The Brabazon Hangar  Filton  Bristol

In 1943 Lord Brabazon of Tara headed a Committee to explore the needs of post war British civilian passenger airliners. The Brabazon Report was the result of the committee’s work, which recommended the construction of four of the five designs under consideration.

One of the designs studied was awarded to The Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton and the aircraft was named the Bristol Type 167 Brabazon. Their contract was for the construction of two prototypes of this aircraft . Work started on the first aircraft in 1946 and it was ready for its maiden flight in September 1949.  It visited the Farnborough Air Show the same month and was demonstated at the Paris Air Show in 1951.

This large aircraft, which would become one of the largest in the world required the existing 2000 foot runway at Filton to be lengthened to 8000 feet, which meant the demolition and removal of a local village.

The construction and assembly of this very large aircraft also required the construction of a similar large size assembly hall building. Construction of the building commenced in 1946 which was then the largest single span steel structure, (possibly in the World?). It comprised  3 separate bays, total length 352 metres, height at apex of bay 35 metre, total enclosed volume 1 million cubic metres.

A major problem for the assembly hall building was presented by the need to design an effective and efficient space-heating system. Under extreme winter conditions it was required to raise to comfort level the temperature of the enormous single air volume contained within the walls of the assembly hall. The design of the heating system decided upon had to ensure that no pipework of any kind could be buried in the floor, as the complete floor area had to be free of any restrictions placed upon the future fixing of any holding-down arrangements for plant and machinery.

The heating and ventilation system chosen for this large space was a unit-heater arrangement which continuously re-circulated room air. Eighty  unit heaters were installed, of which 42 were positioned around the perimeter walls of the hangar. A further 26 downward discharge type heaters were fitted at high level and the remaining 12 heaters were sited at the entrance doors to automatically operate in groups of four when the main doors were opened during the heating season. They were to provide a heated “air-curtain” at the door entrance.

The 42 main heater units were each rated at 5.2 cubic metres / sec against a static pressure of 90 newtons/ square metre providing a heating output of 167KW with an entering air temperature of 16 deg C. They were special purpose built vertical type floor standing cased pattern units complete with internal fans and thermostatic control. The supply air from each heater unit was discharged at 12 metre high level from ductwork through three high velocity venturi horizontal nozzles.

The high level nozzles of 4 of the special heater units can be
seen by close inspection of the left hand wall of the hangar.

A separate boiler house building sited adjacent to the Assembly Hall building housed the heat generation plant.  Four economic type steam boilers  fed the heater units with  steam and condense.

Due to the large size, costs and construction period of this Assembly Hall project, two major contracts were awarded for the erection of the Heating & Ventilation  services.

The H&V installation within the Assembly Hall building was installed by Z D Berry of London, and the works within the boiler house by the Bristol Office of Brightside Foundry.

The Brabazon Aircraft

Sadly, the Brabazon aircraft became a “white elephant” as the airlines BOAC and BEA never expressed any serious interest in ordering the aircraft. Only the first prototype was built and flew, but was broken up in October 1953. A flying life of 400 hours over only 4 years. A second prototype was commenced but progressed no further than an incomplete fuselage before also being broken up.


Passengers: 50-180
Engines: 8 x Bristol Centaurus, 1864kW (2,650 hp)
Wingspan: 70.1m 230 ft
Length: 53.95m 177 ft
Height: 15.24m 50 ft
Wing area: 493.95m² 5,317 sq ft
Empty weight: 65816kg 145,100 lb
takeoff weight: 131542kg 290,000 lb
Max speed: 483kph,
Cruise speed: 402kph
Ceiling: 7620m
Range: 8850km 5,500 miles

A selection of pictures from its assembly to flight

This interesting picture of the Brabazon shows three forms of transport, the towing (tug) tractor, the aircraft and in the background a steam locomotive with a goods train. 

Note the Boiler House building in the left middle ground with its four chimneys.

The original Assembly Hall / Hangar building has now past its half centenary and is still very much in use, as this recent photograph shows.


The Brabazon Hanger Fire c1957

All five colour photos were kindly provided by Steve Hancock
whose father Len Hancock took the photographs whilst
employed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company

This fire occurred about 1957 and started in the roof structure,
obviously someone didn't take any notice of the Notice

No emergency fire precautions in those days. Imagine workers these
days being allowed to stand and watch the fire. I don't think so.

The fire now seems to be taking hold. Notice the flames starting to show.
Look at the right staircase, still someone making their way out of the building.

Note the fireman on the turntable ladder. Health & Safety officers
these days would have had apolexy just looking at him.

This unfinished Bristol Britannia aircraft had been pushed out of the hanger for its own safety.
Notice the the towing (tug) tractor appears again in this photo.

Another 6 photos of the hangar fire, this time in black & white
kindly provided by Colin Otridge. These photographs were rescued
the bin into which they had been put with other rubbish.  

This fireman appears to be fighting the fire from the top of a quadruple section extension ladder.
Is that people on the roof of the hangar building

I wonder if the Fireman had first prepared his risk assessment and method statement.

The unfinished Britannia aircraft is being towed outside of the hangar.
A grandstand view for the large numbers of workers as spectators.

All the workmen stood around seem to be just looking or strolling about.
No one seems to be particularly fearful about their safety.

A startling and dramatic view across the tarmac showing
the massive amount of smoke generated by the fire.

This aeriel view shows the amount of water damage from the fire hoses that has occured.

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June  2004