MAEE research still of interest

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Robin-Bird-25.08.10-wTHE World War Two research conducted by the secret Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment based at Helensburgh and Rhu is soon to be featured in both a scientific paper in Australia and a new book.

The book by retired newspaper editor Robin Bird (pictured) from the Liverpool area will be his second about MAEE and is nearing completion. He has issued a final plea to any local people who can add to his knowledge to get in touch.

Robin, whose late father Bob served for a time as the official MAEE photographer at RAF Helensburgh, said: “While MAEE still remains as one of the best kept secrets of World War Two, its pioneering work continues to be recognised 70 years on.

“I have recently been contacted by Doug Morrison, who lives in Australia and is a geophysicist. He is compiling a science paper on magnetometer developments, both civilian and military — a highbrow subject involving ways of measuring the earth’s magnetism.

“He said that some interesting research was conducted in Britain during the war, and he wondered if MAEE had carried out anti-submarine airborne magnetometer trials.

“The answer is yes. MAEE at Helensburgh conducted trials into ‘MAD’, a magnetic airborne detector, which offered a way of detecting submarines and was being being developed in the USA at the same time.

“It employed a sensitive magnetometer to measure the distortion of the earth’s magnetic field caused by a nearby ferrous metallic subject, such as a submarine. MAEE conducted trials of retro bombs fired from a Catalina equipped with MAD.”

Robin was able to give Mr Morrison the dates of the tests, the aircraft used, and even the names of the aircrew and the scientists on board, including, to his surprise, his father. Later MAD was used to detect and help sink U-Boats.

“Another name I supplied turned out to be an eminent United States scientist in the post war years,” he added. “He must have been sent to Helensburgh from the States during the war to observe the top secret trials of MAD.”

maeeMAEE also worked closely with the Admiralty Hydro Ballistic Research Establishment in Glen Fruin, now unused but a category B listed building, which will also feature in the book.

“In an ideal world, AHBRE Glen Fruin should be restored as a working museum and tribute to the men and women of MAEE and those who worked at Glen Fruin after the war,” Robin said.

“Eddie Baird, of Glasgow, served at Glen Fruin during the war and supplied me with some fascinating facts about this unique facility, the largest indoor water testing tank in Europe and possibly the world.

“The nearby Fruin Water provided the tank with all its water needs, and anti-submarine bombs and rockets were tested. They were fired from a bomb launching carriage. Boffins observed the tests, which were filmed, and the weapons were honed and perfected, prior to operational use by Coastal Command.”

Robin added: “Eddie recalled that a rocket once smashed through the glass observation panel and passed over the heads of the spectators!”