1902 - 1919 Aviation
arrives in the Isle of Man
In 1902 the first aerial
vehicle was to be seen in the Isle of Man when a Royal Navy gas balloon
measuring 60 ft high by 45 ft diameter, was flown from Peveril Square in
Douglas for a free flight ending in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. The following
year, on December 17th 1903, Orville Wright conducted the first ever flight
by a powered aircraft at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.
There was to be no further
aerial activity in the Isle of Man until July 1911 when a temporary aerodrome
was established in Nobles Park, Douglas for demonstration flying
by two early flying machines, a Farman and a Bleriot, the aircraft having
been shipped to the island by the IOM Steam Packet. In the event
only the Farman actually took to the air, as the Bleriot had been damaged
in transit. In August 1912 the Nobles Park aerodrome was activated
again when Gustave Hamel conducted demonstration flights in a Morane Saulnier,
including the island's first 'Air Mail' flight, from Douglas to Peel!
In August 1914 an aerodrome
was established on Queen's Promenade, Douglas, with a Bleriot monoplane
using the beach for takeoff and landing and an Avro 504 float plane operating
from the water, being hauled up on to the promenade at the end of the day.
Both these aircraft gave pleasure flights to the public which proved a
great success. As with the previous visiting aircraft, they arrived to
and departed from the island courtesy of the isle of Man Steam Packet.
During World War One, great strides were taken in the development of aircraft
and the first flight 'across the water' were made to the island, by Short
184 seaplanes operated by the Royal Navy. They operated from Lake Windermere
in Cumbria and carried mail whilst also looking out for German U-Boat activity
in the Irish Sea. After the war the first flight to the island by a Manxman
was carried out by Captain Elgie Jefferson who flew a Bristol Fighter from
Hooton Park in Cheshire, landing at Great Meadow near Castletown in January
1919 before continuing the next day to Stranraer, Scotland.
In the Spring of 1919
the Queen's Promenade aerodrome was active again for pleasure flying with
Avro 504s and in July of that year Captain Howard Pixton made what is regarded
as the first commercial flight to the island. Using an Avro 504 float plane
he flew copies of the 'Daily News' from Windermere for sale to holidaymakers.
Flights continued for two weeks and passengers could be carried for the
price of 10 guineas. The following year there was more pleasure flying
from Douglas beach but after objections and a petition signed by 20 people,
permission was withdrawn and there was to be no more flying from the island
until 1925 during the TT races when a de-Havilland DH9 flew copies of the
'Motorcycle News' over, landing on Douglas Head. This became a regular
event over the next few years.
Avro 504 Float-plane
Royal Navy Short
1928 - First flights at Ronaldsway
The first use of Ronaldsway
as an aerodrome occurred on June 5th 1928 when Captain Olley, flying an
Imperial Airways Handley Page HP27 Hampstead, G-EBLE, landed in a large
field on Ronaldsway farm bringing in the 'The Motorcycle' for TT visitors.
The Hampstead was a large three motor biplane and after delivering the
papers, was made available for pleasure flying from Ronaldsway. The aircraft
had a wingspan of 75 ft and at 60 ft in length could carry up to 14 passengers
in its cabin. As was usual in those days, the pilot and mechanic sat outside
and braved the elements! During TT the following year Ronaldsway was used
again for both 'The Motorcycle' and also the 'Daily Mail' during the TT
race period, the latter being flown in by a DH61 Giant Moth. The Summer
of 1929 also saw the arrival of Sir Alan Cobham who was touring Great Britain
to promote aviation. He arrived at Ronaldsway in DH61 Giant Moth G-AAEV
'Youth of Britain' on August 2nd from Blackpool, and carried out a series
of demonstration flights, mainly to young people from the island. He also
encouraged the establishment of a permanent aerodrome for the Isle of Man.
In April 1933 two famous aviators visited Ronaldsway, Amy Johnson, flying
DH60G Moth G-ABVW 'Jason 4' and her husband Jim Mollison, flying DH80A
Puss Moth G-ACAB 'Desert Cloud'.
