Canewdon Towers Stenigot Tower

Welcome to the Ex-RAF Aerial Erectors Association Website!

The Ex-RAF Aerial Erectors Association was founded in 1996 as a result of my trying to trace my old service friends.  I had served as a rigger (Aerial Erector) for 12 years having joined the RAF in 1956. For further details of my RAF service as an Aerial Erector see the bottom of the People page.

There are now over 400 riggers in the Association and I am pleased to say it is still growing. We have a four monthly newsletter, The Update, and a reunion is usually organised every other year. "" 

Membership is FREE.

If you are an existing or past RAF Aerial Erector and not a member of the association then why not e-mail me now. Eddie Edwards (4178312), 85, Church Lane, Meanwood, Leeds, LS6 4NP. E-mail:-

Please note the Contact Page is currently out of order.

Further down this page there is information about the Royal Air Force Aerial Erector School from 1950 to the present day.

The photographs at the top of the page.

The photograph on the left was taken by the late John Drury at RAF Canewdon in Essex in the summer of 1956 just prior to the site closing. The photograph shows two of the 360 ft steel Chain Home Radar towers which were constructed in the 1930s to support the transmitter arrays. In the background three of the 280 ft wooden towers which supported the receiver arrays can be seen.
One of the 360 ft steel towers was used to conduct the climbing tests which had to be passed before training as an aerial erector.
The photograph on the right shows the one remaining 360 ft Chain Home tower still in service with the RAF at RAF Stenigot in Lincolnshire. This tower, now minus its top platforms, has been used to conduct all the climbing tests carried out by the Aerial Erector School since the school moved from RAF Chigwell in Essex in 1956.

The First and the Last Chain Home Radar towers.

The photograph on the left above was taken in 1937 at an unknown site in south eastern England by William Flegg. William was the foreman of the Marconi construction team. Our thanks to Dick Flegg for his kind permission to use his father's photograph. The photograph on the right above shows the only remaining Chain Home radar tower which has all the original platforms still in place. The tower is now located at the Marconi works in Great Baddow but was originally built at RAF Canewdon near Southend on Sea. Our thanks to ex-rigger Stephen Champion de Crespigny who took the photograph in 2005.

Below are five more of the photographs taken by Dick Flegg's father, William Flegg the foreman of the Marconi construction gang.

In the photograph on the left four of the riggers can be seen building the cantilever for the 200 ft platform. On the right five of the team are posing for the photograph, William Flegg the foreman is squatting in front. Two of the men are wearing their safety belts which appear to be modified Post Office linesmans belts.

In the photograph on the left the full construction team can be seen at the base of one of the 280 ft wooden Receiver towers. On the right some of the team are relaxing in the summer sunshine outside the site hut.

William Flegg and some of his rigging team off out for a well earned night on the town.

These civilian construction crews were the forerunners of the trade of Aerial Erector in the Royal Air Force.
The construction of the Chain Home and Chain Home Low Radar Stations around the British coastline created a need for men to service and maintain the aerial arrays rigged between the 360ft transmitter towers and masts and the 280ft wooden receiver towers. Volunteers were called for from among the RAF's electricians who were then known as electrician/riggers. These men worked aloft in bosuns chairs in all weathers and sometimes under enemy fire to repair and maintain the radar arrays. Other men worked on the long distance HF communications aerials both in the United Kingdom and overseas. There were no official training courses, the volunteers learnt their trade "on the job". Soon after the end of the war a classroom/workshop was set up within the Radio Engineering Unit at RAF Henlow to provide some basic splicing and rigging instruction to volunteers from airmen classed as general duties airmen in place of trained electricians.

The Aerial Erector School.

RAF Chigwell - RAF Canewdon 1950 - 1956.

