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Air Traffic Control

Early Airway Traffic Control

In December 1935, an airline consortium opened the first Airway Traffic Control Station for keeping aircraft safely separated as they moved between airports.

Airway control

The photo above shows operations at this Newark, N.J., facility during the following year. The en route controllers kept track of the position of planes moving along the airways with the help of maps and blackboards. They had no direct radio link with aircraft. Instead, they used telephones to stay in touch with airline dispatchers, airway radio operators, and airport traffic controllers. These individuals fed information to the en route controllers and also relayed their instructions to pilots.

Plotting aircraft movement

Earl Ward (top) organized the Newark facility. Here, he tracks a flight with the aid of a caliper as R. A. Eccles watches. The pointed markers representing aircraft were moved across the map as flights progressed. First developed by controller J. V. Tighe, these markers came to be known as "shrimp boats."

Ward soon became the first chief of airway traffic control for the Bureau of Air Commerce, whose leaders had encouraged the creation of such stations as a response to a growing danger of midair collisions. In July 1936, the Bureau fulfilled its promise to assume operation of the Newark facility and two others that had been established at Chicago and Cleveland. This began Federal air traffic control, and the three "stations" became the forerunners of today's Air Route Traffic Control Centers.

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