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No 90 Signals Unit, RAF Leeming, Antarctica, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar.

RAF Leeming.

No 90 Signals Unit.

The Mighty Ninety.

Most of the RAF's Air Combat Service Support (Communications) Units are now located at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire. The Aerial Engineering Flight, No 1 Expeditionary Radar and Airfields Squadron moved from RAF Sealand in March 2006 to RAF Leeming where it became part of the Tactical Communications Wing, 90 Signals Unit.

No 90 Signals Unit riggers on parade.

Although about 70% of the riggers are now based at RAF Leeming with No 90 Signals Unit, the unit has several regional servicing teams based in other parts of the United Kingdom. The unit often has installation, maintenance and recovery teams working world wide.

Working in the Big Freezer.

A line of 16 share antennas at the British Antarctic Survey base Halley.

During the Antarctic summer months, in recent years, the RAF has had a number of teams of aerial erectors on detachment to the British Antarctic Survey bases to assist in improving communications. In the picture above, riggers from the Aerial Engineering Flight of 90 Signals Unit can be seen working on a line of 16 share aerials. The boom of one aerial has been attached to the crane and is about to be lowered to the ground for servicing. Once the boom is removed, thus reducing the weight on the mast, checks are carried out on the bolts that secure the mast sections together looking any metal fatigue caused by the severe weather conditions.

Working in the Falkland Islands.

Port Stanley airfield June 1982.
259 Radar Detachment was located to the right of the buildings on the low hill in the background.

The first riggers landed in Port Stanley the day after the surrender of the Argentine forces. They were Sgt Hughie Smith, Cpl George Burrell, Cpl Andy Dibb, Sacs Kevin Lowden, Steve Maxwell, Paul Williams and Dave Canavan. They were part of 259 Radar Detachment which had been flown down from RAF Brize Norton to Ascension Island in May and had then sailed for the Falkland Islands on board the North Sea ferry St Edmund. On arrival they were placed in the holding area while waiting for permission to land at San Carlos. The landing was delayed as the Scots Guards had taken Mt. Tumbledown and Mt. Kent had also been captured. It was expected that Port Stanley would also fall soon. When it did fall, the St Edmund sailed round to Port Stanley and 259 Radar Detachment was put ashore immediately. The mobile radar unit set up camp on the airfield providing radar cover for the whole of the islands thus releasing the Royal Navy ships which had been providing radar cover during the conflict.

In the photograph above, taken at Port Stanley airfield, are four of the seven riggers. Left to right - rear:-Sgt Hughie Smith and Cpl Andy Dibb; front - Sac Steve (Max) Maxwell and Sac Paul (Taff) Williams. They are standing among the accommodation tents having a well earned tea break from sorting out the radomes and kit as it was delivered off the transport ship and building the camp to make it as comfortable as possible while the scopies and techs operated the radar to give better coverage than the ships.

Sac (now WO) Dave Canavan making his way past some wrecked Argentine Pucara aircraft, having just had lunch at the field kitchen which was located on the opposite side of the runway.

Going home. Job Done.
Front left to right:- Dave Canavan, Paul Williams and Kevin Lowden waiting at the tradesman's entrance of a Hercules which is being loaded up for the return trip to Brize Norton. Three Hercules had landed at the same time and two had already departed cas-evacing injured soldiers.

The Tactical Communications Wing Detachment was located on the opposite side of the airfield near to the field kitchen.
259 Radar Detachment was the fore-runner of No 1 Air Control Centre.

In June 1982 work started to assemble a fitting party and equipment to establish permanent signals communications with the RAF Headquarters in the United Kingdom. The fitting party was tasked with building a transmitter site, receiver site, airfield radar, navigational aids and ground to air communications network to replace the temporary equipment of the Tactical Communications Wing and 259 Radar detachment.
By September 1982 the fitting party's team of aerial erectors had been gathered from staff at RAF Digby, RAF Henlow and RAF North Luffenham. The team was flown by VC10 to RAF Wideawake on Ascension Island and then by sea on board the roll on - roll off ferry Norland to Port Stanley.
A transmitter site was quickly established at Windy Ridge and a receiver site at The Canache. The receiver site was located on boggy ground and there were problems with the mast bases sinking into the peat. No concrete was available but the problem was solved by placing old cable drum sides on the ground and mounting the mast bases on them thus spreading the weight of the masts.

Canache Rx Aerial Section.

The Tx Aerial Section at Windy Ridge.

HF communications were quickly established with the Signals Centre at RAF Stanbridge thus relieving the pressure on the satellite communication links.
The team also carried out repairs to the gearbox of the AR1 radar unit and the TACAN unit was moved from its original tent into a re-cycled radome.

The radome under construction can be seen above with the airfield in the background. The corner of the tent which housed the TACAN can be seen in the bottom lefthand side of the photograph.

Back row, standing, left to right:- Steve Linstead, Mark Tarr, Richard "Dick" Hogarth and Nick Chaitow.
Front row, left to right:- Dave Crooks, Tony John and Gordon "Jock" Hays.


In Memorium.

Aerial Erector (2473869) Corporal Dennis "Billy" Bowes.
Killed while working on the aerial farm by a rock fall on the 15th December 1969.
We will remember him.