In 1950 as part of a major training reorganisation being carried out throughout the RAF it was decided to institute a proper training course for Aerial Erectors. The former RAF Barrage Balloon Depot at Chigwell in the outskirts of London was already being used by the Central Trade Test Board and several radar calibration units including No 4 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron. The station had a number of suitable empty buildings plus the area used for balloon anchorages could be used to erect training aerials and masts and thus Chigwell was chosen to house the new training school. The redundant Chain Home Radar station at Canewdon near Southend on Sea had several 360ft steel towers that could be used for testing selected airmen for their ability to work at height and was only a two hour drive away from Chigwell.

Above are two photographs taken at RAF Canewdon by ex-rigger Dave Ritchie during his climbing test in July 1954. In the one on the left, two of the 360ft Chain Home towers can be seen. The photograph on the right was taken on the top platform of one of the towers looking across to the next tower. One of the 280ft wooden receiver towers can be seen below on the the right of the picture.

The first school staff consisted of a Officer Commanding. usually a General Duties Flight Lieutenant or Flying Officer, one Flight Sergeant (Chief instructor), one Sergeant Instructor, two or three Corporal Instructors and a workshop/stores airman. A twelve week course was devised for airmen who had successfully proved that they could work at height. The course consisted of instruction in aerial theory, fibre and wire rope handling, splicing, mast and tower erection, aerial construction, rough carpentry, soldering, feeder systems etc. Instruction was also given on working from a Bosun's chair and in the use of climbing irons on wooden feeder poles.
On arrival at the Aerial Erector School from their basic recruit training, candidates were placed in the Pool Flight until they could be tested to ensure they were able to work at height. Once they had successfully passed the height tests at RAF Canewdon they were put back into the Pool Flight until the next course commenced. While waiting in the Pool Flight for the their course to start the trainees were given a variety of general duties within the camp.
The first course (1A) commenced on Friday 22nd September 1950 and this initial course of 12 trainees passed out on the 16th January 1951.
Course 4D (July to October 1954) was typical of the courses conducted at RAF Chigwell. The course commenced with the climbing and working at height testing of 44 candidates at RAF Canewdon. When the height tests were completed on the 21st July, 14 of the candidates had failed the tests.

In the photograph on the left trainee Ron Price can be seen climbing down one of the tower legs from the 360ft platform to the 200ft platform. In the photograph on the right trainee Dave Ritchie is being raised and lowered from the ground to the 200ft platform in a Bosun's chair.

Some of the course 4D trainees posing with Flt Sgt Alan Roberts (far right) at the top of a 360ft tower.

Dave Ritchie on the left posing with other members of his course. Note the climbing kit then in use, denim overalls worn over normal blue battle dress uniform, seaboot socks, wellington boots and a standard GPO leather linesmans belt with pole strap.

The remaining 30 successful trainees on course 4D completed the Aerial Erector course and passed out of the school on the 26th October 1954.
It is interesting to note that all the trainees on course 4D were doing their National Service.

In the photograph above, on the left, is Course 4A (Jan-Apr 1954) trainee Ron Opie dressed in his Best Blue uniform and holding a model aircraft he had constructed. To the right, Course 6A (Feb-May 1956) trainee Roy Woodman is posing with someones cap outside his hut wearing his Battle Dress uniform and highly polished boots.

Typical example of a Aerial Erector School hut interior in 1956, seen here laid out for the Commanding Officer's weekly inspection.

Trainees on course 6B erecting a Mast Type 35A at RAF Chigwell in June 1956.
A Mast Type 32 can be seen in the background on the right of the photograph.

During the time the Aerial Erector School was based at RAF Chigwell 28 courses were held and 560 aerial erectors successfully trained.

RAF Norton - RAF Stenigot 1956 - 1959.

In September 1956 the Aerial Erector School moved from RAF Chigwell which was to be closed down to RAF Norton in Yorkshire. RAF Norton was another former barrage balloon depot, located on the south west side of Sheffield, and was the home of No 3 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron. The testing of selected airmen for their climbing ability was then transfered to the former Chain Home Radar station, RAF Stenigot in Lincolnshire.

RAF Norton, Sheffield, 1960.

