Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 23, 1986


History of Gander Aeradio

In 1935 officials of the British Air Ministry visited Newfoundland and selected Botwood as a flying boat base and the site of Gander as a suitable land plane base.  Land planes at that time already started to replace the flying boats as a result of advances in the air industry developments which made land based planes more feasible for long distance travel.  With this shift of attention in aviation and with the completion of the new airport, radio operations moved from Botwood to Gander on November 30, 1938. 

The need for a radio link to aircraft arose so ground personnel could communicate with aircraft the course of their journey across the North Atlantic.  At that time wireless operators handled all takeoff and landing instructions and Air Traffic Control was not a separate entity in communications or control as we know it today.  In addition, a distress and safety watch was maintained and regular progress reports were solicited from aircraft at predetermined points of longitude and latitude.  Although today control does not rest with Aeradio, it is still the responsibility of the Flight Service Specialist to maintain this communications link which is so vital.  During these early years in Radio and Aviation, propagation also posed its share of problems in maintaining this link.  Selection of appropriate frequencies had to be made so that communications would not be lost as aircraft disappeared over the horizon.

All air/ground communications to and from aircraft at that time were transmitted by radio operators using International Morse Code, as radio telephony was not introduced until 1948. 

Up until 1941 the British Air Ministry had been in charge of radian operations at Gander with the exception of a few months when Canadian Pacific took over. 

With the outbreak of World War II the Atlantic Ferry Organization (ATFERO) assumed control of Aeradio due to increased demand for efficient communications.  Gander’s strategic location made it an important stepping stone to Europe for aircraft that were being ferried to the war zone from the United States, with Aeradio responsible for North Atlantic communications west of 30 degree Longitude.  It was around this time that Aeradio became known as the “Signals Centre” or “Signals” for short. 

As the war continued, the Royal Air Force Ferry Command, which later changed its name to the RAF Transport Command, assumed control of the operation.  Under the jurisdiction of these two military organizations radio operators were dressed in uniform, even though they remained civilians.  As reiterated by some of the veterans of Aeradio, not all the work done at Signals was aircraft related.  After the German Pocket Battleship “Bismarck” sank the HMS Hood off the coast of Norway, she made course back to Germany, requesting assistance from the German Admiralty along the way.  ”Signals” intercepted these messages, plotting her course and sent bearings off to White Hall in London as they were received.  From this, the British Navy was able to track the Bismarck and finish what the Hood and other ships were not able to do alone.

News was not so well received when the Caribou was sunk in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, October 14, 1942.  “Signals” had been picking up messages from five U-Boats in the area before the disaster.

After the war, the Civil Aviation Division of the Newfoundland Government assumed control of radio operations until it was passed to the Canadian Air Transportation Administration.  This department, which holds control to the present day, assumed responsibility for all communications relevant to the operation of transatlantic crossing and controls whilst en route.

With the introduction of radio telephone in 1948 and with the increase in the AOR (area of responsibility) for Gander in 1950 when oceanic control moved from Moncton to Gander, Aeradio entered a new era in Canada Aviation history.  Operations continued to improve as an expanded number of frequencies were introduced when the present building was built and commissioned in 1957.

The 1960s saw further improvements and developments in technology of electronic equipment such as, transmitters, receivers, teletypewriters and landline connections but apparently technology could not keep abreast of increased demands by multi-international air carriers requesting the services of Gander Aeradio during their regular flights across the North Atlantic.  This led to the last major developments of the 1970s when the reporting system became fully computerized, thereby, increasing the speed which in-flight communications could be processed.  The change from AM (amplitude modulation) to SSB (single sideband) transmission also took place during this period.

This year, 1986, will mark a new milestone when Gander International Flight Service completes its planned move and enters the latest state-of-the-art technology of the eighties.

Today, Gander International Flight Service Station is the largest aeradio station operated by the Ministry of Transport in Canada, both in terms of volume of messages and the number of staff.  Fifty-four specialists operate on a continuous 24 hour rotating shift under a mandate from ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) to provide for the safe and expedient movement of aircraft with the 1,152,000 square miles of Gander’s oceanic area.  In maintaining a liaison between aircraft and ATC, last year Gander IFSS provided communications to approximately 115,000 aircraft, resulting in about a half million contacts.  These contacts included everything from enroute safety messages, company reclearance messages, significant enroute weather information and dangers to navigation, not to mention distress communications and communications of an urgent nature.  In addition to the nine air/ground circuits, the station also operates a weather broadcast position, known as Volmet, sending out two ten minute weather broadcasts every hour. 

Researched by Carol Walsh


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