Aircraft Warning Towers

Written By Elizabeth Jones Macy
Originally published in the History Corner of the May 2008 edition of the OAI Newsletter

As WW11 heated up, the United States Air Force introduced the Aircraft Warning Service, an integral part of home defense, built and operated by volunteers. There was a small network of these Observation Posts across the USA. I think some posts were located on the rooftops of existing community buildings. However, for reasons unknown to me, our back yard was selected as the perfect location for a regional tower!

I do not have the construction specs for this job but it was much like a forestry watch tower; slightly above tall pine trees with a little cabin at the top. My dad, Mahlon Hall Jones, and Hugh Seigler (friend and local electrician) put this edifice together with their bare hands~~both emboldened with alcohol, guts, and mom on the ground praying and wringing her hands– sweating bullets lest they fall and break their necks!

Upon completion the post passed inspection with flying colors and no loss of life or limb. Dad was presented post haste with a Chief Observer wings ID lapel pin! He had ‘clout’; if you misbehaved or were a slouch you received stern advice to “shape up or ship out”. Ignore him and you were stripped of your pin! I still have mine! Lapel pins were issued to all volunteers who passed the Air Force test but were only ID’d as “Observer”. They also had photo ID cards that looked much like driver’s licenses. Very official.

Just about every able-bodied Arlington resident 12 yrs. or older participated in this program~~ shifts had to be covered 24/7! If an enemy aircraft crossed our borders the Air Force needed to know! Since it was in our backyard and my dad was “head honcho” I’m sure you know what happened during the 12 midnite to early AM hours when someone didn’t show up…

Since radar was not yet available the Air Force required all volunteers to learn the ID of every warring nation’s aircraft~~ by sight or by sound only. Typical report included: number of planes, number of engines, altitude(hi or low), seen or heard, compass point and distance from the post, and compass point heading. The second a plane passed within sight or sound the flight was imediately called in by phone to a reporting center and logged in on our tower copy which was set up in columns.

Rep. ex:

Post ID planes eng. alt. seen/hrd dir. dist. headed
Peg47 3 sing low seen W 1 mi N
1 multi hi hrd S 2 mi N

We learned this skill by attending classes at the AF base where we were shown charts with black aircraft silhouettes and heard many simulated and varied engine sounds. Our post name was “PEG47”.

Many times we would have mutiple flights and formations to report simultaneously. Continuous amphibian types patroling the St. Johns River & beaches with formations of 3 to 6 planes in smog, fog, smoke, etc.. It was a very unbelievable situation at times … but we learned to do it all as smoothly AND accurately as possible with little stress. It was our job to help defend the USA at home…and we did whatever it took! Dedication to our homeland and its safety was more ingrained in the fiber of our society than it is today….and that’s scary.

Oh yes, I almost forgot the most exciting part of this community’s rich heritage story. The USAF sent a Japanese Zero across the country to test our national cadre of volunteers. Guess who was the first – AND I heard ONLY – tower to correctly identify and report this enemy plane??? You got it – Arlington, Florida!! We received a special commendation. Do I hear the national anthem? Stand up and salute!