The photograph above was taken by one of the riggers of No 3 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron from a block of flats across the road from the camp. The main entrance is at the bottom centre of the picture with the guardroom to the right of the entrance. The road outside the camp entrance was re-aligned in the late 50s and the Gate Guard Spitfire had to be removed. The layby opposite the camp entrance marks the original line of the road.

The Aerial Erector School, RAF Norton, July 1959.

The school occupied the foremost of the long low buildings seen in the old photograph above and consisted of a workshop, classroom, stores room and two small offices. There were a number of aerials, masts and an open wire feeder system which were used for instruction located in the area of the former barrage balloon anchorages.
The staff at the Aerial Erector School in August 1959 comprised of :- Commanding Officer Flt Lt "Bud" Abbott, Flt Sgt Alan Roberts, Sgt Dave Barrett, Cpl Terry Davis, Cpl Fred Holden, Cpl Roy Pullinger, Cpl "Jeep" Jones and Cpl "Eddie" Edwards.

Instructors Sgt Dave Barrett, Cpl Fred Holden and Cpl Eddie Edwards outside the classroom August 1959.

Instructor Cpl "Jeep" Jones August 1959.

Instructor Roy Pullinger. August 1959.

Trainees on Course 6D (Oct 1956 - January 1957) relaxing and enjoying themselves outside their huts at RAF Norton. The barrow boys, in the barrow, top left to right, Harry Watson and Mel Tyler, bottom left to right, John Ryan and Jim Ridler. On the handle, left to right, Dave Basey and Dave Heilbronn. Outside the hut are, standing left to right, Mel Tyler, Jim Ridler, Dave Basey, Dave Heilbronn and Jim Vaughan. Crouching in front is John Ryan. Mel Tyler has a Marksman Badge, a pair of crossed rifles on his battle-dress tunic sleeve.

Trainees Colin Wratten, John Cox, Pat Walsh and Neil McIsaac building a dry stone wall outside the Aerial Erector School buildings at RAF Norton in March 1959 while awaiting the start of Course 7B.

Above is the Mark 24 Spitfire Serial No.PK742 which had been the Gate Guard at RAF Norton until the late 50s. The Spitfire is seen here on a plinth in the centre of one of the old barrage balloon anchorages. The Airmen's Married Quarters can be seen in the background. In 1961 it was moved to RAF Gaydon.

The Aerial Erector School remained at RAF Norton until 10th September 1959 when it moved to its present location at RAF Digby in Lincolnshire. Climbing tests continue to be carried out at RAF Stenigot.
During its stay at RAF Norton 532 trainees passed through the school, of which 314 successfully completed their training as Aerial Erectors.

RAF Digby - RAF Stenigot 1959 - ........

The first Aerial Erector School course at RAF Digby was Course 9C. This course had commenced training at RAF Norton on the Wednesday the 29th July 1959 and moved to RAF Digby on Thursday 10th September. The course then completed its training with the final tests being carried out on Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd October. The results were given out on Monday 26th October and postings announced on the 18th November 1959. Thus Course 9C was the last course to start training at RAF Norton and also the first to pass out at RAF Digby. Of the 36 candidates who commenced the course in July, 24 successfully completed the course. My thanks to ex-rigger Dave Wilson, one of the trainees, who kept a diary throughout his National Service and supplied the accurate dating for this course.

An old photograph of twelve of the trainees on Course 9C on the training aerial farm at RAF Digby. Dave Wilson is on the left of the front row, Dave Trotman is in the centre with his arms folded and John Cunningham and Pete Timms on the right of him. At the back sitting on the gate are left to right, Mick Ferguson, Des Mearns, Terry Russell and (possibly) John Kindle. John Paterson is on the far left of the group. Alas the other trainees names are now unknown.

The last National Service Aerial Erector.

The last National Serviceman to be trained as an Aerial Erector was 5081150 Ronald Milner. Ronald successfully completed his training in June 1961 on Course 11B at the Aerial Erector School, RAF Digby. Course 11B can be seen in the photograph below taking a tea break on the aerial farm during their training.

