Control Towers Part 2 (post-1946)
by Roger Meyer

With the introduction of Area / Approach Control, aided by the Flight Progress Board, the control tower function became more regulated.

An important milestone was reached at Sydney Airport on 2nd November 1953 with the opening of the new control tower. The construction of this building was a significant advance in the development of control towers, and represented the first post-war attempt by DCA to establish permanent control towers incorporating the latest developments. The design of the building allowed for additional space requirements during the next 10 to 15 years.

Standing 55 feet high, the new tower was at the intersection of the runways. The building also incorporated the airport fire station. The control cabin was air-conditioned and sound-proofed, with the windows comprised of a double thickness of plate glass with an intervening layer of dry air to prevent the glass from misting. Another innovation was to slope the windows at an angle of 21 degrees to eliminate disturbing reflections in the glass at night. Lower floors of the building housed equipment rooms, an amenities area, and offices. A 50-kilowatt diesel generator on the ground floor provided emergency power.

At this time, something had to be done to clean up the tangle of control phones, key switches, meters and lights which typified the average Australian control tower. The new console, designed by DCA engineers, was thus an engineering and operational achievement for both controllers and technicians. The working surface was 37 inches high at the front, rising to the rear at a slope of 1 in 10. This height was deemed the most suitable for working while standing. The instrument board (rear display panel) was low enough not to restrict the controller’s view of the aerodrome. The console itself was of wood, with hinged metal panels on the horizontal working surface which could be opened to give technicians access to the keyswitches and other electronics inside the carcase of the console. A small equipment rack at the rear contained microphone and speaker amplifiers. All panels were finished in matt green, which was restful on the eyes in daylight and pleasing under red light at night.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 20 November 1953, under the headline New Control Tower Is Mascot Airport’s Pride went on to say "There is a brand new control tower at Mascot, full of the latest gadgets – a flying controller’s dream home. Flying controllers are the traffic policemen, so to speak, who direct all planes landing or taking off at an airfield."
The enthusiastic Staff Correspondent went on to describe the operations in the tower.

"Two staff men were sitting at the control console. One, Mr ‘Paddy’ Finucane was handling telephone contacts with airport officers, and filling in cards [flight strips] with details of planes due to arrive or leave. The controller on duty was Mr Jack Brown, a tall young man who was talking casually into a hand microphone. "Baker Nan How clear for take-off, Coff’s Harbour route, VFR climb." A crackling voice replied on the loud speaker "Baker Nan How ready for take-off." I was introduced to Mr Brown. "It’s a nice layout here," he said. "When each plane is landing or taking off, we have to tell the pilot four things – the runway, the wind direction and speed, the QNH or altimeter setting, and the time. Well, you’ve got dials here that give you that information in the correct order, from left to right. Then you’ve got here a model of the airport lighting, and switches so you can turn on each section separately. By switching on one section of lights after another you can guide a taxying plane where you want to – quite a help at night. We handle about 70 planes a day each way, in and out, on average".

A similar new tower was constructed at Essendon Airport, although it was a simpler affair, being clad in fibro sheeting, unlike the brick building at Mascot. It was commissioned on 4th October 1956, just weeks before the Olympic Games. Included in the £75,000 contract were expansions to the Area Control Centre and radio repeater links to Arthur’s Seat for communications with aircraft flying to Tasmania and at Mount Macedon for northbound traffic. Click here to read more about this.

While the Essendon tower had various experimental radar beacons installed for evaluation during the 1940s and early ‘50s, the first purpose-built civil aviation radar in both the Sydney and Essendon towers was the Cossor 10cm system. It had a range of about 40 miles, depending on the size of the aircraft (to produce a large enough echo) and the degree of clutter on the screen. During 1956 Essendon handled an average of 131 movements a day, and Mascot averaged 150 movements daily. As a result, both airports were at saturation point in terms of ATC procedural-control handling capacity. The introduction of radar made it possible for controllers to increase the number of aircraft movements.

The proven success of radar led to the next stage of evolution in ATC; the Area Approach Control Centre in the mid-1960s, and consequently a radical re-design of control towers and consoles to incorporate radar displays.

Click here to see a photo of a modern Control Tower (Brisbane)

Back to Control Towers Part 1


Back to the main Air Traffic Services index

If this page appears without a menu bar at top and left, click here