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Old 21st Mar 2017, 17:57   #1 (permalink)
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: 75' from the runway edge and 150' from the threshold
Age: 68
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Runway Controllers and the Runway Caravan

Is there, I wonder, an appetite for "stories from the ‘van' courtesy of all you Runway Controllers out there (RWC). A caveat though, my last shift in a caravan was at Leeming in April ’91 so there might be the odd “misrembering” but things seem to stay fairly solid in your mind after pilots try various methods of trying to kill you, not least of all by a nearly successful attempt (within 3’, measured) utilising the APPROACH end barrier.

Although not formally trained as Air Traffic Controllers, Runway Controllers (RWC) can, (and have countless times) avert almost certain disaster in relation to aircraft departing or arriving. In my time (1969 - 1991) the RWC was a Corporal and his workstation was a caravan mounted on a three tonner (or similar) chassis. If I remember rightly my first caravan was mounted on a Commer vehicle.

The Caravan was sited, according to the AP, on the left side of the runway, 150' from the threshold and 75' from the edge. It was fitted with two Aldis Lamps, with red and green filters, two 40mm Verey pistols, both ALWAYS loaded with red cartridges (but safe/broken) and a pair of 7 or 10x50 binoculars. Comms were usually a Hadley "squawk" box, a phone and a U/VHF box. Strangely enough, while were permitted to fire off signal cartridges to our hearts content, we were not permitted to transmit on the R/T. I can't remember why but I did, on rare occasions, use it when I thought the situation warranted it. Most importantly the caravan had an electric kettle, and on later models both Air Conditioning and a 'fridge.

The Air Con was most definitely needed in the middle of a hot summer when you consider that the RWC was working in what was essentially a greenhouse. The latter caravans also had roof mounted fittings for two Verey pistols which meant that they could be not only permanently loaded but ready to fire. And, of course, being on rotating rings they could swiftly be brought to bear on those pesky aeroplanes trying to sneak up on you from behind!

So that was the work area. But what about the job itself. A RWC had to educate her or himself not only on the station aircraft but also visiting aircraft i.e. panels that should closed, orifices that could be open or closed, holes that could drip and places and things that most certainly should NOT drip, lights that should be on etc, etc. This is where the binoculars come in. Depending on the airfield and the taxiways you would either get a view of both sides of the aircraft as it passed you on the far side of the runway and turned right onto the runway. If the aircraft was approaching from your left you would only get a view of the left hand side. I don’t have any recollection of an airfield where the caravan was on the right hand side but, either way, sometimes you got to inspect both sides of an aircraft, sometimes only one side.

There are countless stories out there about ‘things’ happening, as viewed from the caravan and, of course, aircraft sometimes got a bit bigger in the window than they should have. It is nice though when a case of something alcoholic arrives courtesy of the pilot who you stopped from making an arse of himself through forgetting the Dunlops or trying to land on a populated runway while forgetting to overshoot from a “Continue” clearance. I never did though, get anything from Staneval when he tried to land gear up with a reporter from a well known flying magazine in the back seat.

I hope other RWC’s will add to this. There are, i’m sure, lots of interesting stories out there, and most probably a lot with a flight safety slant that is still relevant today. I’ll finish this off with a recollection about a man I had a lot of respect for. A 4 ship of Jags (White section, IIRC) on the runway for departure and a further four ship (Rose section?) awaiting line up. While inspecting White 2 I noticed a lot of fluid on the ground below the a/c. I called a hold on the Hadley box and informed local what I could see. When the local controller informed White 2 the reason for the hold, Rose Lead transmitted that it was fuel streaming from the “Donkey Dick” (Jag cognoscenti will know what that is). When I offered a forcefully contrary opinion, I was overruled by the duty pilot (the morning stream was building up by now with at least another three sections citing their turn) and White section was cleared to take off. I should mention here that it had been raining and there was quit a bit of standing water on the runway.

