In the past week, Travel Radar has explored the anniversary of a number of events in the development of commercial aviation; we looked at the Boeing’s 747 Jumbo-Jet, the 757, and the incomparable Concorde. But here’s something a little different; this year the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) of the UK celebrates the centenary of the world’s first air traffic control tower.
Due to the increase in the number of commercial flights from London-just ten or so daily– the Air Ministry of the UK commissioned the construction of a purpose-built air traffic control tower at the now-closed Croydon airport, on 25th February 1920.
Up to that point, there had been radio offices (and radio was still quite new at the time) and lighthouses as a navigation aid at airfields, but nothing purpose-built. Of course, there was no precedent for how to design or build the facility, so the Air Ministry specified a structure, really no more than a wooden hut, on stilts 15 feet high with a small balcony and large windows on all sides.
The staff at the ‘Aerodrome Control Tower’ were largely ex-military, and couldn’t do much more than give take-off clearance, confirm and plot positions of aircraft on paper, and send out basic information on traffic, weather and location information—but in a sense much the same kind of information available to pilots today.
From those humble beginnings, the NATS now has 1 700 air traffic controllers, handles up to 8 000 flights a day and is investing £1 billion in new equipment and modernising the airspace over the UK; so spare a thought for those keeping you safe in the air, and a hundred years ago, for the pioneers of today’s air traffic controllers.
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