back to article Talking a Blue Streak: The ambitious, quiet waste of the Spadeadam Rocket Establishment

Of all the monuments to Great Britain's efforts to maintain its pre-war status as a global superpower in the post-war world, the remnants of the Blue Streak intermediate-range ballistic missile project are among the most bathetic. Traces of Blue Streak and related rocket projects can be found in the Australian desert, on an …

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Another great insight

    into some of our more murkier past.

    I had an uncle who worked there. He'd moved to Woomera in the early 1960's and briefly returned to the UK in the early 1970's. I visited him when he lived in Brampton (while walking the Roman Wall). Not long after he and his family went back to Woomera.

    Keep these articles coming.

  2. cheekybuddha

    >> Blue Streak was a 24ft (80m) single-stage rocket <<

    Should that be 240ft, or am I missing something here?

    Even that seems a bit out. According to the little conversion app on my phone 240ft = ~73m, or 80m = ~262ft

    I agree with the poster above - great article. Thanks

    1. Vulch

      Suspect they've been swapped, 24m is just short of 80ft.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        or, 24ft = 8m ?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The other anon...

          Google knows all. Why guess when it takes less than 5 seconds to check. Wiki:

          Height: 80 feet (24 m)

          So a type just swapped the numbers.

  3. IsJustabloke
    Thumb Up

    Great Article!

    I really enjoy these guides. Very interesting and informative.

    Who knew that the rather boring looking business part just donw the road from me had such a cool and interesting history! I shall look at it through very different eyes the next time I drive past it!

  4. boltar Silver badge

    USA probably at the root of it

    At the end of WW2 the USA were quite happy to see the back of the British Empire - mainly so they could replace it economically - so while all countries in Europe had lend-lease and the Marshall Plan only the UK had to pay back all the money. And this went on until after 2006 when the loan was finally paid off. Meanwhile Germany and Japan got free money from the USA with the only cost to them being having to buy US goods and have some air bases. Which the UK had to do too anyway. So if you ever wonder why Germany and Japan became so strong economically thats why and in the meantime the UK economy was being ground into the dust by its so called "allies". No doubt Blue Streak suffered from this economic malaise plus I suspect some quiet words in the ear from washington along the lines of "Scrap Blue Streak and buy our Polaris or suffer the consequences".

    But whatever, no doubt our lapdog governments will continue to pretend Washington is our friend and back all its hair brained middle eastern invasions, buy their overpriced military hardware and still get the cold shoulder when we need to use our forces , eg the Falklands invasion which Reagan initially refused to back.

    US governments behave like classic psychopaths - all shallow charm, smiles and promises, with a iron fist if you don't support their self serving policies.

    1. Snorlax Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: USA probably at the root of it

      "Meanwhile Germany and Japan got free money from the USA..."

      To be fair, the USA nuked Japan twice. I wouldn't describe anything they got from the USA after the war as "free money".

      Ditto for West Germany, which the Allies occupied until 1952.East and West Germany also paid $23 billion in reparations.

      Free money??

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: USA probably at the root of it

        "To be fair, the USA nuked Japan twice. I wouldn't describe anything they got from the USA after the war as "free money"."

        The human cost was huge , the economic cost of the bombs was far outweighed by the support from the USA afterwards.

        "Ditto for West Germany, which the Allies occupied until 1952"

        The UK was still on food rationing until 1954.

        "Germany also paid $23 billion in reparations."

        Poor germany. And where did that money come from? Not the Reichstag. The UK had to pay back the equivalent of $57 billion to the USA BEFORE interest and we were their fscking ally! Oh, and we gave them the Jet engine for free and that along with the Nazi rocket tech and Von Braun (conveniently pardoned) helped make the USAs aerospace industry what it is today.

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: USA probably at the root of it

          @ Boltar you missed us having to give away our Radar developments and helping to create and train the OSS which eventually in 1947 became the CIA. At the beginning of the war the US didn't have what you would call a functioning intelligence service.

          They got a lot of our secrets and tech in exchange for selling us overpriced goods.

          1. Snorlax Silver badge

            Re: USA probably at the root of it

            ” you missed us having to give away our Radar developments”

            Like the other commenter above, you overestimate the Britain’s role in developing the technology.

            When war broke out Britain had RDF, while Germany had Funkmessgerat. The US also developed the technology and coined the term radar in 1940, before they entered the war. It wasn’t some top secret thing that only British scientists knew about...

            Britain didn’t “have to” give away anything. Churchill thought it would be handy to suck up to the US, with an eye to them entering the war, and sent the Tizard Mission to share information.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: USA probably at the root of it

              To be sure, the British had the most advanced radar in the world, but they did get back some radar (diode?) receiver technology.

