A Pilot's narrative involving Gunpost


Friday, April 10, 1959
Feature Section

Berlin Bound Airliners Fly the 'Straight and Narrow'

A pilot tells how aircraft manage to keep within 20 mile "corridors" in spite of weather conditions

by Captain Marius Lodeesen, Pan American World Airways

A THUNDER CLOUD LOOMS on the horizon in the direction of Berlin, directly on our big airliners course, promising our passengers a good bouncing around if we fly into it. Yet, we're in "the corridor" across Communist East Germany, and we have to stay in it. That leaves us only 10 miles to maneuver on either side of our center line....

That is a pretty routine situation faced by the pilots of commercial airliners which fly day and night into Berlin from West Germany. Only three corridors are available for this service. The flight plans of these aircraft must be submitted to regular Airway Control and to the Berlin Air Safety Center. How is it possible for the pilots to stay within the boundaries of these narrow air lanes at prescribed altitudes and still avoid severe weather
disturbances without deviating much from their courses?

Not so difficult, in most cases. Come along with us on a typical flight and see for yourself.

Our Clipper has taken off from Frankfurt with a flight plan to Berlin, via Fulda and Dessau, altitude 9,000 feet. The weather office has forecast isolated thunderstorms on our proposed track.

By the time we reach 9,000 feet we are over Fulda radio range station, and we sign off with Frankfurt Airway Control. Now we call the ground radar station located some 50 miles to the North. Meanwhile we position ourselves on the centerline of the southern corridor, which we will enter a few miles southwest of Eisenach.

A radio beam is directed right through the middle of the corridor to Dessau, where it is met by a similar beam transmitted from a station at Berlin. On our instrument panel in the plane this beam actuates a vertical needle of a crosspointer. When we are drifting off to the left, for instance, this shows instantly as a movement of the needle indicating to us to fly to the right.

By listening to the identification signal of this beam, we can make sure we are tuned in to the right station.

We now call the radar station and he replies: "Pan AM Clipper 664, this is 'Gunpost.' I have you coming on course, 99 miles from Koennern Intersection. There is a thunderstorm directly on your course about 10 miles ahead of you. Do you want me to steer you around?"

We have, for sometime, noticed the dirty looking buildup of clouds right in our path, and we tell Gunpost we would appreciate his help. We are advised to change course by 20 degrees to the right. We are now entering the cloud deck, and just be sure we snap the NO SMOKING-FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS sign in the cabin. Thunderstorms are not to be taken lightly. In every well developed storm there may be areas of severe turbulence. Staying away from these is one of our missions.

Because we are so close to the radio beam transmitter, it is of little use to us, the needle is clear off to the left, showing we are off course, but we could not tell how much if it were not for Gunpost who presently advises: "Clipper 644: now steer 70 degrees for a few minutes."

THE SHIP SWAYS moderately to and fro, rain pelts the windshield, but a cup of coffee standing on the floor beneath me has not spilled a drop yet, and I have enough confidence in Gunpost to let it stand there. We are close to the heart of the storm. the clouds are getting thicker, and we can see lightning flashing. We must be along the southern edge of the corridor, and Gunpost advises us we are eight miles south of the centerline, and to change course back on track again. As we approach the centerline the needle becomes
"alive" and finally centers itself. We are back on track again.

"Clipper 664, an Air Force plane is approaching you on opposite heading, his position 11 o'clock. 1,000 feet below you" comes our radar friend again. "There," points my copilot, "slightly to your left." Sure enough, we see a silhouette of a two engine plane etched sharply against the clouds and approaching fast. "We have him in sight, Gunpost. Thanks," I tell him as the Air Force plane is whizzing by.

By and by we are approaching Dessau where Gunpost will lose sight of us, and turn us over to Berlin Control and radar. We receive clearance and weather information from Berlin, and begin our descent from 9,000 feet. Just after passing Dessau, Berlin radar advises: "Clipper 644: I have five unidentified targets on your 9 o'clock position, heading northwest."

Through the famous Tempelhof "slot" we descend, over the cemetery, between the apartment houses flanking it. The power comes off, the nose of the ship is gently raised, and we are rolling along the runway.

"Nice, easy flight," comments the copilot, gathering his maps and manuals in his briefcase. "Right you are," I reply, "but you realize, of course, that now begins the really dangerous part of this journey: the taxi ride to the hotel!"

Note:"Gunpost" was the call sign of the 601st AC&W Squadron radar station at
Rothwesten and, later, at OL # 1, Wasserkuppe, Germany.
Article courtesy of Glen Griffitts, Gunpost 1957-1960


Dale Lake comments:

As I recall, there were sort of 3 versions of "Gunpost".  The first was at Rothwesten, the 2nd at Wasserkuppe (where I was stationed) and the 3rd back at Rothwesten in mid 1961 (where I was also stationed). The Wasserkuppe Gunpost was an AC&W site and the 2nd Rothwesten Gunpost was a Matador Tactical Missile site. I was an intercept controller at the 1st and a tactical missile controller at the second (moving there from the deactivated Hacksaw tactical missile site near Hamm.



A latter day view of Gunpost from the road below taken by Bill Marts




I remember the winter of 55 our wind speed indicator blew away after recording a wind speed of 90 knots. It was the strongest wind I've been in.
Also the summer of 56 one of the airmen captured a "spy" looking at at the Gunpost site during summer maneuvers.
George Stanley


Some Gunpost humor by Ray Sanderson