Posts Tagged ‘Radar. EKCO’

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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