          2. Tigra 07 Silver badge

            Re: USA probably at the root of it

            "They got a lot of our secrets and tech in exchange for selling us overpriced goods."

            They also dismantled the empire in exchange for their help, in addition to the demands they made for advanced technology. The empire was in slow decline anyway, but the Americans ended it for their own benefit.

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: USA probably at the root of it

              They also dismantled the empire in exchange for their help

              I think the politicians of the time were well aware that it was a case of 'dismantle it ourselves or lose it all through conflict that we don't have the resources to fight'.

              At least the way it was done allowed the creation of the Commonwealth with its attendent benefits and allowed the UK to retain some dignity.

              Of course, we have pretty much thrown that away now with the Brexit farce.

          3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: USA probably at the root of it

            helping to create and train the OSS

            I'm surprised that we were even asked - before the US was dragged into WW2 the Royal Navy offered to teach them anti-submarine tactics (refined at great cost in ships and lives). The US Navy (predictably) refused - leading them to lose far more ships and lives before they eventually adopted similar tactics.

            NIH is alive and well in the US military.

        2. Snorlax Silver badge

          Re: USA probably at the root of it

          You sound bitter. Perhaps your politicians should have negotiated a better deal with the US.

          Germany owed $1 billion in Marshall Plan loan repayments (aside from money and goods paid in reparations). They paid that back by 1971. Again, where was the “free money” you were going on about?

          “We gave them the jet engine for free”

          The Germans developed the first operational jet engine. The US and the Russians both shipped home plenty of Messerschmitt Me 262‘s to reverse-engineer, so I wouldn’t overestimate the role of Whittle’s engine design in the grand scheme of things.

          1. SealTeam6

            Jet Engine

            Frank Whittle invented the jet engine in the 1930s, but the British Air Ministry refused to see the potential of it. Meanwhile German engineers read Whittle's engine design with interest and implemented it.

            They may have been disgusting Nazis but their management understood technology better than ours did.

            1. Tigra 07 Silver badge

              Re: Jet Engine

              "They may have been disgusting Nazis but their management understood technology better than ours did"

              They were preparing for war. We were not. Anything to give them an edge was useful. We also didn't bother with advanced ballistic missiles until we had to either (as the article points out).

              1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

                Re: Jet Engine

                They were preparing for war. We were not

                That's simply not true - Hitler was warned, time and again, by his military[1] that they really were not ready for an extended conflict. Especially one where they would have to fight a war on two fronts..

                He decided to overrule them and invaded Poland anyway.

                We saw the way the wind was blowing in the mid 1930s and started our own re-arming programme - not to the extent that Germany did admittedly. France did likewise (but made the huge blunder of only creating a partial perimeter defense)

                [1] Especially the German Navy. They knew that they were completely outmatched by the Royal Navy and tried to make up for it by using hit and run tactics, commerce raiding and U-boat wolfpacks and, at all times, trying to avoid a face-to-face with the RN.

                1. Tigra 07 Silver badge
                  Facepalm

                  Re: Jet Engine

                  "That's simply not true"

                  It's absolutely true. The Nazis were already ramping up their troops levels and by 1934 were massively out of the scope of the Treaty of Versailles, which limited their fighting forces.

                  You seem to have answered a question I didn't ask. I simply stated they were preparing for war, which they clearly were, and i'll provide a source below. You've instead responded to a different question about "whether they were ready for war".

                  Source: https://spartacus-educational.com/2WWgermanA.htm

            2. Snorlax Silver badge

              Re: Jet Engine

              "Frank Whittle invented the jet engine in the 1930s, but the British Air Ministry refused to see the potential of it. Meanwhile German engineers read Whittle's engine design with interest and implemented it."

              Failing to see potential seems to be a recurring theme in the British establishment.

              So, it seems, is blaming others for their own failure in this regard.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: USA probably at the root of it

      I hope it will one day be reveaied but there is definitely a pattern in the cancellation of various projects such as blue streak, TSR2 and other things that didn't see the light of day. It is still surprising that Concorde, Harrier etc saw the light of day given the pathetic short sighted old politicians. Black Arrow would be OK because compared to its contemporary Saturn V it was a cornflakes toy.

      University of Leicester has a Skylark rocket in the foyer of its physics building along with other spacey bits on display.

