75 Years of Air Traffic Control at Ronaldsway 1937 - 2012
The Isle of Man Airport
Ronaldsway - The Isle of Man Airport
 A brief illustrated history of the airport and its Air Traffic Control
 Ronaldsway has served as the airport for the Isle of Man since 1934 when a license was granted for public transport operations from a large field on Ronaldsway farm, in the south of the island. A rival northern airport was also established at Close Lake to the west of Ramsey. 
Named 'Hall Caine Airport' after the famous Manx novelist, it operated from 1933 until 1937. During WW2 Ronaldsway was
taken over first by the RAF and then the Royal Navy but continued operating (with both military and civil ATC) as the island's airport.
RAF Airfields were constructed at Jurby and Andreas in the north of the island.
Ronaldsway Airport - 1938
Ronaldsway Airport - Present Day
Aerial View of Ronaldsway Airport in 1938
During World War Two the UK Air Ministry requisitioned Ronaldsway and an RAF unit specializing in gunnery training arrived in July 1940, operating from the existing grass airfield and staying until early 1943 when a huge reconstruction and expansion of the airfield with four tarmac runways commenced for the Royal Navy, being completed in Spring 1944. 
RAF Ronaldsway 1942
HMS Urley, Ronaldsway 1945
Civil passenger air services from Ronaldsway continued (with some small interruptions), under civil ATC control throughout the war 
with scheduled services using a small fleet of DH Dragon Rapides flying to Liverpool and Belfast.
Jurby and Andreas Airfields
During WW2 Jurby and Andreas airfields were built for the RAF in the north of the island, Jurby was mainly used for bomber and gunnery training, Andreas being mainly a fighter and Search and Rescue airfield. Each had their own control towers and military ATC. A Sector Operations room was constructed at Ramsey for fighter control over the north Irish Sea fed by information from the Chain Home radar sites at Scarlett, Dalby and Bride and the Chain Home Low station at Cregneash.
Aeronautical Chart 1930s - 40s
Aeronautical Chart 1950s
Post WW2 Jurby continued in limited RAF use for a while and was then used as a diversion airfield for Ronaldsway when weather in the south made operations impossible. A civil Air Traffic Control team would be dispatched from Ronaldsway together with fire vehicles and ATC would operate from the former RAF control tower. The main runway at Jurby was lengthened across the Sandygate road to be able to accept Viscount turboprop airliners. Regular air shows were held here until 2004.
 Today, the only public airport for the Isle of Man is at Ronaldsway, although a limited amount of private flying uses the airfield at Andreas 
in the north of the island, mainly gliding and microlights with few private grass airstrips in use. 
Aviation activity at Jurby has to all intents and purposes ceased and the airfield is now mainly used for motor cycle racing activities.
Ronaldsway airport has been rebuilt over the years with runways widened and extended, plus new taxiways and buildings. 
Nowadays just two runways are used, giving four landing or take-off directions, the others have become taxiways. 
Air Traffic Control facilities have been regularly updated and at present we are in process of testing and evaluating a new combined Primary and Secondary Mode 'S'  'Multilateration' radar system before it commences operational use.
The Isle of Man Airport Official Website

 Ronaldsway Air Traffic Control
On July 8th 2012, Ronaldsway Air Traffic Control achieved 75 continuous years of service,
here's a quick potted history. For more details please see the ATC History pages.
The start of ATC operations at Ronaldsway 
was announced in this 'Flight' column from July 1937 
Air Traffic Control commenced operations at Ronaldsway  on July 8th 1937 when a medium frequency Direction Finding station was established together with a  
'Controlled Zone' of 10 miles around the airfield up to  
3000 ft and a 'Communications Area' covering the northern  part of the Irish Sea.
The Controlled Zone
The Controlled Zone only came into operation during periods of poor visibility or low cloud, when all aircraft required permission form ATC to enter the zone or depart from the airfield. Only one aircraft was allowed into the zone at a time, others being held outside or on the ground. In good weather conditions a pilot could fly overhead the airfield and observe the 'Signals Square' a defined area close to control where large ground signals were displayed to indicate the landing direction and any non-standard procedures in use. Pilots would usually fly a left hand circuit to the runway, giving way to any other aircraft ahead or below them and not land until they could see that the runway was clear or received a light signal from control. 
