In the early postwar years, following the landmark flight of Chuck Yaegar in ‘breaking the sound barrier’, the SBAC (Society British Aerospace Companies) perceived the need for a large scale transonic wind tunnel to keep UK industry at the forefront of aircraft research and development; a complementary capability for designing and manufacturing high-speed wind tunnel models was also identified.
No single company could afford to build such a facility on its own, so 14 major British aerospace companies jointly raised £1.25 million in order to form an independent, non-profit-distributing research and development organisation. In 1952, Sir Hugh Burroughes, Chairman of the SBAC, appointed Mr Ron Hills (See photo) as the first Chief Executive of the Aircraft Research Association Ltd. with the mission of designing the wind tunnel and overseeing the building of ARA. A site 50 miles North of London, on the northwest edge of Bedford, was chosen as the location for ARA and the tunnel was first operational in 1956; having been officially opened by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The companies that founded ARA formed a Council to whom the ARA Chief Executive reports on a quarterly basis on the status of the business and the major issues affecting the Association. Since the original one-off cash investment by the Council members, ARA has successfully developed by continually generating sufficient revenue to meet its operational costs. Any surpluses made by ARA are kept by ARA and used to invest in the development of our service offering and our staff.
The original Articles of Association do not restrict ARA to working only for their member companies. This has allowed ARA to develop its business to the point whereby today ARA has worked for most of the major aerospace companies around the world. ARA’s maxim for Customer Confidentiality means that its Council does not know the details of who ARA is working with.
Ron Hills and Prince Philip were reunited in 2002 when ARA celebrated its 50th anniversary and Ron received a commemorative plaque from the Prince for the lifetime work he had carried out as Chief Executive at ARA; something also recognised by the prestigious Gold Medal he received from the Royal Aeronautical Society.
In the intervening years, through a process of mergers, ARA’s Council membership is now composed of representatives from:
Founding Member Companies
- Sir WG Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Ltd
- Blackburn & General Aircraft Ltd
- Bristol Aeroplane Co. Ltd
- Gloster Aircraft Ltd
- Hawker Aircraft Ltd
- Rolls-Royce Ltd
- Vickers-Armstrong (Aircraft) Ltd
- Armstrong Siddeley Motors Ltd
- Boulton Paul Aircraft Ltd
- Folland Aircraft Ltd
- Handley Page Ltd
- A.V. Roe & Co. Ltd
- Saunders-Roe Ltd
- Westland Aircraft Ltd