    3. james_smith Bronze badge

      Re: USA probably at the root of it

      The UK, which received a quarter of the Marshall Plan funds, didn't pay any of the money back. Nor did the UK pay for the lend-lease equipment it received during the war - the only obligation was to return any remaining equipment, which didn't happen as what was left was surplus to US requirements.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: USA probably at the root of it

        I think the original poster is conflating two things. There was the Marshall Plan and lend-lease to finance the war, which was not paid back.

        IIRC there was also a separate $4.3bn loan from the US to help post-war rebuilding, that was indeed paid back finishing in 2006

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          Re: USA probably at the root of it

          Correct @Phil on the $ loan - and the reason it wasn't paid back sooner is that it was on pretty advantageous terms - low interest and option for pause in repayments.

          I'll gladly criticise the US when they are wrong, but Lend-Lease, the $ loan and Marshall Aid were (relatively) farsighted and progressive.

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: USA probably at the root of it

            ISTR people complaining the US was crippling the UK economy with is lend-lease demands. The theme continues with the EU and will no doubt continue with Trumps trade deal.

            1. Snorlax Silver badge
              FAIL

              Re: USA probably at the root of it

              ” ISTR people complaining the US was crippling the UK economy with is lend-lease demands. The theme continues with the EU and will no doubt continue with Trumps trade deal.”

              “Waaah! Poor us. Our misfortunes are always someone else’s fault.”

    4. Smirnov

      So if you ever wonder why Germany and Japan became so strong economically thats why

      Well, when WW2 started Germany was also very strong so the excuse of "free American money" (which wasn't really free) doesn't really cut it.

      Frankly, Britain had all its chances to become as successful as Germany but pissed it away through laziness and the general incompetence of British leadership. Blue Streak isn't the only case study which demonstrates this (until this day far Britain is the only country on Earth which was on the path to obtain its own space platform, something every other country aspires to, and simply wasted it), there are many similar failures like TSR2. Ask yourself why famous British brands like Mini, Jaguar, Land Rover/Range Rover, Rolls Royce, Bentley and all the others that once had been famous for their poor workmanship and horrible reliability have flourished since they went under foreign leadership. But be careful, because you might have to face some uncomfortable facts about British culture and attitude.

      There is a reason why Germany is, again, an economic powerhouse producing some of the best engineering in the world, while Britain is now busy dealing with the mess that is BREXIT. And it has nothing to do with "free American money".

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: So if you ever wonder why Germany and Japan became so strong economically thats why

        TSR2 - a world leading design that was cancelled when the (pennyless again) UK govt. needed to spend money on Concorde (eventually far more expensive than TSR2) because the development treaty with the french demanded it.

        The other brands you give (all automotive) gained their bad quality reputations after being nationalised, before that they were as good as anything else available. In the James May car series a few years ago he made the comment that Germany & Japans automotive industries are where they are today because for a long time after losing the war their best engineers were not allowed to build Rockets, Aircraft, Nuclear submarines etc. like the best engineers in the US & UK were able to.

      2. GrumpyKiwi

        Re: So if you ever wonder why Germany and Japan became so strong economically thats why

        ***Well, when WW2 started Germany was also very strong so the excuse of "free American money" (which wasn't really free) doesn't really cut it.***

        Germany was very definitely NOT economically strong at the start of WW2. It was barely being kept afloat by the looting of the Austrian and Czech treasuries and a great deal of financial shenanigans.

        There is a very good book called "The Wages of Destruction" by Adam Tooze that goes into the pre-war (and wartime) German economy and how they were (barely) able to to pay for rearmament and what this meant for the average German worker (hint - poverty, especially compared to the likes of a British worker).

        ***TSR2 - a world leading design that was cancelled...***

        On the one hand the TSR2 was indeed a world leading design. On the other it was very much a bleeding edge design with all that implies for costs and development time. At the time of cancellation it still had massive issues to overcome, some of which they weren't even sure if they could be overcome. An endless financial black hole is not something the governments of the day could look upon with calm soothing thoughts. Especially when the F-111 was being developed with American money and at American risk.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So if you ever wonder why Germany and Japan became so strong economically thats why

          > the F-111 was being developed with American money

          Pssst - American here. The F-111 was also a technical and financial black hole

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: So if you ever wonder why Germany and Japan became so strong economically thats why

          Germany was very definitely NOT economically strong at the start of WW2

          Which is one of the probable reasons why Hitler invaded Poland well before his military thought that they were ready - it would have dented his myth of strength if Germany went bankrupt and couldn't feed itself.

          Even during the war, the German economy never really went onto a war footing - mostly because they couldn't afford to - all the resources that they gained by invading other countries (including slave labour) didn't make up for the fact that they were living way, way beyond their means.

