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Thread: Foulness Island Ranges

  1. #1
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    Foulness Island Ranges

    Over Christmas I was in conversation with a couple who used to live near Shoeburyness. In the course of this conversation the ranges on Foulness Island were mentioned. It's a part of the UK of which I know little and have never visited. The couple described the road network in that part of Essex as being, basically, a series of narrow lanes. After our discussions, I had a look at my old copies of W&R and noted, over the years, the large airframes that were supposed to have been on the ranges there. Back in 1961 apparently there were Lancasters, Halifaxes and Lincolns. By 1963 KB-29s were rumoured to be there. In 1974 it was TSR-2s and Valiants. In 1984 Victors were reported to be there. In 1995 an A-300 fuselage was present. However right the way through from the early 1960s to the late 1990s all reports were qualified by the comment that the secret nature of the site meant that they were more often based on rumour rather than fact. All of this left me wondering how on earth the authorities managed (a) to get such large airframes to the site and (b) how no-one, apparently, photographed or identified them en route to the site. I'm assuming that the airframes that were moved to the site were past airworthiness and/or that there was no runway on the site. Were the airframes moved in by road (in which event how on earth did they avoid the attentions of the spotters and enthuiasts of the time)? Could they have been delivered direct to the site by barge (and thereby avoided prying eyes)? Or maybe, despite the small lanes and large airframes, they came in by road under cover of darkness (and by this strategy kept their secrets)? Does anyone know?

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    Smaller stuff was definately moved in by road and I recall that a number of Scimitars that ended up here routed through Southend Airport.

    Otherwise I would imagine that anything big would come in by road. The roads to Southend are pretty reasonable and once you had got past there you were virtually onto the Island and the small roads would only really start once you were past the gate.
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    It wasn't as secret as you are made out to believe. If you knew someone over there, or went shooting birds it was quite simple to gain access to the island though the areas around the White City end were out of reach. The local spotters were well aware of comings and goings and I recall seeing a Navy marked Canberra pass me by on a low loader as I was surveying a field in Shoeburyness nearby. Aircraft hulks peppered with small arms fire damage were usually moved to the East beach end of the facility for collection for disposal and I saw several S1 Bucc's and Scimitars here when I lived in Southend. The whole place has a very spooky feel to it though and the general public can get that just walking round the sea wall at Wakering Stairs before you cross the bridge onto the first Island. Here there are several old abandoned emplacements and train tracks for railway guns and I recall being told that Typhoon's were said to be the staple diet of the guns at this location in the 1950's. Have a look on Google earth and you'll see the road layout and the "Broomway" , a man made hard mud pathway that was used to access the Island ( and move some TSR2 bits down) before the building of the bridge. The last time I was on the Island was a long time ago when I was involved in some construction work for testing bombs against runway concrete. They were test firing a modern version of the "Stalin's organ" rockets right over our heads. Very entertaining! Funnily enough when I was in the RAF years later and the first Gulf War kicked off, the very same weapons were being shown on CNN nearly every day being used in anger!

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    Quote Originally Posted by zoot horn rollo View Post
    I would imagine that anything big would come in by road. The roads to Southend are pretty reasonable and once you had got past there you were virtually onto the Island and the small roads would only really start once you were past the gate.
    Yes, but could they really have got a KB-29 in by road - particularly having regard to the transportation available in the early 1960s - or did the large airframes come in as 1:1 scale Airfix kits for reassembly on site?

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    The B-29 started with ex RAF Washingtons and continued with B29 from USA which were shipped to Tilbury and roaded via A127/southend/shoeburyness(occasionally getting stuck under the railway bridge)
    valiants & victors roaded in also

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    I know it's a long shot, but does anyone have or know of the whereabouts of any photos of such airframes being transported by road to the Foulness Ranges?

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    I had the privalege of visiting the P&EE at Foulness back in the 70s. Aircraft were transported by road (I remember seeing an aircraft heading that way even in the early 90s). I remember seeing Lightnings, Scimitars, Buccaneers, a pre-production Lynx and I think a Sea Vixen. Lots of 'pieces' of aircraft too, and parts of the TSR2 as well.

    Most, if not all of the aircraft have now gone, but I flew past there last year and was surprised to see a MIG 23 parked up just on the land side of the sea wall. I think most of the trials work involving aircraft has now stopped. Even the large Ships gun which used to fire projectiles out to sea is no more.

    It's an amazing place, and the pub in the village is (was) like stepping back to the 1930s.

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    Foulness

    Hi...

