Richard wants your views on plans to recreate Black Arrow on the Wight

Autumn 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Arrow Rocket being assembled and engines test-fired on the Isle of Wight. A designer from Binstead has come up with a fantastic way to celebrate the Island’s space legacy.

Black Arrow OnTheWight

Binstead designer, Richard Curtis, has a plan. It’s a plan he’d like your opinion on.

He’s submitted a proposal to the National Trust to build a full scale replica of the Black Arrow Rocket at its original testing site at High Down, the Needles.

Richard, who works mainly in the construction industry, admits to being “a bit of a space enthusiast” and he feels his plan for the full-scale replica would be a great way to celebrate and remember the Island’s space legacy.

Being reviewed by the National Trust
The proposal is currently under review by the National Trust, is keen to get some feedback from OnTheWight readers as part of the his process.

He’s created a Facebook page (Black Arrow on the Wight) for you to visit and show your support.

Funding opportunities
Richard estimates the cost of the project to be around £75,000 with the possibility of funding from various sources, corporate sponsorship, partnerships with a main contractor or possibly lottery funding support.

He believes the project could also help boost funding for the site through the sale of merchandise, which he says would both help to maintain the exhibit and as well
go towards improving facilities at the site.

Share your views
Richard has kindly shared the detail of his proposal below. See what you think and let Richard have your feedback.

To stay up to date with the proposal, check Richard’s Facebook page Black Arrow on the Wight

Black Arrow on the Wight: The Main Proposal
The proposal is to build a full size replica of the Black Arrow Rocket at the Gantry No1 site, at the former rocket testing facility at High Down on the Isle of Wight. The replica would be a simplified model of the original rocket made from light weight but durable materials to ensure that it has minimum impact on the existing original structure.

The model would be located in a modified replica of the Gantry structure used to house the rocket for testing. This would give visitors a sense of scale & of purpose of the original structures used to hold & test the rockets, as well as helping to protect the model of rocket from weathering.

The design avoids trying to create a verbatim replica of the original gantry structure, as these no longer exist. The original Gantries were clad in corrugated Aluminium which although functional may not be deemed that attractive by the public & would create a limited viewing location, so I have proposed using clear Perspex instead.

The main concrete structures at High Down appear to be in very good condition with no signs of “spalling” or material flaking due to internal reinforcement corrosion.

The good condition of the concrete infrastructure is supported by a fairly recent 2009 survey by English Heritage, on the behalf of the National Trust, which suggested the former gantry sites were good enough to be used for future Rocket testing, although this may prove difficult now due to the sites current popularity with the general public.

These structures seemed to be built to last, designed to withstand the weight & force of a fully fuelled rocket undergoing engine firing, as well as any potential weathering from the coastal location, a testament to the builders & Engineers of the day.

The existing fixing plates combined with modern fixing technologies, such a resin fixed connectors, could be used to support & hold a lighter replica rocket & gantry structure, without compromising the integrity of the remaining original structure.

Most of the structure could be fabricated offsite, with on-site construction causing minimum disruption to visitors, construction could take place outside of visiting hours.
Their may also be the potential for assistance with infrastructure renewal at High Down, from the newly formed Island Road Company who have expressed their desire to support Island based projects.

This could take the form of hand rail replacement or paving repair etc at the site, to compliment the Black Arrow exhibit.

Boosting the Local Economy
The Isle of Wight has been recognised as an area of relatively high levels of unemployment for the South of England, particularly in these difficult times. Their are several companies on the Island who have the capability to fabricate the replica rocket model & gantry structure, who could benefit from the work this project generates.

Project Legacy
The National Trust have expressed their hope for developing an improved visitor centre at the High Down site in the future, this project could act as a significant gateway & catalyst towards making that a reality, through demonstrating the sites potential & the media coverage this project would generate.

Autumn 2015 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Black Arrow Rocket being assembled & the engines being test-fired on the Island.

This would give a window of around 12 months to initiate & complete the project, which should be achievable, as its a relatively simple structure.

The construction of a full scale replica rocket at this location, where the Black Arrow & other British rockets were tested, would be a fitting celebration of Britain’s Space history, as well helping to inspire future generations of rocket scientists.

The High down testing facility is an important part of Britain’s technological history, probably the closest Britain has to the Kennedy space centre.

The site is well attended & I feel this proposal would be extremely popular with the visiting public, as it would help to give a real sense of scale to the rockets tested at high down & work undertaken their as part of the UK’s space program.

Thursday, 4th September, 2014 9:28am



Filed under: Alum Bay, Island-wide, Isle of Wight News, Top story, Tourism, West Wight

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32 Comments on "Richard wants your views on plans to recreate Black Arrow on the Wight"

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victor meldrew
The idea is certainly worth following up. Currently the area is very popular with visitors and walkers and I’m constantly amazed at how far some of these visitors come and their eagerness to discover more about the history of the site. It could benefit from this “makeover” and rather than harm the environment I think it would help protect it. It has pretty good access from Needles… Read more »

That is exactly what is needed for the Rocket site. It would also recognise the contribution Saunders-Roe; a relatively small company and its staff made to the early days of British space Flight. Until the Politicia of the day ‘pulled the plug’!


I like the idea but worry it could be used as a precedent for on-shore windmills on Tennyson Down and surrounds.


You’re probably right, Cicero. It would no doubt be cited as something we had already conceded to be acceptable on ‘protected’ land.


It is an important heritage site and should be developed.Well done Richard, your ideas should be supported.