          1. GrumpyKiwi

            Re: So if you ever wonder why Germany and Japan became so strong economically thats why

            ***Even during the war, the German economy never really went onto a war footing - mostly because they couldn't afford to - all the resources that they gained by invading other countries (including slave labour) didn't make up for the fact that they were living way, way beyond their means.***

            The big problem they had was that there just weren't enough resources to go around - especially with steel and the coal you need to make it. So in 1940 a large percentage of the steel had to be diverted to ammunition making as they were running very low on it. Meanwhile aircraft and vehicle production suffer. The next year ammuniton was plentiful for the invasion of the USSR, but it was only by looting the crap out of France and other occupied nations that they could get sufficient vehicles to even attempt to invade. (And of course having 600+ different designs of vehicles in service was a really bad idea when it came time to logistically support such a vehicle fleet in the field).

            Of course stealing all of France's trucks, cars, trains and coal meant that the French were no longer able to make and supply steel so instead of adding to Germany's overall power the French were a drain. And this was a pattern repeated in the other occupied states - a crippling of the state for a short term gain followed by a long term liability in which slave labour became the only thing they were good for supplying.

            Germany did end up hitting it's peak possible performance in 1943 as far as production was concerned - every available man was in the armed forces or production, and there was effectively no civil economy. By that stage they'd given up any pretence that they could keep their economy under control - inflation rose massively while living standards plumetted. It was all to be sacrificed in the name of the Gotterdamerung on the Eastern Front.

    5. Binraider666

      Re: USA probably at the root of it

      While there is no doubt ruined states in Europe did better out of post war loans than we did, Polaris was not the terrible deal you make it out to be. Highly recommend picking up the Silent Deep by Peter Hennessy and James Jinks, which contains a rather lengthy section on the favourable terms of the Polaris deal. Trident is also bought under the same deal - and so will it's successor should it be allowed to happen.

      Considering the mistakes that were made at the end of WWI, the Marshall Plan was intended to prevent a repeat of the 1930's collapse; which it did. Having a completely flattened country tends to make rebuilding on modern terms easier. British industry had been purposely distributed in WW2 to make it hard to bomb, but that's terrible for mass production purposes. There is also the not so minor point that British bulk manufactured goods throughout right up until the 1980's if not beyond were hardly desirable commodities; and in an "export" economy that's a problem. Can't imagine many Bedfords or Morris cars were exported to Germany - whereas we are awash with Opel, PSA and VAG hardware. Sure, the E-type and other sports cars are highly desirable; but the key word is bulk. We're crap at it in blighty!

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: USA probably at the root of it

        Can't imagine many Bedfords or Morris cars were exported to Germany

        Quite a few of the million or so Morris Minors that were made got exported to various parts of Europe - including Germany.

        But that was before the mid-70's when the quality of mass-produced cars in this country fell through the floor - the advice with later-build Morris Minors is "don't unless you plan a full rebuild".

        1. Stork Silver badge

          Re: USA probably at the root of it

          Yes, there were Minors and Minis and Bedford vans in Denmark too.

          But those days all cars rusted, fast!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: USA probably at the root of it

            "But those days all cars rusted, fast!"

            But the UK factories were innovative in that they supplied the cars pre-rusted

    6. Stork Silver badge

      Re: USA probably at the root of it

      I think you miss part of the story here.

      Marshall aid was from memory never more than 2% of W German GDP. And W Germany had suffered proportionally a much higher loss of soldiers than other W European countries, and in addition a lot of the survivors were kept by the Soviets for years as PoWs.

      Why did W Germany do well then? I think:

      - Ambitious people went into business, not often politics and certainly not the armed forces.

      - defence budget was smaller, powerful armed forces were, hmm, discouraged by the occupiers.

      - industrial relations were fundamentally cooperative and government decentralised.

      Contrast that with the UK. I lived there in the 90es, and met students that essentially argued that the government should keep coal mines for the sake of the miners. My mind boggled.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: USA probably at the root of it

        government should keep coal mines for the sake of the miners

        It wasn't just for the miners - the total costs of (essentially) supporting entire communites dwarfs the cost of paying miners to keep the mines going. The destruction of the mining industry was driven by two factors - coal got cheap (so cheap that it was easier to buy it from abroad) and the Tory governments desire to destroy the power of the unions.

        1. Stork Silver badge

          Re: USA probably at the root of it

          This is fundamentally a situation everywhere you have places depending heavily on an industry that becomes uneconomic.