    My work used to take me onto Foulness Island on a daily basis in the mid 1990's. I watched once as a fuselage of a 737 sized airframe (sorry, but I don't recall the exact type now) was trundled through the Church End village. For a few weeks afterwards, I watched as this fuselage was reduced to scrap via various tests. I presume these were safety related bomb tests etc, etc....
    I would have been interested to know where the fuselage came from, but as it obviously wasn't flown in, must have made the journey all the way to Foulness by road. There's a fair few sharp bends through Wakering etc, so it must of had an interesting journey.
    Quite an impressive sight though...

    Regards;
    Steve

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    Maybe that was the A-300 fuselage referred to in my original post?
    Last edited by Moggy C; 6th May 2012 at 13:15. Reason: Quote deleted

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    That must have been a fairly hefty lump to shift to Foulness though...

    Regards;
    Steve
    Last edited by Moggy C; 6th May 2012 at 13:15. Reason: Quote deleted

  11. #11
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    My one and only visit there was at a Serco (civilian onsite contractors, at the time) families day in the early 90's. Fascinating stuff. There was a Lynx, a Sea King a Phantom 'on display' on the Shoeburyness side, but nothing else substantial on the ranges themselves.

    The Fenchurch Street/Tilbury to Shoeburyness rail line used to extend onto the Island and they had their own diesel shunter unit so I suppose some stuff could have arrived by rail.

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    The rail line still operates only in a much more piecefull way, London Underground and a number of the other railway operating compnays have used Foulness fot storeage of old out of life stock if you Google Earth the site it make for some intresting viewing.
    Pass the remote

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    I seem to recall that the A300 may have been the French one involved and damaged in a hijack incident.
    I don't want to die, because I don't want to end up like Anita Dobson - Frank Sidebottom, actually.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ewan Hoozarmy View Post
    Most, if not all of the aircraft have now gone, but I flew past there last year and was surprised to see a MIG 23 parked up just on the land side of the sea wall. I think most of the trials work involving aircraft has now stopped.
    The MiG23 was one of the Floggers that were at Hawarden. There were also reports of a Dutch F-16 here for a while as well.
    I don't want to die, because I don't want to end up like Anita Dobson - Frank Sidebottom, actually.
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    Quote Originally Posted by zoot horn rollo View Post
    I seem to recall that the A300 may have been the French one involved and damaged in a hijack incident.
    According to the 16th edition of W&R probably it was F-BUAE (ex Air Inter, damaged at Orly on 31.03.93). Apparently it was "shipped to Foulness" in August 1995 and blown up in September as part of the Lockerbie investigation. Do the words quoted suggest arrival by sea and, if so, where did it arrive?

  16. #16
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    Tilbury Docks then in by road?

    No docks on Foulness... Unless they are secretly hidden away!
    Pass the remote

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    Can't vouch for the shipping side of things, but definately watched the fuselage arrive there by road on a low loader...

    Regards;
    Steve
    Last edited by Moggy C; 6th May 2012 at 13:16. Reason: Quote deleted

  18. #18
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    I saw an ex SAA A-300 on the back of three low loaders heading for the ferry a few years back on its way to Germany and I recall the prototype Victor was roaded to Boscombe Down for its first flight so it's not that unusual.
    I don't want to die, because I don't want to end up like Anita Dobson - Frank Sidebottom, actually.
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    Then clearly the word "shipped" was being used in its most general sense.

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    Foulness targets

    I think the 'targets' in the fifties would have been more likely Tempests than Typhoons. The latter had mostly disappeared into smelters in the late forties but a number of retired Tempest TT.5s were sold to the Ministry of Supply and were allocated to Foulness in 1956. Indeed, the RAF Museum's example was recovered from there by 33 Sqn in 1958, for use in their presentation of standard celebrations, and thence to Middleton St George gate.

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    .........and what of the Halifaxes, Lancasters and Lincolns reputedly there at the beginning of the 1960s?

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    There was some interesting airframes remaining there up until the late 90s at least - Bits of various TSR2s, including XR219, one of the P1127(RAF) Harrier prototypes and the prototype Scimitar

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    Phantom airframe(s) at Foulness

    F-4J(UK) Phantom ZE352 spent some time at Foulness during 2000 moving to the scrappy at Stock in Feb 2001.
    The now-preserved cockpit section of this jet bears a 1-metre dia hole blasted in the stbd intake duct about 2m from the inlet, obviously a hit from an explosive cannon shell of unknown (at least to me) calibre.
    I had believed that it was a chance hit by a strafing aircraft but was put right on this by a chap I met who has spent years at such establishments helping test various weapons on various airframes and objects.
    He says that it was probably set up on a rig to test the effect of an impact at exactly that point. Thankfully they only did the one shot.
    Is it likely that any test footage would have survived from this test? also, does anyone have any pictures of Phantom airframes being delivered, resting at or leaving the site around 2000-2001?
    It was in company with ZE350 and both aircraft were shorn of their complete tail assemblies and wings.

