More on flashing airfield beacons, UK, WW2
I hope that members may be interested to read more on WW2 flashing light beacons.
With due respect to Lyffe in #10 above, his doubts about my posts ("Mm, would beacons be viable during WW2?") and his mistaken view that the RAF Historical Soc article on Navigation "does not mention beacons" (it does, p56, see my #11 above), I think need full rebuttal from reliable citable sources, for historical accuracy and possible future reference.
So, in addition to the mid-1944 Master Bombers narrative, #15 above, I've now revisited Roderick Chisholm's Cover of Darkness. Having been so long away from Service flying from his 1930s AuxAF experience, Chisholm started pilot training afresh soon after return to the UK in early 1940. He describes the intensities, difficulties and dangers of flying training with great candour.
Having completed his flying training at 3 SFTS c Jun 1940, without an OTU course (not at all uncommon at the time) F/O Chisholm was posted to his old Aux AF unit, No 604 Squadron, on 22 Jun 1940. Then at Northolt, by July they were based at Middle Wallop. Here he is, not long after joining the Squadron, on his first night cross-country, 7 July 1940 in Blenheim I L8681 with Sgt Stewart as crew.
"My first night cross-country came some time afterSource: Roderick A Chisholm CBE DSO DFC+Bar Cover of Darkness (Chatto & Windus 1953) OCR transcript from scanned pdf (pp30-32).
leaving the F.T.S. It was very short, unpremeditated
and, although a good enough story afterwards, very
frightening. I was to do 'circuits and bumps', and be-
cause there were several of us doing the same thing I
was kept waiting, signalling for permission to land but
ignored, for about half an hour. I was anything but
composed, and when a turn proved too much for the
directional gyro, which spun, I also lost my sense of
At last I was given a 'green', but the dim pattern of
aerodrome lights made little sense by this time, and
my approach to land was not aligned with the flare-
path, whose direction I understood too late. I had to
go round again. The wheels and flaps on a Blenheim
came up rather slowly, and by the time I was ready
to start a circuit I knew that I was several miles from
the aerodrome; but I could not picture my position,
and the lights which I could see did nothing but con-
fuse me. I was flustered, and the situation suddenly
got out of hand. I did not know where I was; there-
fore I was lost. A feeling of panic came over me, and
I could not think of anything except getting down
somehow on to terra firma. It must be this paralysis
that causes the inexplicable night-flying accidents. It
took a great effort for common sense to overcome this
one instinct, which seemed still to work, to return to
earth as soon as possible; but slowly this happened and
item by item things were checked. What height?
What speed? Climbing or diving? Where was I likely
to be? Each of these checks, usually done instinctively
and instantaneously, now needed a special effort.
I was too low; I must climb so that I could see the
beacons. I climbed unsteadily to two thousand feet.
Bit by bit the crisis passed and confidence returned.
The night was clear and I knew I could not be far
from base. It was only necessary to keep my head.
This is what was then going through my mind;
this is the shameful performance of the uninitiated:
"There's a beacon—what's it flashing?—dot some-
thing, missed it—climbing too steeply—must level out
-now where's that beacon again?—get the beacon
paper—(it's too flimsy)—where's the torch?—mustn't
get flustered again—there's plenty of time—climbing
again—must level out—Andover V L , Wallop D A —
now where's the beacon?—there it is—think clearly,
read it slowly—looks like a V then L , that's certain—
read it again—there it goes again: it's Andover—
about 240 degrees for Wallop—settle down, align the
gyro—steady—lights ahead—a beacon—flashing D A
—that's Wallop—this is simple—I could go on, I'd
like to go on now—this will be a joke to-morrow."
I believe that experiences like these were common
enough; I suspect that most pilots have, at one time,
felt what I felt."
And 604 Squadron Operations Record Book
Summary Of Events Form 540 Jun 1940
Record of Events Form 541 July 1940
Albeit both written some time after the events, these two participant accounts from mid 1940 and mid 1944 are consistent in recording the nature and value of the flashing airfield beacon system.