Foulness Island Ranges

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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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Profile picture for user zoot horn rollo

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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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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?

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

Regards;
Steve

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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.

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I seem to recall that the A300 may have been the French one involved and damaged in a hijack incident.

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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.

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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?

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Tilbury Docks then in by road?

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

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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

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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.

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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?