After about 20 minutes all the morning aircraft had launched so I obtained clearance to go out onto the runway and check that particular pool of liquid. I touched it, smelt it and dragged my almost empty pack of No6 fags through it. When back in the caravan I called local on the Hadley box and asked if the duty pilot was listening. On hearing that he was I asked him what colour fuel was. He replied “any colour I wanted other than red” sure enough my packet of No6 was covered in hydraulic fluid. The duty pilot initiated a recall for White 2 on Guard. Whilst recovering to base White 2 declared a pan call with Clutch Radar with a Hyd. 2 failure. Shortly thereafter I was awarded my first “Good show” by the pilot concerned up in Local in the tower, and enjoyed a couple of glasses of bubbly stuff with him and SATCO and took another one home to share with my wife.

Cheers Rocky, we both thoroughly enjoyed it.
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Old 21st Mar 2017, 18:22   #2 (permalink)
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Slightly more light-hearted, Mrs CGB tells me that she had occasion to fire-off a red one day at Cranwell. The flare did it's job and then dutifully drifted downwind, setting fire to the wheat field in the undershoot and closing the airfield whilst the RAF's finest firefighters dealt with a rather large crop fire.
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Old 21st Mar 2017, 18:22   #3 (permalink)
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Not a trafficer, but I saw the remains of a caravan after the controller somehow fired a Very INSIDE the greenhouse She was found curled up in a ball under the table and the inside of the office looked like it had been cluster bombed, scorch marks all over the place. Somehow, she was completely unscathed, although she didn't go back to RWC again.
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Old 21st Mar 2017, 20:22   #4 (permalink)
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Saw a Jag off in Deci, several going to a pis...... Errr... meet and greet the locals in Gib, on walk round noticed hydraulic fluid on the underside of the door, rigger Chief cleared it, after start up checked again and was dripping, gave him signal to shut down as rest departed... Talk about spitting his dummy out.... Door opened and full of fluid... Probably would have ended up swimming.

Well done on the Good show, got one, was getting put in for three in total, though laziness meant paperwork never got processed, but end of the day, I was doing my job... One that even surprised me was when hopping over the spine from one side of the aircraft to the other stub wing on a VC10 and seeing a crack in the skin on the fin, it wasn't the fact it was cracked, it was the fact it was about 3 foot long lol

Bruggen we also had a guy check them before they departed the Sqn site, I did call up ATC once while waiting at the lights at the end of the runway as the Jag departing went overhead with the airbrakes out!


Last edited by NutLoose; 21st Mar 2017 at 20:41.
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Old 21st Mar 2017, 22:31   #5 (permalink)
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Departed from Cottersmore (Tornado base) in a C130 many Moons ago, a bit of a crosswind so had a touch of into-wind aileron. We aborted for something minor & taxied around for another go when we had a call from ATC - the caravan was reporting that '3 of our flaperons were down & one was up'.
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Old 21st Mar 2017, 22:34   #6 (permalink)
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Runway Controllers.

ACW342 (#1),
"Is there, I wonder, an appetite for "stories from the ‘van' ?"
- Yes, there is - Bring it on ! (we're all going to enjoy ourseleves hugely with this - or I'm a Dutchman). For openers:
"...in my time (1969 - 1991) ..... my last shift in a caravan was at Leeming in April ’91..."
I deduce that you spent '69-'72 at Leeming.

I was a Controller at Leeming and later a Supervisor and deputy SATCO from 1967 till retirement at end of 1972. I take it we were both there '69 -'72 ? In that case, my callsign should identify me to you.

According to my F 5994, my SATCOs were Sqn Ldrs Talton at the start (we had been Instructors together at the School at Shawbury), and Randell (I am not sure of the reading of that signature, my memory of names is terrible, and getting worse - perhaps you can help, is that right ?)
..."with Clutch Radar"...
So RAF(G) ? I was at Geilenkirchen '60-'62. Your dates in Germany ?

Tons more, but will keep till later.


Cows getting bigger (#2),

The farmers also started fires to burn off the stubble. At Leeming, the smoke often drifted across the A1 and disrupted traffic.

As it was (presumably) a big crop fire, and important to put it out ASAP, ATC would've committed both primary and standby crews and vehicles to the task (what was the local brigade doing, it was their responsibility, not yours ?) and so the airfield could not operate.

No blame to the RWC ...... "the wind bloweth where it listeth".