A view of the air traffic control tower showing the UHF and VHF aerials on the cupola and the steel tower supporting the passive reflector aerials.

The early 1950s transmitter site was located at North Front and housed a number of SWB8s with a smaller transmitter site housing about six 1509s and a pair of SWB8s located at Middle Hill.

Middle Hill Tx site in the distance, 1955.

The Middle Hill Tx Hall entrance, 1955.

Thanks to ex-J/T Chris Meadows who supplied this information about the early 1950s and kindly gave permission to use the two photographs seen above.

The Middle Hill transmitter site was re-constructed and refurbished in 1958 along with the Rock Gun receiver site. The work was carried out by No 9 Radio Fitting Party, Ground Radio Installation Squadron (known as the Gypsy Sqdn) of the Radio Engineering Unit based at RAF Henlow.

The fitting party included a team of eight aerial erectors led by the late Sgt Ron "Spike" Law, front row 4th from the left. One of the riggers, Darrell Whitham, took the photographs seen here.

The Middle Hill transmitter site in 1958, when the construction of the buildings was almost completed.

All the radio equipment was installed by the fitting party Ground Wireless fitters and mechanics and all the aerials and associated cabling by the team of aerial erectors.

The new transmitter hall during the installation process. Note the work benches and tables made from the wooden packing cases used to transport the equipment from the United Kingdom.

Riggers installing the UHF and VHF aerials on one of the 90ft wooden towers at the Rock Gun receiver site.

Following the closure of Middle Hill and its associated sites there are no riggers permanently based at RAF Gibraltar (North Front) and all signals traffic is now civilianised.
There are no RAF aircraft currently stationed at Gibraltar and the remaining RAF personnel handle all RAF aircraft in transit and form part of the Combined Forces Unit.

The cartoon above was sent to me by Chick Denson claiming that it might bring back memories of my mis-spent youth. AS IF!!! The original cartoon is by someone called Kane and appears to come from a book or collection of cartoons. I have adapted it by adding a different caption and the name of a Hostelry near RAF Akrotiri. My thanks to Chris "Tommo" Thompson who kindly supplied the name of the bar in Akrotiri village in Cyprus frequented by the riggers.

Eddie Edwards

Ex- rigger (V)4178312 Brian "Eddie" Edwards.

I served as an Aerial Erector for 12 years having joined the RAF in January 1956. Following my basic training at RAF Hednesford I passed the climbing tests at RAF Canewdon in May 1956. I successfully completed the Aerial Erector Training course (6B) at RAF Chigwell in July 1956. I was then posted across the road from the Aerial Erector School to No 4 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron and worked as a part of a small team of riggers carrying out emergency repairs and servicing on RAF bases in the south east of England before being posted to the Far East Air Force in November 1956.
On arrival in Singapore I was posted to the Signals Centre at RAF Negombo in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). I worked as a station rigger at RAF Ekala transmitter site where I was promoted to Corporal. I was then posted to the Signals Centre at RAF Kai Tak in Hong Kong in November 1957. During my stay in Hong Kong I was awarded an AOC's Commendation for my part in the construction of the radar towers at RAF Tai Mo Shan.
On my return to the United Kingdom in May 1959 I was posted to No 3 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron at RAF Norton in Sheffield. On arrival at RAF Norton I was immediately transfered to the Aerial Erector School as an Instructor. In September 1959 I took the Advance Party from RAF Norton to RAF Digby to prepare the accommodation and classrooms for the move of the Aerial Erector School to RAF Digby in Lincolnshire.
In November 1959 I was again posted to the Far East Air Force, travelling on HMT Nevasa to Singapore. I was based at the Radio Repair Squadron, 390 Maintenance Unit at RAF Seletar in Singapore where I carried out the installation, recovery and servicing of masts, aerial arrays and feeder systems at RAF bases throughout Singapore, Malaya and Borneo. I returned to the United Kingdom in May 1962.
I was then posted to the Ground Radio Installation Squadron (known as the Gypsy Squadron), a part of the Radio Engineering Unit at RAF Henlow. I was in charge of a small team of riggers working on various installation and recovery tasks throughout the United Kingdom and overseas.
In December 1963 I was posted to the Middle East Air Force for two years at the Electronics Repair Squadron, 131 Maintenance Unit at RAF Khormaksar. Once again I was carrying out the installation and maintenance of masts, aerial arrays and feeder systems at the various RAF bases in Aden plus Riyan, Salalah, Masirah, Sharjah, Bahrain, Perim Island and Eastleigh in Kenya. In December 1965 I returned to the United Kingdom and was based at the Ground Radio Servicing Centre, RAF North Luffenham where I was promoted to Sergeant in August 1966. On promotion I was posted to the Ground Radio Installation Squadron, Radio Engineering Unit at RAF Henlow where I was in charge of various detachments installing masts, aerial arrays and feeder systems at a number of RAF bases including RAF Episkopi in Cyprus, the Central Communications Centre base at RAF Edlesbough and Southern Radar at RAF Sopley until I completed my service in 1968. Nearly 8 years of my 12 years service were carried out overseas.

In 1956 the RAF's advertising posters said "Join the Royal Air Force and see the world" so I did and I DID. Happy days!.


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