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K2 Test Stand, Former Royal Ordnance Establishment, Westcott, Aylesbury Vale

Description: K2 Test Stand, Former Royal Ordnance Establishment, Westcott

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 23 May 2013
Building ID: 1403971

OS Grid Reference: SP7046816943
OS Grid Coordinates: 470468, 216943
Latitude/Longitude: 51.8466, -0.9784

Locality: Aylesbury Vale
Local Authority: Aylesbury Vale District Council
County: Buckinghamshire
Postcode: HP18 0XB

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Listing Text


Test-stand for solid propellant rocket motors, designed in the late 1950s and completed by June 1960.

Reason for Listing

K2 test-stand at K site of the Westcott former Royal Ordnance Establishment, a horizontal test-stand for solid propellant rocket-motors, designed in the late 1950s and completed by June 1960, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: a nationally unique test stand for the testing of large solid fuel rocket motors which has contributed to significant UK defence systems and the space programme;
* Design and scale: the largest solid fuel test nationally which is impressive in its tri-partite and monumental scale; a striking design which while utterly modern has a principal arch that is strangely evocative of an ancient form;
* Intactness: an intact test stand of the late 1950s-early 1960s which continued in use until at least the mid-1990s: a testament to the success of its original design
* Technological interest: architecture which eloquently expresses the function of the structure; a pioneering test-stand which has tested components for many of the UK's solid propellant rockets/missiles and was therefore at the forefront of this technology nationally;
* Group value: with the K1 site and ancillary buildings which formed the K site, the most significant solids test-site at Westcott. Also group value with other test stands at Westcott (such as A-B site) which although for liquid propellant testing are part of the overall programme of seminal propellant research and development which took place at Westcott from the 1940s to the present day.


Westcott has been synonymous with rocket research and development since the mid 1940s. The Second World War saw this work take on a new urgency given Germany’s success in developing the devastating V1 and V2 rockets. After the cessation of hostilities, the importance of German rocket research was fully realised and incorporated into British programmes. The Guided Projectile Establishment opened at Westcott in 1946 and, until 1948, German scientists, classed as special internees, were relocated there to continue their research into liquid propellants alongside their British counterparts. Early research concentrated on liquid bipropellants for rocket engines (using liquid oxygen, hydrogen peroxide and nitric acid oxidisers) with solid propellant research beginning in 1949 (using solid fuels such as extruded cordite and plastic propellants).

In the early post-war years and renamed the Rocket Propulsion Department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Westcott continued research into liquid propellants alongside the Waltham Abbey experimental station. In the early 1950s all work connected with this programme was transferred to Westcott as the large remote site with its specialised and purpose-built facilities allowed rockets to be tested and fired, although not launched.

In the late 1950s the liquid propellant motor for the Blue Streak missile (the RZ2) was developed at Westcott and went on to be used in the Europa-1 space rocket launch vehicle. Naming most of their rocket motors after birds the scientists at Westcott developed many successful engines which were used variously in upper atmosphere research programmes (the Raven) and for the Black Knight research rocket testing re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere (the Cuckoo). Smaller missile programmes were designed and built in Westcott between the 1960s and 1980s including Blowpipe and Seawolf. Large missile programmes, such as Polaris in the 1960s and Chevaline in the early 1970s, were also developed there and are perhaps more widely known. In 1977 Westcott and the Waltham Abbey research station were merged to form the Propellants, Explosives and Rocket Motor Establishment.

Westcott remains at the forefront of liquid propellant rocket motor research and development with, for example, its LEROS liquid engine used in the Mars missions of the late 1990s.


The K test stands are the largest examples at Westcott. K2 was designed in the late 1950s and completed by June 1960. Although the numbering would suggest otherwise, it certainly predates its sister stand K1 as it is clearly shown on an aerial photograph of August 1961 at which time the construction of K1 had not yet begun. Plans and drawings in the Westcott archives indicate that K2 was designed by R H Ouzman, RIBA, in January 1958 with further components, such as the control room and details designed later, in May and June 1959. 'As built' amendments to a February 1959 drawing give us the date by which it must have been completed: June 1960. K2 was built for the test firing of solid propellant rocket motors in a horizontal position and is understood to have been operational much more frequently than K1 (which was designed for vertical test firing).

K2 contributed to many of Britain's rocket and guided missile programmes and continued in use until relatively recently (by Roxel UK). It has been suggested that K2 was large enough to test both the Skybolt (US) and Polaris (UK) missiles from 1960 and 1962 respectively. While the site was sized to accommodate Polaris stage 1 motors, i.e. up to a 54 inch diameter motor, neither were actually tested here but it was used for the Stonechat and Phoenix motors, the latter part of the Blue Water 2 missile programme. The Raven motor, one of the most successful products of the Westcott factory, was test-fired at K2 in the mid 1990s. This was used in the Skylark, a research sounding rocket, and has been used in support of Britain's upper atmosphere research programme and other international scientific programmes. Also components for the unsuccessful 1980s ALARM programme (an air-launched anti-radiation missile) were tested at K2 and blew up there.

Both K test-stands were operated from a control building (Building 397) to the south-west of K2 which was joined to the stands by raised cable conduits (now demolished). Between the control room and the K2 stand is a further building (Building 428) which probably functioned as an equipment store or workshop for the calibration of instruments for both stands.


MATERIALS: Reinforced concrete

PLAN: A tripartite test stand comprising a rectangular test bay to the south-west, and two blast walls to its north-east.

TEST STAND: K2 is located in the northern test area at Westcott at the western end of the former south-west to north-east runway (at SP 70470 16944) and approximately 45m north of the K1 test-stand.

K2 is a tripartite test stand for horizontal firing comprising a rectangular test bay to the south-west, a monumental arched blast wall, approximately 12 metres high and a further lower blast wall beyond to the north-east, all of reinforced concrete. The firing bay is a rectangular building with a flat roof, open-ended to the north-east where it faces its blast walls. It is identified by a painted 'K2' on it south elevation (in white on a black ground). The roof of this building is of metal rails, closely spaced and functioning as roof trusses. There are metal-framed apertures in the walls for camera observation points (to record the test) reached by external doors into three high-speed camera bays within the depth of the three walls. At the south-western end is a raised camera bay reached by an external staircase. Internally is a gantry for manoeuvring the rocket motor under test, a sprinkler system and also fixing points on the floor. There is a rectangular aperture or arch to the main blast wall to allow the plume from the test to project to the furthest blast wall. The main wall is battered and stepped in profile and has fixing bolts for steel plates to its south-west face. The plates were intended to lessen the effect of the hot efflux gases but it is understood that these were never fixed. Beyond, the lower angled blast wall, which is still monumental in form and scale, traces an arc to catch 'breakaways', i.e. any plume remnants.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.