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.
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
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.
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'.
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.