Robert Jones

My first reaction is no – and that’s probably my second and third reaction as well. We have the existing infrastructure, it represents what happened on the site, and frankly anything more would be over the top and intrusive.


I think its a great idea as long as it remains sympathetic to this historic site. Good on you Richard, I hope your idea can be realised.


What, you c a n ‘ t be serious!

Neither the giant… thing, nor the box it’s supposed to be put in, are even intended to be faithful copies of the original?!

So, that’s £75.000.00 for a giant plastic dildo then!

Surrounded by stalls offering ‘Black Knights’ to take home. And battery powered ones too, eh?

hehe, what a joke…

Mark Francis

I wouldn’t mind the model ones, they would be quite cool & we do have quite a few Victoria obelisks that blend in with the landscape a little more easily.
I appreciate the touch of obscenity here. I keep encouraging my son to swear, but he won’t do it & that’s the question here about the Black Arrow.
It is big- but is it clever?

Rupert Besley
I’m sorry, but you have been good enough to invite opinion and I’m afraid my reaction is that this is an eyesore. No disrespect intended towards the fine folk who did such commendable work on developing the rocket, all of which deserves commemoration. Like Robert Jones, I take one look at the image and just think ‘no’. It’s a gut reaction and not one that really stands… Read more »

How about 4 x 360 ft replica Chain Home radar masts on St. Boniface Down?


Mmm! I had thought the pro-windmill folks might like this idea- obviously not! :-))

I too think it’s a no-no, agreeing with each here who opposes it. An additional reason: “The National Trust have expressed their hope for developing an improved visitor centre at the High Down site in the future. This project could act as a significant gateway & catalyst towards making that a reality”. Ah yes, thin end of the wedge then, a chance for the NT to sell… Read more »
Rich Curtis
Hi all, Many thanks for all your thoughts which are by and large very positive, these renders are very preliminary & i’m currently producing more detailed designs for the gantry structure which more closely match the original. This would tie in more with the design drawings kept at the High Down site. The original gantries managed to stay vertical for around 20 years so hopefully the replica… Read more »

“By and large positive”?! Have you been looking on a different page? Or just hadn’t factored in that a publicity attempt might not have gone as planned …

count them

as far as I can make out, there are 4 people with positive comments and 4 people with negative comments above.
plus of course the positive comments on facebook.

perhaps you should learn to count?

Robert Jones

I’m positively against it, if that’s what you mean…..


Positive……I don’t think so !

One has to think about what would it be like up there if the testing had ‘taken off’ and it was still going on now,there was the possibility the site could have been turned into a space rocket launch site,the idea was being looked into.The RAF sent a four man team,complete with Land Rover and small caravan,to spend a week measuring the downs for a suitable aircraft… Read more »

That’s interesting OHMY. We would have had our work cut out to oppose a fully fledged rocket launch site. A few placards and a bit of face painting might not have cut it.

Steephill Jack

There is no need to build a full-size replica with all the complications of securing and staffing it, plus the eye-sore that would upset some visitors. The National Trust already has staffed facilities at the Needles Battery so an exhibition there using all the current electronic ‘virtual’ media would be the best solution funded by the agencies already mentioned.

Absolutely, Steephill Jack. “A full size replica” turns into “a simplified model.. located in a modified replica of the Gantry structure.. [because a true copy] may not be deemed that attractive by the public & would create a limited viewing location …” Not a ‘replica’ at all then. But a bit of a toy that it’s hoped might please a maximised number of NT visitors, and which… Read more »
What an excellent way to celebrate the Isle of Wight contribution to advances in science and the islands relationship to exploration of space. Then I stopped and paused for a minute to review what was being celebrated here. A number of comments indicate that in fact it was Saunders Row and later Westlands (post the merge) that build and designed the rockets. The Saunders Row site marked… Read more »
So back to my suggestion of 4x360ft replica radar masts (with wires strung between them) on St. Boniface Down. Rather than celebrating mass destruction by missiles, they would celebrate the vital role tha radar station played in defending Britan in WW2. [The bunker could be re-opened and maybe turned into a boutique hotel by the Hambrough Group? :-))] On the other hand- why not scrap both ideas… Read more »
Steephill Jack

Military history makes up so much of human history, unfortunately. It all has to do with Human Nature.

The fact that the Island played a large part in advancing rocketry is surely a big positive. As is the fact that the infrastructure is still accessible AND the National Trust would be boosting the popularity of a sadly much ignored site. These rocket (engines) did a lot more than just deliver explosives, they helped with satellite launches and taught many students about space travel in general.… Read more »

@davimel So did the development of radar. Fancy flying or sailing anywhere today if radar had not been developed?

What about radio? Should we not also have Visitor Centre to celebrate Marconi?

Rupert Besley
Just to expand, briefly, on my previous point (and at risk of sounding pretentiously arty-farty), the view here is all about restful horizontals. The fake rocket sticks up like a sore thumb; it brings a disturbing element (all about firing and din) to otherwise pleasing scenery. The replica is phoney, being a cleaned up version of the original contraption, which was ugly beyond words. I would no… Read more »
Mark Francis
I don’t really see the objection. The structure will be relatively small, and set on the south side of the hill. It won’t be visible apart for quite close up. Bear in mind that with 100 feet is a large mast that sticks out a lot more than the proposed structure, and which nobody really notices. Coupled with that, there is the Battery, and quite a number… Read more »
Mark Francis

The weird thing is that the original did not have Perspex sides but grey corrugated iron.