On the way to Langham fair, Ash our intrepid photographer took a different route and decided to cut across Langham Airfield. Now he knew of this airfield as he has an interest in anything to do with WWII. He even knew that the site was bought by Bernard Mathews in 1961, and that he had constructed a number of turkey sheds, using the old runways as flooring. However he did not know what the black dome was, but he took a couple of pictures anyway.
He tried to convince us all in the office that a meteorite had landed in Norfolk, and that the aliens were all having a beer down the local pub. But in reality he had no idea.
So we set him the task of finding out...
There is some information on a sign just inside the doorway we have has since found out, and having checked, most of this is accurate.
The "Dome Trainer" often referred to as the "astro building" is one of a number of domes build before and during the war years.
The exact usage of the structure is still a bit cloudy, some sources refer to it as a gunner trainer and some as a navigation trainer, and despite contacting a number of people about this, we have no clear conclusion. So if you have any personal knowledge we would love to know, and so would some historians. It would appear that the structure is quite rare, but there is another example at RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire, but its concrete and not black. There is an almost identical dome at a base in Limavady airfield in Aghanloo Ireland, and I have heard a wisper of a surviving dome at Pembrey Airfield in Wales, however I have not seen it or any pictures.
Some say they were used to train gunners to shoot down enemy aircraft. It would appear that a gunner was placed in the middle on some sort of gun turret emulator, and images of moving aircraft were projected on the roof of the dome. The idea being to train the gunner in tracking and firing. Others insist it was a miniature planetarium used to train navigators in stellar cartography.
The dome currently enjoys the status of a "scheduled ancient monument" as granted by the department of the environment in 1986, but this does not seem to have helped it much. Its getting a bit run down and is leaking, and really needs someone in its corner, trouble is it hasn't got any corners.
After publishing this page our request for personal knowledge was answered by a Mr Malcolm Howrad, who was an NCO I/C of the RAF D/F station based just off Langham airfield the other side of Cockthorpe. He was a frequent visitor to Langham Control Tower during 1952-3 and used to do some controlling there. He old us that the dome was in fact used for training air gunners. The gunner was seated in the center of the dome with controls in front of him. A movie projector showed film of aircraft flying and this was projected on and around the white painted ceiling of the concrete dome. The object of the training was for the gunner to use his control to aim on the picture of the moving aircraft being projected.
... So the mystery is solved.