airfield markings

In the good old, bad old days, airfields were just that..... a field. A pilot may well have found it by following a road or railway line, and just to make sure, the name of the airfield was often painted in large letters on the hanger roof. A low and slow pass over the field to see the wind sock and the pilot would then land into the wind.

Like everything else in this world, things have got a lot more complicated than that. Trainee pilots at first become very concerned that they can never identify an airfield from the air. Rest assured that after only a short time, you will notice even long defunct airstrips with no trouble at all. In any case, with the use of radio navigation equipment including of course the GPS system it is not at all hard to locate any published airfield. A dying practice to communicate with pilots in the air is the use of the signals square. A 12 metre square on the ground has movable symbols that if remembered will give information about the airfield. If they exist at all, they are always marked on the airfield plate as a 'T'. In the current environment they are quite difficult to see, and the use of radio communication and the provision of good airfield data makes them largely unnecessary. Many pilots would agree that their eyesight is better employed keeping a lookout for other aircraft.

airfield plate of Shobdon (UK)

signals square key


these ground  signals are used outside the signals square

additional signals on military fields

Signs for aircraft on the ground

The pilot reporting point is just about always present, often at the control tower or office. That's where they collect the landing fee! As for the rest, they hardly exist at all, although one is supposed to know about them to pass the exam.

the windsock

Last but definitely not the least is the windsock. Installed on every airfield, they are the most direct indication to the pilot of wind direction. Due to local conditions, some airfields may have more than one, and they may very well show different wind direction. The most famous example is the airfield of Gibraltar. Not only does the runway bisect the main Gibraltar road, but wind direction may be completely opposite at one end of the runway to the other due to the effect of the 'Rock'.

Gibraltar Field

The position of the windsock is always published on airfield plates. They may be 20 knot or 30 knot socks. It is rather important to know which they are, and sadly, not every airfield plate will specify. If the sock is completely horizontal, the wind strength will be 20/30 knots or more.