          In Nakskov, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden, large shipyards were closed in the 80es with devastating effects. But even without the political side you had in the UK, it is a question how long you keep subsidising industries without realistic future.

          In Denmark there was never much state ownership of industry, which made it politically easier. Subsidies were in form of good contracts (the ferries that kept the shipyards going were were well build, works of beauty) dished out with an eye on geography, but eventually it stopped.

      2. Snorlax Silver badge

        Re: USA probably at the root of it

        ” Marshall aid was from memory never more than 2% of W German GDP. And W Germany had suffered proportionally a much higher loss of soldiers than other W European countries, and in addition a lot of the survivors were kept by the Soviets for years as PoWs...”

        Allied occupation forces after the war used German POWs for forced labour too - rebuilding, clearing minefields, farm labour in the UK, etc. Of course, they were called ‘disarmed enemy forces’ rather than ‘prisoners of war” so the Geneva Convention wouldn’t apply.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: USA probably at the root of it

      "only the UK had to pay back all the money. And this went on until after 2006 when the loan was finally paid off. Meanwhile Germany and Japan got free money from the USA"

      More of the the usual horseshit beloved by those daydreaming of an imperial past.

      The UK got twice as much Marshall Plan aid as West Germany and on exactly the same terms, the difference was that the Germans invested it whereas the UK spunked it all on the running costs of trying to cling on to its imperial status.

      Blue Streak itself is an excellent illustration of exactly the warped mindset that ruined the UK - literally the year after rationing finally ended, the government signs off on dumping vast amounts of money into an incredibly expensive and ambitious project that would have been a significant challenge for the USSR or the USA. And even with the benefit of 65 years of hindsight there are cheerleaders for the idea!

      Never mind fixing the broken education system, upgrading the victorian infrastructure, retooling the worn-out factories, or any of the multitude of other things the UK desperately needed, the way to success is to try to match the military and industrial heft of superpowers with three times the population. Genius.

      But somehow for the "two world wars and one world cup" brigade the inevitable disastrous failure is always to be blamed on some grand conspiracy by others rather than just piss-poor thinking in Westminster

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: USA probably at the root of it

        Even today the British economy is three times the size of Russia's, and while the rest of their empire was more developed (even after much of it was looted and flattened twice) that also meant maintaining control was harder, and the rest of our empire was huge and under-utilised.

        The habit of surrendering to colonial rebels as soon as they were defeated didn't help, but that had been the basis of Britain's "imperial" policy for half a century already and was the main reason it was in decline. Joining in American foreign policy decisions without thinking, and getting into pointless wars as a result, only made things worse. Its especially a pity that no one told Wilson to shut up and carried on the WWI peace negotiations until winter 1919, when Germany would have capitulated and could have been carved up and abolished.

        (Also, if we'd had an adequate supply WMDs that would have cut the imperial security cost enormously, because the garrisons and security forces could be removed, with the district officers protected by the threat of massive retaliation against their territories if anything happened to them.)

    8. Tinslave_the_Barelegged

      Re: USA probably at the root of it

      Perhaps the project was simply beyond the collective will of a nation still weary from six years of war and becoming increasingly aware of its diminished position in the world and straitened circumstances.

      only the UK had to pay back all the money.

      After all this time, this is still an inconvenient truth. Britain was bankrupt, but as it was still so militarised after the war, it chose to spend the money given to it on projects to maintain a pre-war standing that simply was no longer there. This may have been driven by perceived military requirements, or political lack of foresight, but it remains true that the British economy could not longer depend on being on a war footing, and no longer could depend on imperial markets to make up the shortfalls.

      It seems that politically and maybe militarily (£3billion for an aircraft carrier) we still have not learnt this lesson.

  5. Allonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    I was always under the impression that a land-based strategic deterrent made little sense in the UK because there simply wasn't enough land compared to, say, the US prairie states or the Russian steppes. There just weren't enough potential places to disperse the things, which left them vulnerable to a preemptive strike. With V bombers there were drills to get off the ground quickly with warning of an incoming attack, so they'd be in the air/away from their bases. And later of course MoD put the nuclear deterrent onto submarines and hid it out in the Atlantic where its main danger is probably plastic microparticles or something.

    Looks like an interesting site. I went to Woomera once many years ago, also worth a look. The main Cold War artefact I remember was the huge European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) "hotel". It was in the former ELDO staff barracks/hostel; they must've had a lot of people out there.

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      It's main danger is probably other ballistic-missile subs hiding in the Atlantic. I'm looking at you Le Triomphant

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Looking /at/ or looking /for/?

