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  History :: Airfield Pundit Codes

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Updated: 7 Feb 12

High-power coloured lights flashing morse code were employed from before World War II as a visual aid to navigation by friendly aircrew. There were only two standard forms, Landmark Beacons (Pundits) and Aerial Lighthouses.

By 1937 all airfields which were intended to fully support night flying had been equipped with a Landmark Beacon. The beacon was and remains more commonly known as the Pundit Beacon.


In the Second World War each RAF airfield was allocated a unique identity code consisting of a bigram, or two-letter code known as a Pundit Code, to support airfield recognition from the air. The bigram was normally allocated on the basis of the airfield's name. As the wartime air force expanded the most popular combinations were rapidly exhausted, requiring a seemingly arbitrary allocation of unusual letters like Z, X, Q and I to some more recent sites, in order to maintain their purpose as unique identifiers.

These letters were repeated in the Signals Square - usually made of white-painted concrete, bordered by white stones and directly adjacent to the Watch Office. These would be visible up to around 2,000ft on a clear day.

Daytime use - Signals Square

Each airfield displayed its code in letters ten feet tall in two concrete rectangles placed in front of the Signals Square. This system of identification functioned perfectly in daylight and in clear weather.

Nighttime Use - Pundit Beacon / Pundit Light Trailer

At night, the base's Pundit Beacon was employed to flash the airfield's Pundit Code in Morse in red light. This was a mobile beacon known as a Pundit Light. Due to the risk of detection and observation by enemy aircraft the beacon was positioned a few miles from the airfield and periodically relocated. Part of crews' pre-mission briefings would include notification of the beacon position in relation to the airfield .

When night flying started the duty electrician would have to walk out to it and switch in on, which could take several minutes to do this and then start transmitting the morse letters for the station. Each airfield typically had three locations and alternate codes which were employed during WW2. Post-war they resumed using the standard code for that airfield and the beacons were located within the airfield perimeter. Once deployed and set up, the airfield ID code in use was set on the control disk. Ground crew would start up the engine and then activate the beacon in accordance to the instructions of Air Traffic Control or flight ops.

The trailed light flashed a red two-letter morse identification with the aid of interchangeable cams. It would be located between 2 and 5 miles from the airfield, and its position and flashing characteristic would be changed periodically, though care had to be taken that there was no duplication of the characteristic within a 1,000 mile radius. It was visible over 360 degrees in azimuth.

The beacon comprised 8 x 400 watt neon tubes and generator, switch gear mounted on a trailer chassis and was powered by a Coventry-Climax 16.9hp engine.

PUNDIT ident beacon - photograph with kind permission of Dave Smith

Night Identification Panel

Where installed, the Night Identification Panels were an illuminated version of the Signals Square, and often located at opposite ends of the main runway, at the junction of the outer circuit and lead-in lights. These were mostly found in the crowded flat lands of eastern England.

The Aerial Lighthouse

The Aerial Lighthouse differed from the Pundit in both purpose and format. It was mounted on a standard RAF trailer and consisted of a single powerful filament lamp enclosed in a rotating venetian blind. The lighthouse emitted a single white letter in morse, which could be seen for around 60 miles. Each aerial lighthouse code was unique within a 150 mile radius.

A number of these were in operation in the UK as part of the Occult system. They were used to indicate particular geographical features, points of entry or exit to air routes, and turning points. They were generally not associated with airfields. (Employment during the wartime)

For further background on the early history of the aerial lighthouses visit Mycetes.co.uk

AiX discussion about pundit codes

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