Green Flash (#3),
..."She was found curled up in a ball under the table and the inside of the office looked like it had been cluster bombed, scorch marks all over the place. Somehow, she was completely unscathed"...
Wrote a Post once (cannot trace it now) based on a Tee Emm story from WWII. No aircraft movements, some airmen were larking about in the top tower. One got hold of the Verey pistol, did not check if it was loaded (it was) or if the safety catch was on (it wasn't). A WAAF got the flare in her mouth, and died a horrible death.


Much more on the stocks.

Cheers to all, Danny42C.
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Old 21st Mar 2017, 23:30   #7 (permalink)
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Thank you to the RWC at Acklington who prevented my (at that time quite short) flying career coming to an abrupt end. Thank you also to the QFIs who insisted that all the students did solo circuits on New Years Day whilst they (the QFIs) suffered from mighty hangovers and hid in the coffee bar (no such thing as Christmas/New Year standdowns in those days - 2 days was yer lot!).
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Old 22nd Mar 2017, 11:04   #8 (permalink)
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From the air conditioned comfort of the Tower, I'll just say "Bless them all". I have no RWC tales to tell, but was alway grateful that they were there.

We didn't have a Caravan at Tengah. You would have thought that would have been essential on such a busy, multi-type, airfield. Perhaps it would have been impossibly hot? And so it fell to me, at a range of about 2,500 yards, to spot the lack of wheels on an approaching Hunter and invite him to overshoot ...
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Old 22nd Mar 2017, 15:55   #9 (permalink)
Join Date: Nov 2005
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Our RWC at Farnborough used to monitor the PAR frequency (243.9) even when PAR was not being used. One day he reported he'd heard Nugget 63 (based Canberra) call Mayday wth a double flameout.
'63 was at that time over the Bay of Biscay (it was an MRF aircraft) and had transmitted on 243.0.
By the way, '63 got one re- lit and landed safely at French AF base.
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Old 22nd Mar 2017, 17:19   #10 (permalink)
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ACW342 (#1),
...after pilots try various methods of trying to kill you...
No doubt about it, you were in an exposed and hazardous position. After all, 75 ft from the runway edge is well within the "margin of error" of most 'Bloggs', and as I have previously noted here somewhere: "the sight of a Hastings on approach coming at you in a bumpy crosswind, wallowing about like a galleon in a heavy sea, is enough to make the stoutest heart quail". No surprise that the weaker brethren ran for their lives, or sought refuge under the caravan !

Yet I believe there were remarkably few collisions (wasn't there a Vulcan crash which wrote off the caravan en passant, as it were ?) To balance that, you saved many an aircraft from disaster by spotting "something wrong" when they were stationary at Marshalling point outside your door. The fact that you sometimes raised 'false alarms' was accepted as normal by all sensible pilots, who appreciated that you were only trying to help them, if only mistakenly.

As I have told you in response to your PM, we lectured our baby Controllers at Shawbury thus; "Your Corporal in the caravan is a pain in the bum to you 364 days in the year. On the 365th, he is worth his weight in gold !" - he is the Local Controller's "long-stop": the best of us make mistakes, a second pair of eyes is always valuable, and sometimes priceless.

"Electric Kettles and Air Con" - where did you get the power from ? Obviously the site was wired up, but as you had to change ends with the runway you would have to break the connection (and pull up an earthing spike) every time. Stirs memories of the old MPN-1 "Bendix" GCA trucks, mostly self contained with their own diesel-electric sets, but some (never met one myself) reliant on the dreaded "100 Amp Socket", lying balefully in the wet grass, waiting for some unsuspecting new Radar mech to plug in his Hundred Amp Plug (and producing a dazzling pyrotechnic display and a bit of a tingle even if he were wearing rubber gloves and gum boots). As with the old radars, the very first Vital Action (after you'd got power) was to Put the Kettle On, and brew-up !

Needless to say, in Shawbury's "Mock Control" scenarios, you could always rely on the "Runway Controller" to but in at some point to try to throw the wretched student "off his stride", as it were. Added to the realism.

Surprised to hear that you got no formal training for the job (and certainly no extra pay). It was like the "Tracker" in the old MPN-1 Bendix GCA, who was doing every bit as skilled and as responsible work as the (officer) Talkdown beside whom (and feeding Glide Path information to) he sat in the Truck. They were (in my day) just ATC Assistants who learned "on the job".