    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      The fuelling time for liquid engined rockets and the short notice flight time for any incoming soviet strike (SS4 launched from Poland/Baltic states) also put a big hole in the Blue Steel deterrent argument by 1960. In the US/USSR the warning lead time was enough to allow their missiles to be fuelled and away in time.

      As it was with many 1950s weapon systems the gap between state-of-art & obselecence was often barely long enough to get the equipment into service.

  6. Oengus Silver badge

    Good news...

    The Reg's expenses budget wouldn't stretch to a visit to the Woomera test site in Australia

    You don't need to go to Woomera. The Power House museum in Sydney has retrieved a large number of pieces from Woomera and have them stored in their back room facility in north west Sydney. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of a back room tour of their aeronautic archives. They had complete rocket engines and other pieces from some of the British and Australian rockets launched from Woomera that had been retrieved by museum researchers. Also they had pieces of Skylab. They had some very interesting pieces in their collection. I could have spent days in there but was restricted to a couple of hours. From memory Australia was the third country to launch objects into space from their own territory.

    1. BanburyBill

      Re: Good news...

      If you can go to Woomera, go anyway. When I went, about a decade ago, there was all kinds of interesting kit lying around the town park. Gloster Meteor, for one.

      1. scoldog1

        Re: Good news...

        The park is called Woomera Missile Park and has a bunch of missiles and a Gloster Meteor in it.

        https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Attraction_Review-g612489-d11721454-Reviews-Woomera_Missile_Park-Woomera_South_Australia.html

        Have a look at the street view

        https://www.google.com/maps/@-31.1982003,136.8248904,3a,43y,57.43h,84.88t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sE17ni_IN1B82UTT8IAx7gA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

  7. phuzz Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Bravo

    More of this sort of thing please.

  8. Natalie Gritpants Jr

    How do you pronounce spadeadm?

    is it spaddy adam, spade adam or spad eya dam?

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: How do you pronounce spadeadm?

      is it spaddy adam, spade adam or spad eya dam?

      Spade adam.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: How do you pronounce spadeadm?

        Spa de Adam - it's a new luxury treatment centre I'm thinking of starting.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: How do you pronounce spadeadm?

        I'd decided its bastard Birdoswald. My dad was an archaeology buff with a predilection for Roman shit and many of my weekends were destroyed by being dragged along Hadrians wall( remember Derek Griffiths anyone?) and I went to Birdoswald more times than I care to remember, If I'd known this was just over the hill I might have seen if I could have broken in for a look!

    2. Umpty Numpty

      Re: How do you pronounce spadeadm?

      spuh-day-dum?

  9. bmacd

    Nearby Airfield?

    Any idea about the nearby abandoned airfield a little northest of the google map linked to in the article? Looks like there are several abandoned aircraft there - of at least 3 different types. Two look like 50's era fighters, one type with straight wings (F80-like) and one with swept (F86-like). There is also what looks similar to an F-111 on the intersection of the two runways...

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Nearby Airfield?

      It's Collinski.

      The runways are fake and the aircraft are non flying airframes that were used as targets for electronic countermeasure/warfare tests.

      Photos of the aircraft Here.

      1. andy gibson

        Re: Nearby Airfield?

        More pics here from 2017

        https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/raf-spadeadam-airfield-northumberland-march-2017.107831/

        1. bmacd

          Re: Nearby Airfield?

          Thanks for the clarification - the "runways" did seem a little short!

  10. Lazlo Woodbine

    Great feature

    It's articles like this that keep me coming here.

    I don't live far from RAF Speadham and I had no idea all this work went on there in the 50's and 60's

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Coat

      Re:RAF Speadham

      Airforce rations? "It's ham, in a tube!"

  11. KarMann
    Facepalm

    Another missed opportunity

    I wish I'd known about this before I got married just 5 miles (8 km) from there. I mean, yeah, I was a little busy those couple of days, and probably wouldn't have had time to go see anything; heck, I barely had time to go see Hadrian's Wall for the first time as it was.

  12. imanidiot Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Interesting as always.

  13. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Great article

    My colleague worked on Blue Streak and by all accounts loved his time there.

    One of my favourite observations concerns that thin skin you mention. He said it was so thin and light you could flex it with your fingers when the tank was empty - just like crushing an empty coke can. But at the same time it was incredibly strong to take the fuel pressure when loaded.

    Fascinating, related fact: The British Black Arrow launcher development never failed a test firing but the 'foreign' (Italian often) final stage deployments were less than successful!

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Great article

      Are you talking about the Europa rocket now? The one that eventually evolved into Ariane?