Radio communications between aircraft and ATC were generally by Morse Code via specialist radio operators in the aircraft and on the ground. The Air Traffic Controllers passed instructions written on paper message forms to the operators for transmission and received the replies back in the same format. An abbreviated code system know as the 'Q' code was used to keep messages shorter, most routine messages having a three letter code beginning with 'Q' assigned
The Communications Area
The Communications Area was jointly administered by Ronaldsway and Manchester (Barton first and then Ringway) and provided a service to participating radio equipped aircraft. Information on conflicting flights would be passed to pilots with suggestions as to heights or tracks to fly. The service was not compulsory and information could only be passed on known flights, it was up to pilots as to whether they acted on advice given.
This was the first such communications area not serving the London airports and shows the importance of the Irish Sea air Routes.
An Air Traffic Control service has been provided on a continuous basis since then, including the wartime years serving the civil air link between Liverpool, the Isle of Man and Belfast when most other civil control services were closed down, making Ronaldsway possibly the longest continuous serving ATC unit in the British Isles. 
VHF radio and D/F
Post WW2 VHF radio came into common use, enabling controllers and pilots to talk directly to each other without the intermediary of a Radio Operator and the Medium Frequency radio services were phased out. Cathode Ray VHF radio Direction Finders came into use, giving the controller an instant bearing on any aircraft transmission
The ATC Control Room in 1948
The ATC Control Room in the 1950s
Airways and Radar
In the early 1950s a major change was made to UK Air Traffic Control procedures with the introduction of the 'Airways' system with corridors of controlled airspace linking the major hubs where Control Zones and Control Areas surrounded the airports. Preston Centre controlled the airway 'Red Three' that went overhead the Isle of Man from Wallasey in the Wirral to Belfast.  A Radio Range beacon was established at Cregneash to facilitate navigation over the Irish Sea. Control was initially by 'Procedural' methods using vertical separation or time intervals between aircraft flying at the same or crossing levels but radar started to be used experimentally in the London area during the 1950s although not becoming widespread across the UK until the mid 1960s. 
From Preston local Area Control services moved initially to Manchester and subsequently to Scottish Control at Prestwick.
 At the end of the 1950s a new Visual Control Room was constructed on top of the former Royal Navy watch office
and all ATC functions moved there from the old control room on the second floor.
The New Visual Control Room
Inside the new Visual Control Room
New Instrument Approach Aids and Radar
Ronaldsway was one of the early post war civil airfields to be equipped with Standard Beam Approach (SBA), a pilot interpreted blind approach aid which would position the aircraft onto a final approach track to the runway and provide rudimentary glidepath (descent) information. This was subsequently supplemented and then replaced by an Instrument Landing System (ILS) that gave accurate lateral (Localizer) and vertical (Glideslope) information presented on a cockpit instrument with descent in cloud possible down to a safe level of 200 ft. This equipment has been updated several times and is now available for approaches to both ends of the main runway. Other landing aids provided were a Medium Frequency Non Directional Beacon (NDB) and a VHF Omni Directional Radio Range (VOR). In 1966 a state of the art Plessey AR-1 surveillance radar was installed, the same type that was in use at London Heathrow airport.
The control tower with new radar scanner installed
Testing the new radar equipment
Air Traffic Control currently occupies its fourth building, having moved from the 1944 vintage Royal Navy tower in 2010.
 Ronaldsway ATC Homes over the Years
1930s  A wooden building on the grass airfield
1944 - 1946   Ronaldsway Farm 'Barn Site'
1946 - 2010  Former Royal Navy Control Tower
2010 -  Purpose build modern Control Tower
Isle of Man ATC - a more detailed history
Photographs of aircraft at Ronaldsway since 1990 are in the
Island Images Aircraft Pages
Island Images Homepage
 Unless otherwise credited, all pictures on this website are  © Jon Wornham