BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us


You are in: Gloucestershire > Features > The day the Space Shuttle landed in Gloucestershire

NASA Space Shuttle on back of Jumbo Jet

The day the Space Shuttle landed in Gloucestershire

The Space Shuttle, Discovery, has now been back in orbit for the first time since the Columbia tragedy in February 2003. But do you remember the time when it touched down in Gloucestershire?

Emergency rescue teams will be on stand-by at RAF Fairford, on Monday morning (8th August 2005), as the space shuttle Discovery re-enters the earth's atmosphere. 

The Cotswold airbase is one of the emergency landing sites for the space craft.  If the shuttle is diverted to Faiford the crews may get as little as 20 minutes' notice as it re-enters the atmosphere at 17,000 miles an hour.

Thankfully the shuttle has never had to use Fairford in an emergency, but it has been there! In 1983 a shuttle attached to the top of a Jumbo Jet touched down there en route to the Paris Air Show. This picture shows just what an impressive sight it was...

Space Shuttle at Fairford (COURTESY LES LEACH)

The Space Shuttle came to RAF Fairford in 1983

RAF Fairford is one of what NASA calls its Transoceanic Abort Landing Sites for the space shuttle.  The Fairford rescue teams are trained by NASA and run a training exercise for an emergency shuttle landing about once a year.  The teams cover everything from getting injured astronauts out of the shuttle to cutting off their space suits.  So why Fairford?

Well, when the shuttle blasts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida it heads east across the Atlantic so it's coming towards Europe.

If things go wrong it means it won't be able to stray very far from its course so emergency landing sites can't be too far north or south of its trajectory.  And, of course, it needs long enough runways.   That narrows the options down to two airstrips in Spain, two in North Africa, one in India and, of course Fairford.

Fairford could be called into action if there's a problem between two and a half minutes and around eight minutes after take-off.

Any earlier and it would land back in Florida.  Any later than eight minutes and it would complete one orbit before returning to California.

So what happens when Fairford is one of the designated emergency landing sites?

The Cotswold base is put on stand-by five days before launch. 35 NASA personnel and two support aircraft will fly into Fairford 48 hours before launch.

If there is a problem the Fairford rescue crews would get about half an hour's notice before it touched down in Gloucestershire. The shuttle would approach England at 350,000 feet, the engines would be shut off and the giant fuel tank jettisoned.

200 miles from Gloucestershire the landing sequence for Fairford is entered into the shuttle's computer.  It's still flying at seven times the speed of sound.

Six minutes from Fairford and it's down to 82,000 feet and travelling at Mach 2.5.  The air brakes are engaged.

Five minutes out and the shuttle's still flying at the speed of sound.

Four minutes from Fairford and the commander will take manual control.

Three minutes from touchdown and the shuttle makes a wide turn to lose speed and line up on the runway.

Two minutes out and the shuttle is at 13,000 feet and the airbrakes are closed.

At an altitude of eighteen hundred feet and just over a mile from Fairford's runway the commander pulls up the nose before the shuttle touches down at a speed of nearly 300 miles an hour.

Unless seriously injured the crew would fly from Fairford three hours after landing to a special facility in Spain for checks before returning to the United States.

last updated: 11/10/07

Have Your Say

Do you remember seeing the Space Shuttle when it flew in to Gloucestershire in 1983? Share your memories with us...

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Yes I remember it well.I was working at RAF Fairford where I was Personnel Officer and I was allowed to get as close as they allowed anybody. I went on the Press Corps bus to the site and snapped to my hearts content!My favourite photo was presented to the USAF Base Commander and it was hung in the Board/Conference room.I'm not sure if its still there!But what a day to remember

Dave Stewart
I am trying to prove to my wife that I saw the Space Shuttle flying low over Manchester.I don't know the exact year,but I do remember it was flying so low that I could see the tiles on the shuttle.I think it was heading to Leeds to be shown on display.Can anybody help me prove that I am not going daft.

keith titcombe
I was only 9 back in 1983 and my brother was 12 our mum and dad took us to fairford,we were allowed to take a mate each.We all watched as the shuttle mounted on the jumbo jet came into land.It was a sight i will never forget,and i tell my kids about it and they think i was very lucky to see it and i tell them i was.Who knows if the shuttle will ever come back to fairford but one thing i do know is i`m very proud to say i was there and i saw it.

Vicki Wyborn
I remember this and have the photos too. The local primary school shut, so local children could witness this historical event.

becky morgan
I was an 11 year old primary school kid in Cirencester, when we went to see the shuttle at Fairford. I have since told friends about this and they havent believed me that the shuttle was there! Very memorable for all us school kids in the area.

I remember it well, even though I was only 9. I was on my play time at Kings Road primary school Manchester, when it flew over. It was an amazing sight!

my sci teacher toled me all about it.her story was very funny

I remember being in class at Moseley School in Cheadle Hulme, Manchester. Someone shouted "There's the space shuttle!!" we ran to the window and sure enough the Shuttle was piggybacked onto a 747.An amazing site for sureDid it land at Manchester airport? My school was only 2 miles from there and seemed to be heading in that direction

A Cheltonian
I think I just saw it go over Cheltenham (Tues 6th Nov. 8.15pm) about 10 minutes ago at pretty high altitude! not joking!! I came to the BBC website, to do a search for when it might be landing, just to check if it WAS the shuttle I saw. Sure enough it is scheduled to come home Tues 6th/Wed!

phil butterworth
i dont remember it coming in to fairford but does anyone remember it calling in at stanstead to go on show to the public for a few days raymond baxter was the commentator if i remember right i travelled down from blackpool overnight to see it arrive and it was well worth the journey

My friend Helen and I took the day off school(Higworth Comp)to go and see this magnificent sight

Paul Healy
I was 9 years old at the time. And remember getting up early and travelling to london. It was in the news that the shuttle was due to do a fly past along the river thames. On its was to a landing in england as part of a european tour We waited by cleopatras needle for hours, then in the grey distant sky,to our left she appeared on the back of a specially modified 747. It flew slow and low specially for the gathered crowdes. One thing we forgot to take was a camera. I still cant find any photos of it over london on the www. What a good photo to see if only someone had one. Still what a great memory to have anyway.

I was indoors at the time it flew over Stanmore. My wife called me and I was just in time to see it as it vanished into cloud.

Duncan Long
I remember the shuttle very well! I was 14 and my parents allowed me to have a day off school for the occaison;I was amazed by the shuttles size relative to the 747 carrier plane.In the mid 70's I had been taken to see one of the prototype concordes in its hangar at Fairford and this completed a memorable double!

anthony pugh
i will never forget seeing the shuttle on top of the plane flying along the thames at battersea

You are in: Gloucestershire > Features > The day the Space Shuttle landed in Gloucestershire

sunny Today's forecast
min 9°C
max 16°C
For other UK weather forecasts enter a town or postcode
National Forecast

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy