ONE of the world’s most advanced weather radar research facilities, which is based in Chilbolton, celebrated its 50th anniversary last week.

Since opening on April 14 1967, the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Chilbolton Observatory has been utilising state-of-the-art instrumentation to make observations of weather and space.

These observations continue to enable world leading research into meteorology, radio communications and astronomy.

Station manager at the Chilbolton Observatory, Darcy Ladd, who has worked at the observatory for the past 23 years, said: “All of the people who work here, including me, are really proud of the contributions the Observatory has made to science and engineering.

“We look forward to supporting more research for years to come.

“I would also like to thank the people of Chilbolton and Wherwell for their continuing support and making us feel welcome in the local community.”

The site was an RAF airfield during World War Two that was adapted for the US Airforce and their heavy bombers.

After the war, the airfield was used by local aviation companies for aircraft testing and saw some of the UK’s earliest supersonic flights.

It was decommissioned in 1963 and construction of the Chilbolton Observatory began in 1964.

At the heart of the site, which is run by STFC’s RAL Space, lies a landmark, the fully steerable 25 metre antenna, known colloquially as ‘the dish’.

Its great size makes it sensitive enough to pick up the faintest of signals emitted from radio stars in space, but also as a radar to detect satellites in Earth orbit several thousand kilometre above, or rain and cloud several hundred kilometres away.

Since its inception the dish has proved to be a continually adapted tool to provide key data for researchers around the world.

Robin Watson was a member of AEI’s Apprentice Training School at Trafford Park and spent three months helping to build the dish.

He said: “I remember that the construction process didn’t go completely smoothly.

"The 400-tonne dish was designed to pivot vertically so that it could point in any direction from straight upwards to directly at the horizon.

“The weight of the dish had to be counterbalanced so that it would move smoothly, and they mixed up a steel and concrete ballast to do the job.

“However, they didn’t get the calculations for the mix quite right – the dish would move downwards all right, but couldn’t be persuaded to go back up again.

“I recently visited Chilbolton again and the staff were kind enough to show me round the site.”