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HER Number:MDV78361
Name:Machine Gun Test Building, Exeter Airfield


Building which housed World War II aircraft machine gun test butts. Now used as a hangar.


Grid Reference:SY 002 939
Map Sheet:SY09SW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishClyst Honiton
DistrictEast Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishCLYST HONITON

Protected Status

  • SHINE: Military structures; earthworks and archaeological remains of World War II, RAF Exeter and post medieval catchmeadows and orchard banks on footprint of modern Exeter Airport and to the east

Other References/Statuses

  • SHINE Candidate (Yes)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • FIRING RANGE (World War II - 1939 AD to 1945 AD (Between))

Full description

Francis, P., 1999, Exeter Airport. Historic Airport Survey for Devon County Council & East Devon District Council, 98 (Report - non-specific). SDV323390.

Forty foot Machine-gun Test Butts 4982/38, 3884/40 and 16462/41.
This machine-gun test butt was designed to test a fighter aircraft's wing-mounted machine-guns. When in use, and aircraft is tethered to a concrete bed running along the ends and down the centre of a tarmac apron located 50 feet from the open area of the test butt. The aircraft can then empty its guns into a large sand-filled area. At the rear of the sandpit is a 40 foot wide, 1 inch thick mild steel plate set at an angle and supported by framing.
The sidewalls of the test butt are constructed of 18 inch solid brick, while the rear wall is 22.5 inches thick. External buttresses of the same thickness as the walls achieve additional wall strength. The slightly sloping flat roof is constructed of steel lattice girders and rolled steel rakers supporting corrugated asbestos sheeting. One side wiall has a small external store. There is a steel door located on the rear wall and another on each side wall. These are for emptying the ballast that fills a void between the steel plate and the rear brick wall. The floor area of the sandpit inside the test butt is raked.
From June 1940, the building was used as described, but with the introduction of cannon guns being fitted in lieu of machine guns as the main armament for fighter aircraft it became necessary to carry out certain modifications to the test butt. The steel plate and its framework was removed, as was the raked floor, and 13 feet high (9 inch brick) walls were built inside at the rear, creating seven bunkers The first 6 feet was hidden by an earth embankment and the exposed 7 foot high bunkers were filled with gravel. The steel doors on the side and rear walls were removed and the openings bricked up.
In more recent times the building has been converted into a hangar, and now features sliding doors on the front elevation.
In fair condition. Other details: Site 151; Map 10.

Ordnance Survey, 2010, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV344030.

Pillbox Study Group, 2012-2020, WWII Defence Sites, e11092 (Un-published). SDV357880.

Gun Testing Butts. Used to test fixed aircraft machine guns.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV323390Report - non-specific: Francis, P.. 1999. Exeter Airport. Historic Airport Survey for Devon County Council & East Devon District Council. Airfield Research Publishing Report. Digital + A4. 98.
SDV344030Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2010. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #105238 ]
SDV357880Un-published: Pillbox Study Group. 2012-2020. WWII Defence Sites. Digital. e11092.

Associated Monuments

MDV48842Part of: Exeter Airfield (Military) (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV4774 - Historic Airport Survey, Exeter Airport

Date Last Edited:Jun 16 2021 1:35PM