Left to right, standing:- Howard Tompkins, Tony Stratton. Middle row (seated):- Dick Hogarth, Instructor Cpl Dave Baker, Eddie McGeechin, Ron Milner, Jock McGuiness, Taff Latter, Colin Cooper. Seated in front:- Ken Dingwall.

My thanks to Dick Hogarth who supplied the photograph which is thought to have been taken by Phil Myles, the only member of Course 11B who is not in this photograph.

1964 saw the start of the Joint Services Courses at the Aerial Erector School in RAF Digby. The RAF provided the training staff and facilities for the courses at RAF Digby but trained Royal Corps of Signals personnel alongside RAF trainees. The first joint course was Course 14A, commenced on the 7th January 1964 with four RAF trainees, G. Widger, T. Liversidge, E. Knight, R. Lievesley and four Royal Signals trainees, W. Wyness, R. Stacey, B. Hunt and W. Bowie.

In January 1972 an experiment was carried out using a different system of organising the training programme. Usually newly recruited trainees had to wait, often for several weeks, before enough trainees were assembled for a course to be formed. The new system, called Continuous Flow Training, allowed trainees to start their training immediately on arrival at RAF Digby, provided they had already passed their climbing test. The initial trial was carried out using four trainees, the first one, CF1A, M. Hartwell commenced training on the 3rd January 1972 and completed his training 30th March. The next trainee, CF2A, J. J. McEchinney started his training on the 10th February and completed on the 4th May. The third and fourth trainees, CF3A, R. C. Saunders and CF4A, D. Stronach (both men were remustering) started on the 3rd March and completed on the 25th May 1972.
Following this experiment, group courses recommenced as Continuous Flow courses, the nine trainees on CF5A arriving at various dates in June and July. The eight trainees of course CF6A arrived between 25th July and the 13th September 1972.
Following this course the Aerial Erector School closed for 10 months to allow a major reorganisation of the training facilities and accommodation.
Continuous Flow training courses recommenced with Course CF 1B on the 6th September 1973.

May 1977 saw the introduction of Further Training Courses designed to give more advanced training to Senior Aircraftsmen who were potential Corporals. The first of these two month long courses, FTC 1, began when Sac's Ken Challis, Billy Gingell, Trevor Holland, Bob Loewe and Mick Willis arrived at RAF Digby on the 16th May 1977. They all successfully completed the course and were returned to their units on the 13th July.
In 1978 a number of other short courses which were designed to give training to RAF personnel on the new Health and Safety regulations especially those regulations pertaining to working at height. These courses included instruction to civilian personnel who worked for the Property Services Authority, Home Office, GCHQ, Civil Aviation Authority and other departments of the Environment Agency plus British Gas and several civilian companies.

Below are four photographs taken in early 1980 showing members of the telecommunications staff of the Civil Aviation Authority during their 3 day Climbing Aptitude Tests and Safety Course.

Climbing up the tower ladder to the 50ft platform.   The 200ft platform is seen high above.

Working across a girder to an outside leg of the tower supervised by Cpl Jed Foster.

In the photograph above on the left Brian Pritchard, Tels M, is concentrating on getting into position to descend the outside of the tower. In the photograph to the right, one of the CAA technicians is descending down the tower leg supervised by Cpl Jed Foster with Flt Sgt Eric Underhill keeping a watchful eye from the ground.

All ten of the Civil Aviation Authority engineers passed the tests and were awarded their "Stenigot Certificates". The photographs were taken by Peter Moon the CAAFU photographer and appeared in the "Airway", the Civil Aviation Authority newspaper along with a detailed description of the course.

In May 1993 a series of Fibre Optic Courses were introduced into the school programme. These new courses included a 3 day Fibre Optic Familiarisation Course and an 8 day Fibre Optic Maintenance course. Ten day Scaffold Erection courses commenced in April 1994.

A project to fit a Stained glass window into the Station Church at RAF Digby began in 2005 under the guidance of Flt Lt. Al Grieves the Commanding Officer of the Aerial Erector School.

