A desolate facility under the noisy flight path in Heathrow is probably the closest most Urban Explorers will get to experiencing what it’s like to be a pilot.
Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK and in the top 10 busiest airports in the world. Given that fact, it comes as no surprise that various training sites wouldn’t be far away from the enormous airport.
British Airways opened one such facility in Cranebank, near Heathrow. During the course of its operation, it trained about 17,000 flight crew and 4,000 pilots, who would practice emergency scenarios; from pilots controlling a plane in multiple flight simulators, to flight attendants practicing how to evacuate planes in a smoke filled cabin. The site closed around 2015-2016 and a new facility nearby has taken over training ever since.
According to The Sun in January 2021, the site has now been sold to developers and they intend to convert it into an industrial site. With that information in mind, we had to see this place before it was demolished.
Starting the Explore
After a long drive and then some wading through the woods, we found the slim entrance into the grounds. We slipped through the gap and faced the facility. The sun setting behind us cast the slightly clouded sky a light pink as the vast building spanned before us.
It appeared apocalyptic.
According to other Urbexers, the site had faced rapid deterioration shortly after closing and that was very clear to see. The buildings had been battered by the years of British weather, ransacking intruders and general neglect. Emergency exit stairs were eroded and collapsing under their own weight. Boards covered several shattered windows while other windows dangerously dangled shards of glass from their frames. Other exposed metals appeared rusted and paint flaked away from the surfaces it clang to. It was everything you would expect to see when you first enter an abandoned site.
It was eerily beautiful.
We quickly crept from our slim entrance to the nearest door. We gave it a push, nothing. We followed the decrepit wall until we could find another opening into the training building itself.
The Offices & Service Room
We clambered inside and into a long dark corridor. We peered into the first rooms and were met with the sight of abandoned classrooms, offices and boardrooms. Vandals had clearly left their mark, ripping walls and ceilings apart to grab as much copper wiring as possible. Desks lay empty and boards used for sharing information now boar the marks of explorers who had visited before us.
We stumbled ahead into the beckoning halls and into a service room. This room was incredible as it was full of cockpit dials, switches, displays and even a full autopilot unit. The facility was designed for training pilots and simulating emergencies, but every piece of equipment the simulators used was real and it was all on display in this room. Scattered across desks, drawers and the floor was enough equipment to build an entire cockpit. Any tinkerer, souvenir hunter or aviation enthusiast would have loved this room just on its own.
We slowly made our way to the next floor up. The apocalyptic look is really profound here as the false roof had completely collapsed leaving only the frame. Grass was poking up through the sagging floor and moss clung onto all surfaces: chairs, tables, projectors, it didn’t matter, everything was covered in the moss and the collapsed the roof tiles, covering everything like a carpet.
We examined and photographed a few more rooms like this until suddenly: a noise. It was distant, but it was there. We all stopped and listened. Conversation. Were these guards or other explorers? We weren’t sure so listened even closer.
If these were guards, we were in big trouble, the guards here were not known to be lenient with explorers due to the location’s repeated ransacking. One explorer before us had spoken of guards bringing out dogs to chase explorers.
We stood still and waited with bated breath, for a minute: complete silence, until a couple of people rounded the corner, we all paused for a moment as we registered them.
Dark clothing, walking boots, cameras. Luckily, they were just other explorers, we all relaxed and stopped to have a chat. After an exchange of urbex information and what else was available to see across the site, we parted ways.
We continued through the offices and boardrooms to the end of the building, where the simulators were located. Surprisingly, the ground floor was completely flooded so we went to the first floor to continue through the building. The first simulator room was humongous, albeit flooded. Former explorers had taken pictures of the hydraulic-powered simulator in various states of dismantling and the photos showed how it took up a fair portion of the massive room.
In the middle of this room remains the anchor point for these simulators, huge bolts protrude out of the concrete floor and faint marks show where the advanced simulators would sit as the pilots inside them were put through simulated scenarios of their huge flying metallic beasts.
We explored several more of these simulator rooms, most others were thankfully completely dry, we also passed through a maintenance room, with the remains of a hydraulic generator, in order to explore another part of the site.
The explorers we bumped into earlier had come out another exit not far away and they kindly offered to show us the main attraction of the entire disused flight training centre.
They guided us around the site to one of the largest buildings of the site. They guided us to the open the entrance and ushered us into the gigantic building. We turned back to thank them one last time and parted ways. We turned into the building to face the colossal darkness in front of us. One of the team flicked their light on and shone it forward.
A huge cylindrical shape towering above us protruded out of the darkness. It’s paint was peeling, it was covered in bird muck and graffiti covered the side of the fuselage, the logo: ‘British Airways’ could be clearly seen though. It was a section of plane fuselage, specifically, a 747. We shone our lights around the cavernous warehouse, at least one other fuselage of a smaller plane was visible on our left.
We clambered up to the first smaller fuselage on our left and peered inside the simulated aircraft. The seriousness of the training that took place here was evident. Everything about this simulation was treated to be real as possible for any eventuality. Even in the cockpit, a large portion of the controls were nothing more than painted on dials and controls, but other controls, such as large toggles, switches and a large red button labelled: EVAC, equipment specifically aimed for evacuation, were all actual controls.
It then became apparent to us: each simulated aircraft was designed to test different emergencies and scenarios.
We excitedly made our way to the next fuselage, a section of one of the biggest airplanes of the sky: A 747. After going in, we bumped into yet more explorers but these explorers had something we had never seen before: they had brought their dogs: Ben and Sam, who, upon seeing me, decided they wanted to play fetch using a small section of seatbelt.
Once Ben and Sam were exhausted of playing and their owners decided it was time from them to go home, we had a good look around this simulated plane. Unlike the first one, this had class divisions. There was first class, there was business and there was economy.
The seat size difference between classes really annoyed me… I’ll never sit in economy without thinking of first class seats again. We went into the cockpit and messed around with the controls, we tried on the lifejackets, we played with the drop-masks. We really were like children in a playground. We went to the final fuselage, this one mainly compromising of just a few rows of the same kind of seats. A hook being wrapped around one of the chairs was the only thing that appeared to be slightly amiss with this plane.
Urban Exploration of the BA Training Centre
With a few last snaps and the sun having set, we wriggled out of the site and back into the woods. We reflected on the explore and everything we had seen.
Since the facility closed in the mid-2010s, its downfall into being constantly ransacked by vandals and beloved by explorers has been well documented by the latter. Photos from immediately after closure show a facility that hasn’t even had the dust settle yet, only a few wires had been torn out from immediately obvious spots. Simulators still stood proud and the facility was largely untouched.
Just over a year ago, articles show the location’s decrepit state was much more advanced, so much so that it was reported by two major newspapers in the UK. Much more ransacking had taken place with windows smashed, walls having giant gashes from where wires had been forcibly ripped out and the simulators were partially dismantled/ ransacked.
Come to our explore, the hydraulic simulators, which had been a major attraction of explorers to visit, were completely gone with one simulator facility flooded. Grass was growing through the floor and the aircraft fuselages, although still in good shape, are starting to show advanced signs of wear. The site being sold off to make way for another industrial site is a loss but not unexpected at all. It may be due to this new ownership that the complete set of simulators within the facility vanished entirely. It may be that the site is being emptied to make way for either a complete re-development of the existing structures or clear them for total demolition.