The Stratosphere Chamber was designed under the direction of Barnes Wallis in 1946 to form a key part of the new Vickers-Armstrongs Research and Development Department under his direction.
Its purpose was to test aircraft components under the environmental conditions experienced at 70,000 feet; the height at which Wallis’s designs for new supersonic aeroplanes would fly. This meant the reproduction of temperatures as cold as anywhere on the earth’s surface and an air density one-twentieth of that at ground level.
Because some of the design problems were similar to those of submarines, it was manufactured in pieces at Vickers Shipbuilders of Barrow-in-Furness, transported by road to Weybridge and erected on what is now the Bus Museum site, before being ‘launched’ on to its present foundations in September 1947.
A large refrigeration plant supplied very cold methanol liquid to ‘coolers’ at the four corners of each of the air circulation ducts. One end of this complete structure, The Great Door, is carried on wheels and can be moved to one side to give access to the working section to carry out experiments.
The Chamber was in operation until 1980. Among the tests done in the Chamber was work on pressure cabins for the Viscount, Vanguard and VC10. Complete aeroplanes including the Scimitar and Sea Vixen were also tested there as were helicopters, naval guns, trawlers, buses and tanks.
The building also houses the Museum’s collection of aero engines, ranging from early air-cooled piston engines to advanced turbofan jet engines. Next to the Control Room the Brooklands Radio Display can be found - see http://www.brooklandswireless.com for more information.
The Stratosphere Chamber was reopened in 2014 after being restored thanks to a grant from the Association of Independent Museum’s Biffa Award Scheme under the National Heritage Landmarks Partnership Scheme (see http://www.biffa-award.org/).
See a film of the opening at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9QPkau0mLQ.