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RAF St. Athan

In the 1990s, we were involved in a project with Oxford Instruments to set up a demonstrator neutron radiography facility that was transportable - based on the OI superconducting magnet cyclotron and using our digital NR imaging system that was made up of a high resolution cooled CCD camera with Nikkor lens viewing an enriched Lithium-6: zinc sulphide scintillation screen. When a film-gadolinium combination was used for turbine blade radiography, near reactor quality was achieved.

One of the targeted end users for industrial NR was the aircraft maintenance facility at the MoD's RAF base St. Athan, South Wales. However, the cyclotron project did not develop to the stage of manufacturing complete systems for customers and only one system was built and operated.

​A large number of test objects were provided by the RAF at St. Athan for evaluation with thermal neutron radiography, including highly corroded panels removed from different fighter, bomber and transport aircraft. One of the panels was from an RAF VC 10 transport plane.

On the 23rd February 2012, a VC10 was the last aircraft to have completed its maintenance at RAF St. Athan before the airforce station was finally shut down, ending 75 years of maintenance.

We had lived in St Athan West Camp where my father (a Flight Sergeant) was working on aero-engine maintenance in No. 32 M.U. in the early 1950s. One lasting memory as a child was hearing the news in 1950 that a plane had crashed 3 miles away (at Llandow airport). It was an Avro Tudor V carrying Welsh rugby fans back from Ireland following a Triple Crown winning match in Dublin. Eighty passengers and crew were killed in what was then the worst air accident in the world.

St. Athan East and West Camp Maintenance Units were targets of enemy bombs during the 2nd World War because of the intense RAF activity there - staff numbers reached a peak of 14,000 which reduced to 3,500 engineers repairing fighter aircraft in the mid 1990s. A £77million new super hangar was built for fast aircraft repair and plans were well under way to create a new defence training academy but government cuts in 2010 led to these being axed.

In June 2012, lead singer of Iron Maiden and head of Cardiff Aviation Ltd, Bruce Dickinson announced the setting up of an aircraft maintenance and training facility at the new Twin Peaks Hangar that would create over 1000 jobs, if successful.
The Welsh National Theatre presented Shakespeare's Coriolanus as a spectacular immersive experience in one of the old hangars on St. Athan East Camp, to great critical acclaim (August 2012).
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