      Indeed the first stage had the benefit of years of development, whilst the stages on top that didn’t burn until out of atmosphere were relatively new.

    2. Snorlax Silver badge

      Re: Great article

      "One of my favourite observations concerns that thin skin you mention. He said it was so thin and light you could flex it with your fingers when the tank was empty - just like crushing an empty coke can. But at the same time it was incredibly strong to take the fuel pressure when loaded."

      'Command and Control' by Eric Schlosser is an interesting book about what can go wrong when the skin is accidentally punctured.

  14. tuppence

    Great Feature

    Top article, many more of these please. My Father used to talk about this - he flew Vulcan's in the 60's. a bygone age where munitions had such nice names, this, Blue Danube, Yellow Sun....

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Great Feature

      The interesting code names were the result of Britain getting one over on Germany several times in WW2 due to guessing what nastiness was going to be deployed by hearing the code name of a project and then having countermeasures against the device deployed for the day the Germans started using it.

      Churchill then noted that the same principle operated in reverse, and demanded that all British code names be devoid of the slightest bit of helpful information to indicate what the program was about, hence projects for decades afterwards had random colour + word code names written down in a book and then picked from the book in sequential order for whatever hush hush project was started next in a way that gave no information away about what the project was for. A hard earned lesson that appears to have been thoroughly lost, judging by the code names being used for projects recently that have become publicly available through leaks etc.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Great Feature

        There were some rainbow code names which weren't entirely random and included some reference to their purpose or origin. For example Blue Silk was an evolution of Green Satin...related names but still meaningless to an enemy s they don;t divulge what they actually refer to in real world terms.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Great Feature

          Indeed. Now, to try and obscure our national embarrassment, we have yellowhammer.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great Feature

      He flew a Vulcan's what? What is it the Vulcan owned?

  15. anothercynic Silver badge

    Dear Alun...

    ... Do yourself a favour and read "Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin" by Francis Spufford, if you haven't yet. It discusses Blue Streak in detail in one of the 6 stories covered. Another is Concorde, yet another is the Human Genome Project and yet another is Vodafone and their development of the 'cell' methodology. You won't regret reading the book.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Dear Alun...

      Vodafone and their development of the 'cell' methodology.

      I initially misread that as "cell mythology" and thought it was a fairly accurate description of VFs coverage in my neck of the woods

    2. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Dear Alun...

      I'll echo that. A cracking addition to anyone's, er, "downstairs library".

  16. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Anything left of the Gunpowder Plot experiment?

    Back in 2005 at Spadeadam, they built a replica of the parliamentary buildings as they were in 1605 to test whether the Gunpowder Plot could have worked as planned (it could):

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gunpowder_Plot:_Exploding_the_Legend

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Anything left of the Gunpowder Plot experiment?

      Top Gear also launched their Reliant Robin space shuttle from Spadeadam. It launched well but the explosive bolts to separate the shuttle didn’t fire, so fiery end,

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Anything left of the Gunpowder Plot experiment?

        I think that launch actually happened on Otterburn range - a friend of mine who worked there at the time told me about it when it happened. The catastrophic explosion at the end when the 'shuttle' crashed back to earth was actually footage cut in from an explosive test being carried out just down the road by Qinetiq, and not from the Top Gear stunt at all, but looked much more dramatic

  17. Vaughtex

    Pay back

    Having recently read the Blue Streak book mentioned in the article, the designs for the silos for these missiles were adopted virtually verbatim by the US for their early misses like Titan. Well worth a read. The biggest problem in the UK was indeed where to site the silos, you simply can't get far enough away from a major conurbation without an inbound strike on a silo impacting a population centre. On top of which, finding a suitably stable geology was surprisingly also a big problem. Polaris made far more sense....which is unusual for the MoD

  18. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Also in Stevenage

    When I worked for Hawker Siddeley in Stevenage, ca 1973, there was at least part of a Blue Streak on the premises. My reaction was, so that is how large a 1 megaton H-bomb warhead is. But later I read there were many dummies in that warhead to confuse the enemy. So maybe not so large.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Also in Stevenage

      Blue Streak development and build was done mainly in Hatfield only 15 minutes down the A1.

      There are some nice photos through a web search.

  19. Chipfryer

    There's a small section of Blue Streak missile at the excellent Solway Aviation museum at Carlisle Airport.

    A great museum, run by enthusiasts, with displays crammed full of info, plus you get to sit inside a Vulcan bomber. The opening hours are a bit restricted, so check first.

  20. Poncey McPonceface
    Mushroom

    Fantastic Journalism

    Hats off to the author. Superbly written, very informative.

