Archie W. League, an Unsung Pioneer of Aviation

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Archie W. League, an Unsung Pioneer of Aviation

In the early 1900’s there was very little need for any type of an organized system of air traffic control in the United States. Most of the flying of the time was being conducted in the daytime during conditions of very good visibility. Pilots generally liked to take off and land into the wind when possible which organized departures and landings to some extent (Nolan 5). But on calm days it seemed like planes were taking off and landing in all sorts of directions. As more and more flights were beginning to take place under the “see and be seen” flying rules a need for some type of air traffic control was needed.

This first air traffic controller was Archie W. League. League was a certified airplane and engine mechanic, who before becoming the first air traffic controller ran his own flying circus. In this circus League performed as what was known as a barnstormer. A barnstormer was a type of pilot that would perform stunts and tricks with their airplane. League and his flying circus toured parts of Missouri and Illinois performing.

In 1929 League was hired by the St. Louis Lambert Municipal Airport to perform the duties of air traffic controller. Back then he would roll a wheelbarrow with an umbrella attached to it out to the end of the runway and use a system of flags to direct air traffic. League performed this duty all year round standing outside with just his flags, the wheelbarrow and a chair. The flag system was very simple being that the controller was only directing planes during good visibility in daylight. League would wave a checkered or green flag at an approaching aircraft letting the pilot know it was ok for them to continue their approach and land. If the pilot needed to hold their position league would wave a red flag to indicate this. Then once it was safe for the pilot to continue and land a green flag would be waved.

While this early flag system was...
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