Avro 504s on Queen's
Promenade in 1919
1933 - Regular air Services to
the Isle of Man
In March 1933 Blackpool
and West Coast Air services was established with a main base at Blackpool
Aerodrome and operated charter services to Ronaldsway using a DH83 Fox
Moth. By August they were operating scheduled services with one daily flight
from Liverpool and two from Blackpool using a twin engine de-Havilland
DH84 Dragon G-ACGU. These services stopped for the winter in September
but in 1934 four other companies were operating to Ronaldsway, Midland
& Scottish Air Ferries, Hillman Airways, Northern Airways and Railway
Air Services. Towards the end of 1934 Captain Olley of Olley Air Services
acquired Blackpool & West Coast with Captain Higgins as chief pilot
and secured the landing rights at Ronaldsway, a temporary aerodrome license
was issued to Ronaldsway at the start of 1934 pending improvements to the
airfield and facilities.
A hanger capable of
housing a DH Dragon was erected together with a wooden traffic office,
the hanger not lasting long, being blown down in February and subsequently
replaced by a larger structure in March. A holding company, Isle of Man
Air Services was created to run the aerodrome and other airlines had to
pay to use the facilities. Blackpool & West Coast now had four Dragons
in service: G-ACGU, G-ACNA, G-ACPY and G-ADCR. In 1936 the airline introduce
four engined de-Havilland DH86 'Express' airliners and with the Irish Airline,
Aer Lingus Teoranta starting services from Dublin, Ronaldsway was becoming
a hub for routes across the Irish Sea.
Handley Page HP27
Giant Moth G-AAEV
Ronaldsway in the
1930s courtesy of the Terry Farragher Collection
Isle of Man (Ronaldsway)
From 1938 Newnes
Enlargement of the
aerial photo of Ronaldsway
from Newnes 1938
Blackpool & West
Coast DH84 Dragon G-ACPY
refuelled by Shell
Railway Air Services
DH89 Dragon Rapide
G-AEBX 'Star of Scotia'
Hall Caine Airport, Ramsey
In 1934 a rival to Ronaldsway
was established at Close Lake, just to the west of Ramsey on the St Jude's
road, named after the famous Manx author Sir Hall Caine. Services commenced
in April 1935 operated by United Airways using three engined Spartan Cruiser
monoplanes. One service per day operated Blackpool - Hall Caine - Carlisle
and return and three others Liverpool - Blackpool - Hall Caine and return.
From May 1935 Northern & Scottish commenced a weekly service from Glasgow
building up rapidly until it became twice daily by July. A series of airline
amalgamations took place by the end of the year resulting in a new company,
British Airways Ltd being formed. In the summer of 1936, Northern &
Scottish (operating on behalf of British Airways) were operating Glasgow
services twice a day, Liverpool and Blackpool twice or three times a day
and once a day to Belfast and Carlisle. Aircraft used were Spartan Cruisers,
Dragons and Dragon Rapides, with occasional visits by an Armstrong Whitworth
Argosy which could carry up to 28 passengers. Both passengers and mail
were handled and there is a mention in 'Manx Aviation in War & Peace'
that on the 12th September 1936, 28 flights were handled, carrying 69 passengers,
612 lb of Mail and 1,375 lb of baggage. Despite such a busy season in 1936,
airline operation had ceased by the following year, the last scheduled
flight leaving on the 2nd August 1937, the aerodrome remaining open for
private flying until the outbreak of war in September 1939. Although M/F
W/T radio was installed at Hall Caine for airline message handling, there
was never any ATC service offered.
DH86 Express G-ADVJ
DH89 Rapide G-AEAK
1938 Aerial view
Aerial view of Hall
Caine Airport in the 1930s
Hall Caine Aerodrome
Hall Caine Airport
with Spartan Cruisers and a DH Dragon
Google Earth image
of the area occupied
by Hall Caine Airport
Oblique Google Earth
view of the site occupied by Hall Caine
Airport, with Ramsey
Hall Caine in 2014
Some other airfields
with services to the Isle of Man
Diagrams from the 1938
Newnes Aeronautics Guide. Click for larger and use your browser 'Back'
button to return here.
Air Traffic Control
Further south, in the
London area, commercial air traffic was becoming much busier and it was
decided that something had to be done to improve safety when aircraft were
operating in conditions of poor visibility - Air Traffic Control was about
to start in Great Britain.
November 19th 1933
- First UK Air Traffic Control Service established at London Croydon
Due to the ever increasing
danger of aerial collisions in bad weather, the first UK Air Traffic Control
service was introduced at Croydon Airport, London. An irregularly shaped
'Controlled Zone' based on geographical features came into operation when
visibility dropped to below 1000 yards or cloud was below 1000 ft - in
the 'Q' code used for the W/T (morse) communications of the day this was
Standard routes were
also defined over south east England, mainly following railway lines and
using the 'right hand traffic' rules , i.e. every aircraft flew to the
right hand side of a line feature which would hopefully allow opposite
direction aircraft to pass well clear.
