On the 23rd July 1953, an inaugural meeting of the Boscombe Down branch was held at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, where it was decided to request the Council of the Royal Aeronautical Society to approve the formation of a Branch. Air Commodore A. H. Wheeler was elected President, and Mr. Handel Davies was elected Chairman of a Committee of eleven civilian and service members.
In October 1953, the Council granted approval for the formation of the Local Branch, which gained immediate impetus, so that over 300 members were present at the Inaugural Lecture given on 24th November 1953 by Sir Frederick Handley Page on “Bomber Design.” There were many guests from nearby aircraft firms and other Branches.
Early lectures were not without their amusing incidents, due no doubt to the lack of a full “check list” by the newly formed Committee. In April 1954, Sir William Farren (who was then President of the Society) was ready to deliver his lecture on “The Design of Delta Wing Aircraft” when it was realised that because of the recent advent of summer time, there would be daylight during the greater part of the lecture. Hurried arrangements were made for a temporary black-out in the Airmen’s Dining Hall, where approximately 240 members had gathered. Because of its inadequacy, a “good tempered Lecturer and Audience transferred to the Station Cinema some quarter of a mile away.” The capacity of this building being limited to 150, the walls were well lined and the gangways well filled. Later, in 1956, a new lecture hall was equipped with projection and amplification equipment. Being in the vicinity of the Officers’ Mess, it came outside the “security area” so that obtaining security clearance for our guests was no longer a problem; For nearly ten years interesting programmes of lectures have been organised during the winter months, and space would not permit the naming of the distinguished lecturers, most of whom have travelled long distances. In December 1955, the first Main Society Lecture was held at Boscombe Down, when Mr. P. A. Hufton, and Mr. J.A. Hamilton, presented their paper on ‘Free Flight Techniques in High Speed Aerodynamic Research.’ The Branch was joined by many friends from Branches at Reading, Swindon, Yeovil, Southampton, Christchurch and Bristol.
Since its formation the Branch has maintained a steady membership, consisting almost entirely of service and civilian personnel at Boscombe Down. In the early days of the Branch, lectures and other activities were widely publicised through advertisement in the local press, but as almost the entire Aeronautical interest in the Salisbury-Amesbury-Andover area was centred at Boscombe Down, this source of advertising was eventually dropped. The Branch membership fee was originally the modest sum of 2s, 6d., and the Branch claimed to be the ‘cheapest’ in the UK – we’ve now dropped our prices even further and waived any membership fee!
Apart from lectures in the evenings, the Branch has, since its inception, arranged each year for visits to centres of aeronautical interest in the summer months – a tradition which we continue to this day. Recent visits have included trips to QinetiQ’s maritime research facility at Haslar and the historical Battle of Britain Bunker in Uxbridge.
In 1957 the first Branch Dinner was held when the President-Elect, Sir Arnold Hall, was Guest of Honour. The annual branch dinner continues as our named lecture, the Sir Henry Tizard Lecture, held every October.
In the 21st century, the branch continues to expand and modernise. Alongside a regular lecture programme, in which we aim to provide a mixture of historical and more cutting-edge lectures, we host a variety of events including a Young Members lecture competition, film screenings and technical visits. All are welcome to attend our events – you do not need to be a member of the main Royal Aeronautical Society, or even an engineer to attend. We hope to see you at an event soon!