The remarkable place where Rolls-Royce developed the mighty Merlin

In the first of a two-part feature, heritage photographer and curator Nigel Gibson describes the early days of Hucknall’s Flight Test Establishment, its vital relationship with Rolls-Royce and the role of his grandfather, Ted Gibson

Back in the dark days preceding World War Two, near the small Nottinghamshire mining town of Torkard Hucknall, a team of civilian scientists, designers, pilots and aero engineers ‘quietly’ helped to change the course of the forthcoming conflict. Not only that, they also revolutionised air travel, and developed some of the most iconic pieces of engineering Britain has ever seen – or heard.

The Hucknall flight line in 1938. Left to right: Fairey Battle prototype K7572, Hawker Horsley S1436, Whitney Straight G-AEUZ, Heinkel He 70 G-ADZF, and Hawker Fury K3586 with two Harts, K2969 and K3036. The first indoor test bed buildings can seen in the background
The Hucknall flight line in 1938. Left to right: Fairey Battle prototype K7572, Hawker Horsley S1436, Whitney Straight G-AEUZ, Heinkel He 70 G-ADZF, and Hawker Fury K3586 with two Harts, K2969 and K3036. The first indoor test bed buildings can seen in the background ALL NIGEL GIBSON

Ernest Hives, an enthusiastic young engineer, had been plucked from obscurity by Sir Henry Royce by sheer chance in 1908. When Sir Henry’s car broke down outside the bicycle repair shop where Hives was working, the younger man proceeded to repair the troublesome motor on the spot. After they’d chatted, an impressed Royce offered him a job.

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