On 25 February 1920, the UK government commissioned the construction of the world’s first ‘Aerodrome Control tower’ at what was then London’s main airport in Croydon.

ATC100 logoThe birth of Air Traffic Control is a story you can read more about here and is one we’ll be celebrating this year as part of ATC100. One of our aims is to shine a light on the remarkable and often unsung role Air Traffic Control played in enabling the air travel revolution in the 20th Century. Aviation connects us to places and people in a way that was never thought possible and Air Traffic Control has made – and continues to make – a major contribution to that.

We want to put a spotlight on the past, the technology and the people that made it all possible. As part of that we’ve worked with Historic Croydon Airport Trust to select a handful of the best photos that help tell that story and had them professionally colourised by internationally renowned artist, Marina Amaral.

Marina is a digital colourist who specialises in adding colour to black and white photographs. Her process involves careful historical research to determine the colours of the objects pictured. Crowned “the master of photo colourisation” by WIRED Magazine, her work has been featured by the BBC, Washington Post, New York Post, National Geographic, Le Figaro and a number of other media outlets.

The below results are truly spectacular. Use the slider to move from the original to the colourised image, in which you’ll see details of a lost world brought back to life.

Where it all began; the world’s first Air Traffic Control tower, built at Croydon in 1920.

Croydon from above in 1925. Largely made up of reused WW1 buildings, Croydon was the world’s busiest international ‘air port’ at the time.

The Father of Air Traffic Control – James ‘Jimmy’ Jeffs helped develop many of the early procedures that made the growth of civil aviation possible.

The Airco DH-4 was one of the first airliners and operated a service from London Croydon Airport to Paris in 1920.

As the demand to fly grew, so did Croydon Airport. The new tower, built in 1928, was the most advanced anywhere in the world. Here you can see Radio Officers passing information to pilots.

The role of the first controllers was split between ‘Radio Officers’ who relayed messages to pilots, and the ‘Civil Aviation Traffic Officers’ who plotted their progress using paper maps and pins.


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Very cool



Bernard Dowley

Execellent. Can remember light aircraft still flying in



Seán McErlean

Real history being displayed here.Amazing photographs.Thanks for posting NATS



Andrew Streluk

Very interesting, the colourisation certainly adds to the atmosphere of the workplace shots in particular.




Thanks for sharing this!




I’m a widow of an ATC fella. I loved hearing the stories!



Robson Mendes

Nice job!



David Paskell

Excellent colourisation effort!



Steve Macdonald

Fantastic photographs, thank you. It is astounding to think of the developments that have taken place in ATC over the last century. As an engineer, in the last picture, I was pleased to see some spare Marconi valves in their boxes on top of the equipment console. I also feel some sympathy for those early controllers – those bakelite headsets must have been heavy and uncomfortable.


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