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Archive for December, 2016

John Fishwick Leeming (8 January 1895 – 3 July 1965), a businessman and early aviator, along with nine friends, founded the Lancashire Aero Club (LAC) – the oldest established flying club in the country – at Alexandra Park Aerodrome in 1922. Daily scheduled flights were already being made to Croydon Airport by Daimler Airways, and Leeming wanted to impress the vision of growing success for this local airport on the minds of businessmen and councillors.

Alexandra Park Aerodrome hangars in 1923 looking West

Alexandra Park Aerodrome hangars in 1923 looking West

He had already designed and built his own single-seat high-wing monoplane glider with the help of friends and fellow glider builders Tom Prince and Clement Wood, but when the wartime lease ended in 1925, so did his hopes for Alexandra Park. The club moved to Woodford Aerodrome upon invitation from the Avro Aircraft Company (where there was also a good source of spares).

John F Leeming, a director of Northern Air Lines Ltd (in the top hat) with a delegation of Manchester’s Civic officials at Croydon receiving the licence for Manchester’s aerodrome from Sir Samuel Hoare on 22 April 1929

John F Leeming, a director of Northern Air Lines Ltd (in the top hat) with a delegation of Manchester’s Civic officials at Croydon receiving the licence for Manchester’s aerodrome from Sir Samuel Hoare on 22 April 1929

There, the club acquired its first two powered aircraft – de Havilland DH.60 Moths. LAC were requested to vacate Woodford at the start of the Second World War and moved to Barton, where all of their aircraft were impounded for the duration of the war. Post-war, the club started up again, initially using Auster Autocrat and de Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft. LAC moved to Kenyon Hall Farm (near Wigan) in 2007, which has a single 580m by 30m grass strip (23/05), and is where they currently operate flying seasons between March and late October.

The aerodrome was closed to air traffic on 24 August 1945. Under the terms of the land lease laid down by Maurice Egerton, the 4th Baron Egerton of Tatton, flying was to cease within five years of the end of the war. The ancillary buildings that had been erected for training RAF personnel were converted to provide accommodation for around 100 single constables of the Manchester City Police because of a desperate shortage of housing for families of men returning from the war. Avro moved to Woodford airfield, and the hangars were demolished. The site remained undeveloped until the Hough End playing fields were laid out in 1945. A plaque commemorating the aerodrome’s existence hangs in the sports pavilion.

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Many people make New Year’s resolutions to fulfill a personal goal or to break a habit, and they must be truly blessed if they can foresee what will happen over the next 365 days. Typically for some, resolutions begin to fade soon after the cessation of festivities and become memories to be jibed about before the end of January. Others may strive to meet the declarations made at the start of the year but find that after six months, when the realism kicks in, they will be putting them on a back burner to be included in following year’s scroll of resolutions.

A writer’s resolutions rarely span more than a month, despite their best intentions, and even then they may need to be edited on an almost daily basis.

So I make it my resolution never to make resolutions, and I post this every year on facebook.

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EKCO’s involvement in Airport Radar Approach Aid (ARAA) came about as a direct result of an early example of industrial and commercial co-operation between EKCO and Southend Municipal Airport, and was the first in the world to develop Airborne Weather Radar for commercial use and had produced a succession of equipment of improved performance since 1949.

Noting the development and use of Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA) radar during the Berlin Airlift, which materially contributed to the success of the operation by allowing aircraft to operate in all but the worst conditions (particularly at the Gatow and Templelhof airfields in Berlin), and proved that ‘talk-down radar’ was an invaluable aid to airports, Squadron Leader Bernard F Collins (who had been appointed the manager of Southend Municipal Airport in 1946) realised that this equipment would be needed at Southend if it was to offer ‘all weather’ capability. He also realised that GCA radar was hugely expensive (estimated at around £50,000) and only the military and large civil international airports could afford it.

Daunted by this, Bernard Collins arranged a meeting with EKCO, and local folklore says that Eric Cole was at a luncheon with the Mayor of Southend and Bernard Collins, where the issue of GCA talk-down radar was discussed together with its high price and it was suggested to Eric that he could produce something cheaper that would work just as well, to which, Eric apparently replied, ‘I’m sure we can’.

Eric tasked Tony Martin, the chief engineer at EKCO, to investigate the feasibility of designing a system which would provide a talk-down service at a fraction of the cost of the existing systems. Tony sat down with his team of engineers, lead by Ted O’Flynn (a wartime radar engineer with the company who ran a ‘special projects’ laboratory above the car radio laboratory at Southend) and they started by redesigning a simple radar that might have been developed in the early days if military money had not been so plentiful.

Their work was made much easier by the fact that work on the Hawker Hunter Radar Ranging (ARI-5820) System at the Malmesbury factory was in the advanced stages of development, and was an almost a perfect match in meeting the range requirements. It also incorporated a pulse repetition frequency (PRF) which could give the high resolution image needed to bring a ‘target’ down the glide-path when mated to the five-inch high visibility CRT (and was also used on the ASV Mark 19 for the Fairey Gannet).

Southend Airport Radar

Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA) at Southend Airport

The finished design was a structure which has been likened to a periscope in a submarine; the operator stood at a console, which was about three feet square, and had a five-inch diameter ‘A’ scope and an illuminated compass above it together an illuminated series of lights, which told the approach controller if the aircraft was ‘on track’, or off to the left or right. The operator was able to follow the aircraft by literally rotating the entire radar-receiving unit by turning it on its axis.

The equipment gave a range of 16 miles and had two scales these being 0-16Nm for general acquisition and guidance and 0-4Nm for final precision talk-down. While no height information was given, these two scales did allow accurate distance information to be passed to the approaching aircraft via a graticule overlay on the screen, which compensated for the fact that the radar was not on the runway centre line. At Southend, the control tower was about 800 yards offset from the main 06/24 runway. Once the parameters were decided on, development proceeded rapidly so that by June 1949, the first tests were taking place at the airport using a Percival Proctor owned by the airport as the target aircraft.

The old Southend Airport Control Tower

The old Southend Airport Control Tower

The radar tests were complete by June 1950, resulting in the system gaining Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval and certification in December 1951, thus allowing the system to be used operationally and it was demonstrated to the press in January 1952. While the equipment was highly regarded by the operators who used it, and it was certainly cheap (believed to be circa £4,000 installed in the case of Southend Airport), it was never a best seller and probably no more than thirty were ever manufactured in the early to late 1950’s.

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