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Mobile Control Tower

Air Traffic Control - Mobile Control Tower (Runway Caravan)

This Mobile Control Tower was manufactured in 1980 by Bedford at their Dunstable plant and is based on the Bedford TK truck chassis. A number of vehicles of this design were produced specifically for the UK Ministry of Aviation and Armed Forces during the period 1960-1990. They were used by ATC at UK civil airfields and at military airfields in the UK and abroad.

The Mobile Control Tower was commonly referred to as the “Runway Caravan” and was normally situated on the airfield close to the threshold of the landing runway. At large airfields, the main Control Tower was often some distance from the runway and had a poor view of the landing zone. This problem was solved by having a mobile Runway Caravan which could be moved closer to the threshold depending on the runway in use.  It was staffed by a Controller /Assistant whose job was to observe aircraft landing or taking off and report any problems to the main Control Tower e.g. aircraft with landing gear not fully down. If necessary they could fire a red “Very pistol” cartridge or flash a red ALDIS warning lamp to warn the aircraft not to land. In the event of an aircraft radio failure, they could fire a green cartridge or flash a green light to inform the pilot they were cleared to land. You will see the two cartridge firing “shutes” in the roof of this van.

When the landing runway direction changed, the Runway Caravan was driven from one end of the runway to the other in readiness for the landing /departing aircraft. However, it had to be driven very carefully due to the size of this high-sided vehicle and it had a maximum speed limit of 30 mph, although even that speed was quite risky!

Eventually, the Runway Caravans were replaced during the 1990’s by CCTV cameras with remote monitoring from the ATC Control Tower and the era of these colourful vehicles came to an end.  However, some are still in use at small airfields and gliding centres around the UK and at aviation museums like Bournemouth and Brooklands. This particular vehicle was in service at RAF Manston until 1995 (registration 81 AE 69), then sold and used at Bournemouth Airport for a while. It eventually arrived at the Bournemouth Aviation Museum in 2009 and we have maintained it ever since, although spare parts are now increasingly difficult to obtain. However, this vehicle only has 10,000 miles on the clock, not bad for a vehicle built in 1980!

From inside the Control Tower you get an excellent view across Bournemouth Airport and can watch aircraft taxi past to or from the active runway!