The Stratosphere Chamber was designed under the direction of Barnes Wallis in 1946. 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 Acoustic Building site and ‘launched’ on to its present foundations in September 1947.
Its purpose was to test aircraft components under environmental conditions prevailing at 70,000 feet altitude; the height at which Wallis’s planned 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.
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 Stratosphere 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, electrical equipment and diesel-driven
The Balloon Hangar with its supersonic wind tunnel was added in 1958. These buildings now feature displays of pioneer aeroplanes and aero engines.