine was something to do with the throttle lag. It flew in 1954 I think and was certainly being tested when i was Stationed at Farnborough. I do believe it was shown at a couple of public displays in a tethered position rising a short distance from the ground with both engines thrusting down it was not meant at that time to change into steady flight, that came much later.
      At least one very brave Pilot died in the machine and some refused to fly it but look what came from it. A machine the Pilots loved, a hero of the Falklands war and beloved by the American Marines, I saw those Marine planes at Akiteri Cyprus in 1974, we had the main bulk of the Marines in Dhekelia, they had been put ashore while the American Navy cleared the Suez Canal of wrecks.
      We still had Lightnings that left the Americans looking on with open mouths as they beat up the base, we had some very good aircraft back then.


      • Dear Frank, you were lucky enough to be at Farnborough, being able to see the Rolls Royce “Thrust Measuring Rig”, as you correctly call it. But it is more well know as the Flying Bedstead. The direct descendent of the Flying Bedstead was the Short SCI, which used a batch of Rolls Royce engines for vertical take off and a separate engine for forward flight. This was the Arnold Griffith approach. Like his other schemes, it got nowhere.

        Contrary to what has been implied, there was no feed through of information or insights from the designers of the Bedstead, Rolls Royce, to their rivals at Bristol Engines, who came up with the Harrier concept. This is made clear in a recent book, on the development of the Pegasus engine, the power unit that made the Harrier a success. The book is called ” Pegasus-The Heart of the Harrier”.

        Aviation history has been my hobby since I was 13, but I used my hobby in my professional life to get constructed a closed cycle gas turbine unit in 1996. My main interest, in retirement, is to get published the thesis that Sir Frank Whittle wrote when an Officer Cadet at RAF Cranwell in 1926. This led him, a few months later, to come up with the concept of the jet engine as we know it.


      • True what you say about the Lightnings Frank. They were able to intercept the U2’s with ease at 60/70,000 feet and in the trials were based at Middleton St. George. I seem to remember they were described as a “manned rocket”. The story goes that a Lightning and an F-16 pitted themselves against each other and the US pilot when asked how he got on was supposed to have said that if he could fly alongside of it he would open the cockpit and club the pilot!
        Of course there has to be a sting in every successful story and basically the Lightning was a gas guzzler and woefully short on range.


    • Regarding Beverleys I flew a few times from Muharraq Airport interesting thing was I used to watch the Tu-104 and the comet take off practically at the same time. I often wondered which was the first jet airliner service. I know that Khrushchev visited England in a Tu-104, don’t know what Russia was up to. I note the Comet was mentioned at the show Muharraq, 1960.


  3. There is a distant connection between the Flying Bedstead and the Harrier jet., But they work on a different principle using a jet engine in which having exhaust nozzles that can be pointed downwards, vertical take off can be achieved in this way.

    As regards the Flying Bedstead at Thornaby, I think that this was a kind of joke, with a bedstad being lifted up by a helicopter.

    The real Flying Bedstead was quite dangerous, being very unstable. One test pilot refused to fly it and someone else was killed. It was not the sort of thing to show at a public air display.

    Peter Dickenson’s comments about the Hunter are right on. A display like that would, sadly, be prohibited today.


    • Fred many countries tried various systems to achieve VTOL/STOL, France, West Germany, The Soviet Union to mention a few, none of which even approached the capabilities of the Harrier. Even today the US, Spain, India, Italy and Thailand either still fly or have recently relinquished using the BAE/McDonald Douglas Harrier.


  4. This was probably the occasion in which the all white Vulcan flew over the line of crowd at a relatively low speed, probably about 200mph. The altitude was so low, not more than 150 ft, that one could feel an increased pressure on one’s head. These days it would have led to an immediate court martial for the pilot and crew, and would have been a world wide scandal


  5. Furness ship yard. My grandfather Monty Webster worked there for many years. He was a caulker and then a welder. I remember being taken to a launch there in the early 1950s


  6. The centre picture shows a huge tank, made by the Malleable, intended for fuel storage. So the Malleable made more than pipes for the TransCanada pipeline! A large number of plates would have been used in its construction each needing high quality welding. Does anyone remember it?


  7. Great programme I used it previously when I wrote a history of this event from official records and newspaper accounts, published on Picture Stockton under title ‘RAF Thornaby-on-Tees 1946-1958’ and photo of ‘Vampire jets leaving Thornaby’ dated 20 Feb 2006. My account gives timings for aircraft flying over Thornaby and a list of static aircraft on display. There were few late changes that I have yet to comment on.


  8. I remember being taken to this event by my dad. I sat in the cockpit of a Jet fighter, but I was too young to remember what it was.


    • We lived on Mandale Road. I flew from Thornaby aerodrome in a Rapide biplane with my dad. Cost us 10 bob each to fly around Middlesbrough.


  9. Great stuff I went to a lot of the air displays in the fifties used to go to the airodrome lots of days as a child growing up in the fifties lived on lane house road good days


    • I remember that day the Hawker Hunter was tremendous low level fly past there was also a flying bedstead so called anybody out there confirm could possibly be development to harrier jets


    • Hello Stuart. My name is Sandra Dover and I lived with my parents Tommy and Sylvia Dover in Lanehouse Road 42 years ago. Do you know me or my parents?


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.