Could go on for ages, but you'll have plenty more Posts on this, I'd think.

Cheers, Danny.
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Old 22nd Mar 2017, 18:18   #11 (permalink)
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I think the caravan wipe-out was the Syerston Vulcan disaster, 3 killed on the ground /caravan.
There are a few tales of caravan evacuations. One was the Wildenrath F4 ripping the barrier out and flying about with it.
I think the caravan crew certainly deserved danger money but, I bet they never got it! Thanks to all you caravan RWC's!

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Old 22nd Mar 2017, 22:11   #12 (permalink)
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Ignorance is Bliss.

Funny (?) Story in which Runway Control Caravan plays a minor part (excerpt from my Post on "Pilot's Brevet" p.205 #4085).
...It was mid-morning at Strubby and things were rather quiet for the moment. The NAAFI van had made its welcome way round most of the sections on the South side of the runway, and now set out round the taxiway to cater for the few people on the other side. Frankly, I can't think of many: the D/F operators in their hut, maybe some electricians working on the lights, and of course the GCA trucks (self-catering, but there might be some cigarette sales).

Now of course all MT traffic wishing to cross the runway must do so at the (live) threshold end, not passing marshalling point until getting an Aldis "green" from the Caravan. A Meteor was half way round on finals, our van was coming up to the point, the Runway Control Corporal flashed it a "red", the van ignored it and continued serenely on its way across the bows of the Meteor which by now was on short finals.

Caravan banged off a red Verey, but the pilot already had the van in sight, "poured the coal on", veered right and went around, the while expressing himself forcibly to our Local Controller on the subject of Runway Controllers in general and ours in particular. He in turn was on his squawk box to the Tower, equally volubly protesting his innocence.

Local Controller sent the ATC Landrover in hot pursuit of the offender, caught it and escorted it back round to ATC, where an immediate interview with SATCO had been arranged.

The young lady (who drove the van herself, as well as dishing out the "char and wads") seemed not unduly perturbed. The dialogue went as follows:

"Why didn't you stop when you saw the red light ? ......
"What red light ?...
"The red light from the Caravan !"....
"What Caravan ? .....
"The one at the end of the Runway !"......
"What's a Runway ?"....

It seemed that, as a new girl, she had been inadequately briefed by the Manageress !

SATCO realised that he'd got a "Right One Here", and launched into a long and detailed exposition of the Regulations which had to be obeyed When Crossing a Live Runway...."Do you realise how important all this is, Miss ?..... Are you sure ?..... Is there anything you don't quite understand ?"

"Yes", said she, in an aggrieved tone, "Do I have to know all this for three pounds a week ?"
"Collapse" (as Victorian "Punch" used to say) "of Stout Party".

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Old 22nd Mar 2017, 23:46   #13 (permalink)
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It was the laziest job in trade group 9 and Marham was a prime example. RW 24 was almost a permanent sleeping watch and RW06 was an armchair watch. 1st at supper and last back again.
I'm really pleased I avoided it by going to Topcliffe for NCO Aircrew training.

Last edited by 5aday; 22nd Mar 2017 at 23:56.
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Old 23rd Mar 2017, 11:12   #14 (permalink)
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Lindholme, fog rolling in from Hatfield Moor and just getting dark. RWC awaiting stand down.
Suddenly a knock on the door, but no vehicle seen to drive up. Looks out of window and sees a shapeless white mass. Bearing in mind stories of 'Lindholme Willy', he bursts out of the door and legs it away across the airfield.
It was a USAF F100 pilot who had banged out, landed on the airfield, collected up his parachute and trying to find his way off the airfield, found the caravan instead!
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Old 23rd Mar 2017, 16:34   #15 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by chevvron View Post
Bearing in mind stories of 'Lindholme Willy', he bursts out of the door and legs it away across the airfield.
Have my crew come back yet?
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Old 23rd Mar 2017, 17:55   #16 (permalink)
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Tours and earthing spikes