    Anon.

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    A couple of shots from 2000:






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    Phantom airframe(s) at Foulness

    Spot on Big Phil.
    Now then, which Phantom is ZE350 and which one is ZE352!
    Any shots available at ground level?

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    For those of you interested, the Raspberry Bucc in the first shot is XT272, which was taken to Hanningfield Metals and scrapped in late 2003, the Bucc in the second shot is, XW541, of which the cockpit survives with Roy Jerman.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cranswick View Post
    I think the 'targets' in the fifties would have been more likely Tempests than Typhoons. The latter had mostly disappeared into smelters in the late forties but a number of retired Tempest TT.5s were sold to the Ministry of Supply and were allocated to Foulness in 1956.
    Yes I'm sure you are right. I thought the next day I must have been having a "Ronald Reagan" moment when I typed Typhoon! Bucc XW541 was stored at Honington for years when I was there. I recall it had cracked wings so couldn't be used again. After years in E hangar it was put out on the airfield and left in open store minus its wings. One day a thieving Odiham Chinook turned up and nicked it and carted it off to Foulness under a long dangly cable.

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    I was the crewman (loadmaster) on that Chinook with my head stuck down the hatch lifting the Bucc! The Bucc had been stripped of almost everything to bring its weight down so we could lift it. We had to keep the fuel load down to achieve it and, if I recall correctly, could only fly it down in 15 minute to 1hr hops via locations where we could refuel from pre-positioned bowsers and at airfields such as Ipswich, where we nearly wrecked the light aircraft park as the ATC controller had not considered the downwash from 20+ tons of Chinook and Bucc! We flew the sortie on 11 Oct 88 in ZA678 and the pilot/captain was Flt Lt Brian Symons. Our route was Honington - Wattisham - Ipswich - Colchester - Shoeburyness. I am sure the Bucc underslung was quite a sight for the locals. Total time to effect the move was 2hrs 45 mins.
    Last edited by Moggy C; 6th May 2012 at 13:16. Reason: Quote deleted

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anon View Post
    F-4J(UK) Phantom ZE352 spent some time at Foulness during 2000 moving to the scrappy at Stock in Feb 2001.
    The now-preserved cockpit section of this jet bears a 1-metre dia hole blasted in the stbd intake duct about 2m from the inlet, obviously a hit from an explosive cannon shell of unknown (at least to me) calibre.
    I had believed that it was a chance hit by a strafing aircraft but was put right on this by a chap I met who has spent years at such establishments helping test various weapons on various airframes and objects.
    He says that it was probably set up on a rig to test the effect of an impact at exactly that point. Thankfully they only did the one shot.
    Is it likely that any test footage would have survived from this test? also, does anyone have any pictures of Phantom airframes being delivered, resting at or leaving the site around 2000-2001?
    It was in company with ZE350 and both aircraft were shorn of their complete tail assemblies and wings.

    Anon.
    XW541 also had a "walkthrough" fuselage as a result of one of these controlled explosions, I also remember the rasp/ripple Bucc, laying on the ground in Hanningfield Metal's , this one had been converted to take the Tornado radar and radome, and looked a bit ungainly; it had also had a fire in the front cockpit floor area, but was otherwise ok, they offered (the cockpit) at an almost giveaway price, but in the end there were no takers, and was I believe scrapped.
    Why be your own worse critic, that's what the forum is for.

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    In the late 60's/early 70's the local paper "The Evening Echo" ran a feature on Foulness. They were given access to the White City area and published photos of TSR2 XR219 and the Bristol 188 standing together both intact. The Bristol subsequently escaped to Cosford. The TSR2 was sadly lost even though there was a good deal of lobbying to rescue the only flyer from destruction.
    I remember the Scimitars arrivng at Southend where they were usually parked for a while before disappearing presumerably by lorry but I don't remember any of them being dismantled at Southend so maybe they went in one piece on a low loader.
    Probably late 70's there seemed to be quite a big clear out at the ranges and lorries full of aircraft sections were often parked overnight in the derelict goods yard at Rochford station where all the local spotters had a good poke around to find serial nos. There seemed to be plenty of TSR2 bits on the lorries and I seem to remember some Lightning bits as well.
    I have only ever been onto the island once and little was visible from the road. We were told not to stop until we reached the village and others have said that anyone who stopped was soon checked out by security patrols.
    The place definitely has an air of mystery to it.

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