Click for map of
Croydon Controlled Zone and air routes
If 'QBI' was in force,
pilots had to obtain permission by wireless before entering the zone or
land clear at another airfield and wait for the weather to improve. Departing
aircraft captains would report in person to control for any departure restrictions
before taxiing to the departure point on the airfield and awaiting a light
signal from the 'lookout man' when cleared for take off by the controller.
Croydon ATC 1935
Croydon ATC 1937
After becoming airborne
the pilot or wireless operator would pay out the long trailing aerial required
for the Medium Frequency radios used and make contact with control, reporting
when level at his assigned altitude and when he estimated clear of the
controlled zone. Direction finding (D/F) bearings would be available to
assist navigation of both inbound and departing aircraft and control would
plot positions of aircraft based on D/F bearings from Croydon, Lympne and
Pulham. Each station would report a 'bearing line' on a transmission and
by plotting these on a map a position could be obtained for the aircraft.
The controller would mark aircraft positions on his map using coloured
flags and information on conflicting flights together with suggestions
on altitudes or routes to be flown would be transmitted to pilots.
'Communications Areas' were established over southern England within which
pilots could contact a control agency by radio and obtain information on
other aircraft together with advice on avoiding aerial collisions, e.g.
a change in altitude.
'Lookout Man' Croydon
8th July 1937, Air Traffic Control
Service Established at Ronaldsway - 'GJE' on 363Khz
Only three and a half
years after ATC started at Croydon Airport, Air Traffic Control was established
at Ronaldsway Airport. This was due to the large number of commercial flights
operating to the Isle of Man. Whereas in the UK, the preferred mode of
long distance travel for most was by the extensive railway network, travel
to the island involved a lengthy and often rough boat journey across the
Irish Sea. Air travel for those who could afford it was much faster and
Plotting D/F Bearings
- Croydon 1937
Radio Operator -
The first ATC Watch
Office at Ronaldsway. Located next to the airport terminal at Derbyhaven
with the direction finding station close by. The radio receiving aerials
were adjacent, but the 70' high transmitter aerials were further to the
west. Signals to aircraft and other ground stations would be passed on
colour coded message slips to the W/T operators in the room behind the
control office for transmitting by Morse Code. Replies would be similarly
passed on message slips.
Map of Internal Air
- 'Radio for Ronaldsway' 1937
From the Newnes 1938
Ronaldsway page, it would appear that signals giving permission to land
and take off were probably not used at Ronaldsway. In accordance
with the Air Navigation Order, it was up to pilots to ensure that they
formed a proper traffic circuit and landed or departed in turn, making
a left turn after landing as subsequent aircraft might be landing to their
right. If required, supplementary instructions could be given from
the ground by Aldis signalling lamp or a coloured very pistol signal. Initially
the colours used varied from location to location, but a standard set of
signals was agreed and can still be used today, although from personal
experience very few pilots seem to look at the tower for such signals even
if they have a known radio failure!
The 1937 Ronaldsway
Mobile Marconi D/F
The Controlled Zone
A 'Controlled Zone'
was established on the 8th July 1937 comprising a circle 10 miles around
Ronaldsway to a height of 3000 ft. Control only came into action in 'QBI'
- i.e. poor weather conditions. The principle was one aircraft inside
the zone at a time, arriving and departing aircraft could be assigned levels
to fly and expected times to enter the zone. If QBI was not in force, aircraft
could arrive overhead the airfield to observe the ground signals square,
which would give them the information needed as to landing and circuit
direction. As the airfield was grass, with no delineated runways, the 'Landing
Tee' was pivoted to rotate with the wind and pilots would always land into
wind. In light winds the Tee would be fixed in one direction to avoid confusion
if it drifted around.. Pilots would join the visual circuit keeping a good
lookout for other aircraft and touch down once the landing area was clear
of other aircraft. Unless otherwise instructed all turns were to be made
to the left.
Lamp - 2012
Demonstrating that some
things never change in ATC!
