Ady Dolan is an air traffic controller at Heathrow Tower, and when he’s not talking to aeroplanes, he works in the ATC Operational Support Department designing new procedures.

Whilst working on a recent project, I needed some historical background information from a time when my involvement with aviation was confined to flying paper aeroplanes around the garden. I contacted the NATS Aeronautical Information Service, but only relatively recent data was available. Thankfully, I was pointed in the direction of the National Aerospace Library at Farnborough, which, much to my embarrassment, I never knew existed.

As soon as he picked up the phone I knew that Tony Pilmer, one of the librarians at the NAL, would be able to satisfy my unintelligible request for information. He noted down all of my acronyms, abbreviations and other ATC jargon without question, and got to work. Within an hour I had an email from Tony, complete with a detailed chart from 1970 showing the departure routes from Heathrow - exactly what I wanted.

Heathrow Noise Route 1980

Buoyed by Tony’s response, I decided to be cheeky and ask if he could provide me with any information on the aerodrome layout at Heathrow for the same period. He promptly responded with this aerodrome chart which shows that in 1970, Heathrow still had five operational runways, something which is fairly inconceivable today!

Heathrow blocks 1980

The National Aerospace Library is an important resource which contains a wealth of extremely valuable information, which can often give us the background to help us tackle some of today’s issues. Questions such as “why do we do it like that?” and “where did that rule come from?” can often be answered by a quick call or email to the librarians at Farnborough.

Of course, it is also an aviation geek’s paradise, with some absolute gems available from the golden age of aviation. Perhaps my favourite is from the 1950 Aeronautical Information Publication. In today’s modern world, where GPS co-ordinates can pinpoint a location to within a few micrometres, in 1950 Heathrow’s location was described with charming simplicity; “12 nautical miles West of Westminster Bridge”.

Ady Dolan
10 March 2015