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.
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,
Please note the
Contact Page is currently out of order.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
and some of his rigging team off out for a well earned night on the town.
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.
- 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Jeep" Jones August 1959.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Sgt John Summerson, Sgt Tony Tyrer.
Back row:- Cpl Graeme "Santa" Walker, Cpl Paul Topping,
Sac Adam Neary, Mr Carl Hill, Cpl
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.
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.
Stengot Tower in
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
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
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 network 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 Cosford under changes
announced by the Ministry of Defence as part of a recent Defence Training Review.
The move was expected to be completed by 2017. This move has now been cancelled
and the Aerial Erector School is expected to remain at RAF Digby where it has been
located for the last 58 years.
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.
this Site - Click Here