Although the zone was
'Controlled' in QBI conditions, this really only extended to regulating
aircraft entering and leaving the zone. Once cleared inside, it was up
to the pilot how he conducted his flight. D/F bearings would be passed
as requested and it was up the him to decide what headings to fly and what
was a safe height to descend to. In low cloud at Ronaldsway it would be
likely that a pilot would obtain bearings until he was indicated overhead
the D/F station and then set a course to let down over the sea until he
was visual with the surface, obtaining regular bearings and using time
to estimate his position. The controller or his assistant would stand outside
the watch office and listen for the aircraft engines and a message would
be passed to the pilot, e.g. 'engines east'. Once visual with the surface
further D/F bearings could be passed to 'home' the aircraft back towards
The Isle of Man and Manchester
A new 'Communications
Area' was established over the northern Irish Sea, jointly administered
by Ronaldsway and Manchester Barton. A purpose designed brick control tower
had been built at Barton in 1933 and is still in use today. Positions of
aircraft would be plotted on a map based either on position reports from
the pilots or on ground based direction finding bearings. A frequency of
363 KHz was used (by both Ronaldsway and Barton), using W/T - wireless
telegraphy by means of Morse Code. (Speech Radio Telephony had been used
by aircraft previously, but was largely abandoned by this time due to congestion
on the very limited frequencies available). Radio equipped passenger aircraft
would carry a wireless operator as it would not have been practical for
the pilot to both fly the aeroplane and operate the radio. Direction finding
bearings were available to assist pilots in navigation, but this would
be a time consuming process as bearings were manually obtained at the ground
stations before being re-transmitted to the aircraft. To keep messages
short, the 'Q' code was used, most regular phrases needed being covered
by a three letter code starting with the letter Q. More information on
the 'Q' code below.
Signals Square at
Signals Square at
Ronaldsway - 1950s
& Controlled Zones
The Isle of Man &
As the controllers had
no authority to issue compulsory instructions within the area, information
on conflicting known flights would be passed together with 'suggestions'
as to how the conflict could be resolved. Most pilots, if flying 'blind'
in cloud would have been only too pleased to accept the suggestions!
The controllers didn't
communicate directly with aircraft, messages from pilots were received
by radio operators and transcribed onto paper message slips, colour coded
according to the message type, before being passed to the controller. After
considering his actions, the controller would write his reply onto another
message slip and pass it to the radio operator for transmission to the
Adcock Direction Finding Station
at Red Gap, Castletown
A second direction finding
station was established in the late 1930s to the west of Ronaldsway, using
the 'Adcock' system which gave more accurate bearings during the hours
of darkness. This needed to be located away from the airfield due to the
four 100 ft high radio masts needed. These were arranged in a square with
a quite large building in the centre, housing the wireless equipment and
plotting table. This building still exists in 2012.
1930s Control Tower in 2013
Liverpool Speke Airport
1930s Control Tower in 2009
Site of the the Adcock
D/F Station - 2009
D/F Operators Building
'Flight' Diagram of working
a Controlled Zone in QBI
(Click either image
below for full diagram)
Finding station at Pulham
A typical flight to Ronaldsway
in QBI conditions
Some sets of message
slips have survived from the 1930s and we can follow the flight of Dragon
Rapide G-AFFF from
Glasgow Renfrew to Ronaldsway
on the 14th June 1939.
ATC Watch Log
entry for 14 June 1939
showing 'QBI' in
The weather was poor
at Ronaldsway so the Controlled Zone was in operation (QBI). Each slip
represents a message sent using Morse Code between the aircraft and a ground
station. Extensive use was made of the 'Q Code' to shorten transmissions.
There were 33 messages in total to get one aircraft into land! The 'ATC
Diary' entry for the day indicates that QBI had been in force from 07:55.
If I've worked this out correctly. pink slips are for arrival and departure
messages, white slips for 'general' messages from and to the W/T station
and green slips are for Air Traffic Control messages.
Controlled Zone around
'Q' codes used and instructions
ATC & M/F D/F
message slips for just one aircraft to enter the Controlled Zone and be
'homed' into Ronaldsway
this period ATC was becoming
overloaded with traffic and it was suggested that medium frequency radio
'beacons' were set up to allow suitably equipped aircraft to obtain their
own bearings to stations using on board direction finding equipment. The
equipment was bulky which meant that it was only really practical in the
airliners of the day. At Croydon Airport a 'Lorenz' radio beam system was
installed in 1936 to enable aircraft to approach the airport in poor visibility
and descend on a safe path until the airfield appeared ahead (hopefully!)