With reference to Leeming, I was there, not as a RWC, '81 to almost '84 whereupon I got a really great posting to SCFCU at Benson and the finest Flt Lt. I've ever met, (and who I hope is still with us) and his greeting to all, be it the lowest or highest in the service of "You F*c*ng Wanchors"

The second tour was '90-'91 and the ferry back home to civvy street and a mortgage paid for by Auntie Betty, God bless her. . The most entertaining incident at Leeming was when a Sqn Cdr (no sqn numbers- no pack drill!!) as No1 in a pairs approach to 16 landed perfectly on the numbers, thereby allowing the no.2 to land in the undershoot with a massive cloud of red dust, soil and pebbles. After arriving on the runway itself no.2 stopped fairly sharpish turned off the runway and proceeded at a lick back to dispersal completely ignoring the instructions of the duty pilot to stop and shut down! I have no knowledge of what transpired back at the dispersal but I bet there's someone out there who does. C'mon tell us all!
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Old 23rd Mar 2017, 18:38   #17 (permalink)
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Swanton Morley, home to No 1 ASS (how unfortunate!!) and its fleets of Percival Prentii (Prentice plural) and the mighty Ansons. Set up for 'widget' training, these machines both incorporated trailing aerials - some hundreds of feet of fine wire at the outboard end of which was a collection of lead 'beads' - (7/6 fine if not present at sortie end!). Airfield perimeter was a wire strand fence, supported on wooden posts at intervals. Trailing aerial extension was required on most details and pre-landing checks were likely to be a bit compressed, trying to make that last couple of contacts. Result? - arrival over the hedge with trailing aerial meeting top fence wire and, finally, lead beads being forcefully removed and 'sprayed' at unfortunate caravan occupant!! Belated apologies on behalf of the culprits - not me, of course!!
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Old 23rd Mar 2017, 19:35   #18 (permalink)
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Location: 75' from the runway edge and 150' from the threshold
Age: 68
Posts: 122

Not so. Try a 24 hour shift in monitors on an MDA Week-End shift, For busy try, one armed paper hanging in the caravan during a survival scramble, counting 38 out but only 37 back.

Last edited by ACW342; 23rd Mar 2017 at 19:44. Reason: Change context
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Old 23rd Mar 2017, 20:10   #19 (permalink)
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ACW342 (#16),

Retired December 1972, so before your time, I'm afraid. But RWC stories are timeless ! Another one soon !

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Old 23rd Mar 2017, 20:51   #20 (permalink)
Join Date: Apr 2008
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Good Shows and Caravan Controllers

I was always a bit sceptical when it came to Good Shows and Caravan Controllers. I my view 99% of them handed out were for things the Caravanner was paid and trained to do and spot.

Only one award, in my 12 years as a RWC stood out.

Topliffe, the Bulldog and RNEFTS.

The RWC was new to Topcliffe and the Bulldog and had just been cleared to caravan solo.

A Bulldog taxied out and stopped at the holding point doing his pre-takeoff checks.

The RWC heard an unusual noise and informed the Local Controller over the Hadley Box.

The Local Controller informed the pilot of the RWC's observation. After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing, the aircraft returned to the Bulldog line and the Engineers.

The Engineers couldn't hear anything unusual, neither could the crew and the aircraft was behaving normally. So, the Bulldog taxied out again. At the holding point, the RWC heard the same unusual noise again and reported his observations to the Local Controller. In turn, the aircraft was informed.

This time the too-ing and fro-ing was a touch more vehement and 'subtle' comments were made as to the RWC's suitability both over RT and the Hadley Box.

To give him credit, despite being belittled by the Local Controller, the Instructor in the Bulldog as well as the Duty Instructor in Local, the RWC stuck to his guns, and seeing that the RT too-ing and fro-ing was all recorded, common sense kicked in and the Bulldog returned to the Line for a second time.

Whereupon it was discovered the the aircraft starter motor had not disengaged from the engine and was very close to meltdown.

How do I fit into the picture?
I was the one who cleared the new RWC fit solo.
I was in Local observing when all this occurred.
I was the one who informed SATCO Leeming (on the QT) as to what had happened.

As well as triggering, to my mind one, of the best Good Show awards given to a RWC, much good came of this incident. The realisation that the lone guy in the Caravan is not there just for his health................
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