The Church of St. Michael - St. Andrew - St Francis at RAF Digby.

The three patron saints reflect the combining of the Church of England, Church of Scotland, Free Churches (CSFC) and the Roman Catholic Chapels into one building.

A view of the interior of the church.

The Riggers Window.

The window which was fitted in 2006 commemorates the role the Aerial Erector School has played in the history of RAF Digby since it arrived there from RAF Norton in 1959.

The Aerial Erector School at RAF Digby is now under the command of the recently formed (Joint Services) Defence College of Communications Information Systems. The Aerial Erector trade has moved from RAF trade group 5 into the RAF trade group 4, the new communications and Information Systems trade group.

The Aerial Erector School Staff 2008.

From left to right,
Front row:-Sgt Stuart Gibson, Sgt Darren "Charlie" Shann,  Sgt Tony Donaldson,  Flt Sgt Mark Davidson,   
Sgt John Summerson,  Sgt Tony Tyrer.
Back row:-  Cpl Graeme "Santa" Walker,  Cpl Paul Topping,   Sac Adam Neary,   Mr Carl Hill,    Cpl Pete Glassman,  Sac Rhys Griffith,  Cpl Carl Knight.   Seven other members of the staff are not in the photograph.

The Aerial Erector School, as part of the Defence College of Communications Information systems through No 1 Radio School at RAF Cosford, is primarily responsible for conducting Basic and Further Training Courses for Trade Group 4 (TG4) RAF Aerial Erectors. They also provide specialised training courses in Climbing Aptitude, Scaffolding and Climbing and Working at Height to meet the requirements of Defence Estates Safety Rules and Procedures for working at Height on Restricted High Places (SRP WaHRHP).
The school is also one of the few specialist training providers to offer an in-depth course in Advanced Fibre Optics, which includes both Single and Multi Mode Fibre systems. In addition to military personnel, the school is able to train civilians drawn from a wide variety of commercial companies, many of who require their job applicants to be graduates of the school.

RAF Stenigot.

Stengot Tower in 1958.

Stenigot 360ft Tower in 2003.

Stenigot has had a face lift with the investment of 50.000 into the training facilities at the site. Brigadier John Terrington opened the new training facilities and Flt Lt Grahme Cooke took over the new training area on behalf of the school.

The new training facilities being inspected by members of the Ex-RAF Aerial Erectors Association during the 7th Reunion visit on the 17th October 2009.

Stenigot opened in 1940 as part of the Chain Home Radar network and played an important part in the defence of the country during the war. The was made redundant by advances in radar technology following the end of the war. All the wooden receiver towers have been demolished and only one of the 360ft steel transmitter towers remains standing on the site and is now a grade 2 listed building.
In 1959 Stenigot was one of five sites within the United Kingdom selected for the establishment of the Ace High NATO communications network. The Ace High ntework was finally abandoned early in the 1990s and all the equipment removed except for the dishes which are still on the site. In 2008/9 the buildings associated with Ace High were demolished.
The one remaining CH tower has been used for height training and testing of personnel since the Aerial Erector School moved from RAF Chigwell in 1956 and continues to be used to this day.
Personnel of all three services and MOD civilians now receive height training for a variety of jobs, not just aerial erecting, at the school.

An Aerial Erector spokesperson recently stated to the RAF News that "Working at height is a specialist field that needs special qualities which HAVE to be tested before acceptance into the RAF (for training as aerial erectors). Only 33% of the population can climb at height and of that 33%, only 33% can CLIMB and WORK at height".

The Aerial Erector School is to move from RAF Digby and be relocated to RAF St Athan under changes announced by the Ministry of Defence as part of a recent Defence Training Review. The move is expected to be completed by 2017. This will be the 4th time the Aerial Erector School has moved since its foundation in the Autumn of 1950. If the move does take place in 2017 the Aerial Erector School will have been at RAF Digby for some 58 years.

More information about the Aerial Erector School at RAF Digby can be found by using the LINK on our Links Page to the Aerial Erector School Website.

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