The 'beam' could be followed either aurally (through the pilots headphones
or by using a special instrument. This was the for-runner of today's Instrument
landing Systems. (ILS)
Codes and SIgnals
Before the widespread
introduction of Radio Telephony (R/T) i.e. speech transmissions, which
started for RAF fighter aircraft in the 1940s and only became prevalent
for civil aircraft with the introduction of VHF radios in the 1950s, methods
were devised for signalling between aircraft, ships and ground stations.
Many used ground markings, flags, light and pyrotechnic signals and an
international 'Code of Signals' was devised and published under the Air
Convention of 1919. The book illustrated on the left was issued by
the UK Air Ministry in 1940 and consists of 156 pages illustrating these
various codes and signals. In addition, a system of three letter
codes that could easily be transmitted using Morse Code on Wireless Telegraphy
(W/T) was introduced from 1913 onwards, initially for ships but expanded
for aviation use in the years following WW1 when radio equipment became
more commonly fitted to aircraft. The second volume illustrated is
a much more modern version issued by the International Civil Aviation Organisation
(ICAO), this one being the fourth edition published in 1989.
from 1935 showing the principle of the Lorenz system
Advert for a Lorenz
receiver and indicator, made by Smith's
Light and Ground
Some of the light signals
and ground information signals persist in use today, the two illustrations
a 2010 'AFE Flight Guide'
illustrate some of them.
Air Ministry 1940
& Codes 1989
Sample 'Q' Codes
The Same 'Q' Code could
be used as either a question or an answer and a selection of codes are
shown below. I have paraphrased some for the sake of brevity, many
'Q' codes contain multiple options.
There are a total of
248 'Q' codes in the 1989 publication and any good pilot, radio operator
or Controller would be expected to know all of the relevant ones used in
everyday operations. The message slips shown above show that they
were used on the written messages between controller and radio operator
just as much as actually on the radio. Some of the codes are still
in daily use today as telephony abbreviations, such as QNH, QFE, QDM,
May I have clearance
You are cleared.....
What is your height
I am at altitude...
Are you going to land
I am going to land at...
What is the latest meteorological
Are you flying in Cloud?
I am flying in cloud
Is flight under IFR
(Instrument Flight Rules) compulsory?
Flight under IFR is
What is the magnetic
heading to steer to you?
The magnetic heading
to steer to me is...
What (pressure) should
I set on my altimeter to read height?
Set.... on your altimeter
to read height.
What is the runway in
The runway in use is...
What should I set on
my altimeter to read altitude?
Set.... on your altimeter
to read altitude.
Are you being interfered
I am being interfered
Who is calling me?
... is calling you.
Shall I change to another
Change to another frequency
(can be specified)
What is your position?
My position is...
Are you airborne?
I am airborne.
On the 1st September
1939 as Nazi Germany invaded Poland, an Air Ministry air traffic controller
arrived at Ronaldsway to assist in training the local staff in requirements
for wartime operation. Signals now needed to be encoded before sending
via radio and pilots needed to be issued with the 'colours of the day',
recognition Very lights to be fired if challenged by a fighter aircraft
or a ship. With war declared on 3rd September, civil air services were
cancelled and all aircraft ordered to the UK for possible impressment into
military service. However, the importance of the Isle of Man air route
was recognized and a limited service was re-instated from November 1939,
using Dragon Rapides. All flights had to be authorized in advance, but
there were often occasions when they were challenged by ships. Special
routes had to be followed into the Liverpool area to avoid the protecting
barrage balloons and anti-aircraft defences. The Rapides still had civil
registrations but were now painted in camouflage and had the passenger
windows blacked out. Photography was forbidden.
Some ATC Log Book
entries from September to December 1939 (click for larger)
Preserved DH89 Dragon
in wartime camouflage
RAF Jurby was concieved
under the 1930 expansion plan to provide training facilities to allow the
RAF to counteract the rapidly expanding Luftwaffe. It was designed
as an Armament Training Station to train gunners and bomb aimers, with
handy local bombing ranges being established just off Jurby Head and The
Ayres and also in Ramsey Bay. Construction started in late 1938 and
the grass airfield was ready for use by September 1939. More information
on RAF Jurby will be found in the 'ATC 1940s' section of this website.
2nd September 1939
20th November 1939
22 December 1939
in the 1940s
1940 'War Edition'
map of the Jurby area.
Map of the Isle of Man