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    LOX makes lousy oxidizer for ICBM.

    Which was Atlas 1 (also pressure stabilized "balloon" tanks) was retired shortly after deployment and Titan 1 (also LOX/Kero) was switched to storable (but highly toxic and carcenogenic and hypergolic) NTO/Aerozine 50 (a nasty mix of Amines that would make a perfectly acceptable WMD in its own right).

    So yes it was obsolete as an ICBM from first deployment.

    Ironically Black Arrow (with its HTP/Kero combo) would have been more storable and in principle faster to launch from a standing start.

  22. lostsomehwere

    I grew up in Woomera

    My father worked on Blue Streak: I heard so many launch countdowns over the tannoy system that I learned to count from 10 to 1 rather than the way I use now.

  23. Ken 16 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Phrasing?

    "each of the 64 missiles scheduled to be built for active deployment would have been test-fired at Spadeadam before being shipped to their silos."

    Do you mean each missile would have its engine test run at that location or that each missile would be launched with it as a target?

  24. Benson's Cycle

    We have cathedrals as monuments to how belief in woo can all the same lead to great art. Spadeadam should be a national monument to how fear and paranoia breed destruction and waste.

  25. DaemonProcess

    That rocket on the trolley needs to be towed to a museum. Why not Cosford or IWM?

  26. FuzzyTheBear
    Thumb Up

    Worth preserving ?

    to Alun Taylor : wow grreat article . thank you for this most informative story.

    Raises one question in my mind. Is ALL history and remains worth preserving ?

    Test sites and installations and remains of a space program , what is worth and not preserving ?

    Certainly all actual phisical remains of the rockets themselves qualify .. i think that even large pieces should be ,

    but run down buildings and the roads and installations that were used around the vehicles leave me with big question marks.

    This article is superbly written. Good work Alun ,that's the stuff that's keeping me here with the reg for over 10 years now

    Thank you.

  27. EnviableOne Silver badge

    "Blue Streak" Begat "Black Arrow"

    and Black arrow made the UK the only country ever to achieve orbital capability and give up.

    if Black arrow had continued, it would be the single cheapest satelite launch option and would have made an unenviable return on investment.

  28. Mark Dempster

    UK Space industry

    It's worth mentioning (if it hasn't been already) that Blue Streak launched the UK's only satellite losfted without hitching a ride on someone else's rocket.

    There is also a complete (as in appearance, probably not internally) Blue Streak suspended vertically at the National Space Centre in Leicester.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: UK Space industry

      See previous comment, Prospero X3 satellite launched on a Black Arrow rocket, not on a Blue Streak missile.

  29. Andrew Laird

    Cutting the grass

    I grew up in this area and in the summer of 1966, between school and university, my mother, who was what we would now call PA to the Rolls Royce HR Manager at Spadeadam, got me a job as a labourer for a local sub-contractor, Barwick of Gilsland. As a result;t I spent the "summer of love" cutting the grass around the test stands so that engine test firings wouldn't set the whole moorland ablaze. During that time, or maybe in the following summer when I went back, I only witnessed one test from a shelter attached to the main bunker shown in one of the photographs:I heard one or two more. By this time Blue Steak had morphed into the launch vehicle for the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) later to become the European Space Agency. Curiously and circuitously my very last job before retirement a few years ago, was also for the ESA. Arrival at Spadeadaam felt like landing on the set of a Bond movie. After the several mile drive across the moor from Gilsland, the road crested a low rise and below was this industrial complex of machine shops, barracks and fuel storage tanks with, on the horizon, the towers of the engine and rocket test stands.

  30. Umpty Numpty

    There was some work done on Blue Streak / Blue Steel at Woodford (Hawker Siddley / Avro / British Aerospace / BAESYSTEMS) - remnants of which were still evident when I started work in 1986. Not found any online records of this other than a mention via Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=NAOhDwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA141&ots=herWG_6bVU&dq=blue%20streak%20at%20woodford&pg=PA140#v=onepage&q=blue%20streak%20at%20woodford&f=false

  31. BugabooSue
    Unhappy

    Ad Astra

    I remember my late father telling me of work his company did on Blue Streak.

    I don’t know how true it was, but he said that some of the machining work was farmed-out to small UK private fabrication companies as a way to keep costs down.

    It might have been total BS, but having had a career in the MOD, I can say that we were always willing to save a penny by getting local firms to do non-critical fabrication work when the budget was tight.

    It’s so sad that Britain no longer goes it alone on bigger developments such as this. We could have had a serious space industry now instead of running around grubbing for scraps.

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