Military Ops





DREM Lighting Approach System

By J. Pinsent

During our digital model research gathering of information on Gander airport during WWII, we came across a copy of a map which peaked our curiosity. The map showed a circle that surrounded the airport. Of course, our first source was Frank Tibbo. Frank said he encountered a series of light poles outside of the airport at one time which also peaked his curiosity. He had contacted the late Gerald Mercer, a one time electrician who worked in Gander during the construction period and later with Transport Canada as an airport electrician, for a solution to this oddity.

drem map

Original map

Simplified Map

Mr. Mercer solved Frank’s curiosity. It was called the DREM Lighting System and used as a visual approach aid. It consisted of a circle of lights that surrounded the airport known as the DREM. Approach lights, an aircraft, in poor weather, after finding the circle could circle the airport, and follow the DREM, until it came to the approach lights which led to the threshold of the landing runway. The DREM lights, were powered by two independent circuits so that every second light was powered by one source while the others were powered by an alternative source. Therefore, if one power source failed, every second light would remain lighted. The diameter of the circle of lights was 3.46 miles (5.68 km). The circumference was 10.87 miles (17.83 km.) The only place there was a break in the circle was where it crossed Deadman's Pond. Each DREM light was placed on a wooden base about four feet high, larger at the bottom than at the top. The lights could be telescoped upward 30 inches away from winter snows.

With this information we investigated where this system originated.  It all started at the RAF base in Drem, Scotland. During WWII Royal Air Force Station Drem was one of the most active fighter stations in Scotland, situated in East Lothian, some 20 miles east of the city of Edinburgh.

Because of adverse weather conditions, most of the time, created a problem for the recovery of aircraft. At this stage in aviation, instrument approach systems were very rare and expensive. During the war, innovation outpaced invention. The RAF Drem Station Commander was Wing Commander "Batchy" Atcherly,who devised a revolutionary new system. Essentially, it involved mounting shrouded lights on poles 10 feet high at dispersed designated positions around the airfield in a particular pattern. These lights were only visible to aircraft in the circuit, and could be dimmed sufficiently to render them invisible to attacking enemy aircraft.

Atcherly's lighting arrangement was simple and worked well in operation under less than good weather conditions. It certainly made landing fighters at night vastly safer. The Air Ministry was so impressed with the Drem Lighting System that they made it standard at all RAF stations, and in due course it was improved upon and perfected. 

To the best of our knowledge, Gander airport was the only airport in North America to use the Drem lighting system.


Research was gathered from www.Rafdrem.co.uk and Frank Tibbo’s writings

Additional information received from Darrell Hillier

The outer circle of DREM approach lighting at Gander was 3000 yards from the center of the airfield. The lights were white and 400 yards apart. The lead-in funnels to runways 14, 32, 18, 36, 09 and 27 were also white. A Barlow low visibility approach lighting system was installed on each end of runways 14 and 32, and consisted of a double row of high intensity red lights at 200 foot intervals for 1,000 yards from the end of each runway. Across the end of runways 14 and 32 were two sets of double green lights 300 feet apart. Runway lighting itself consisted of a double row of flare-pots at 200 foot intervals along the runway in use.




Contributed by J. Pinsent


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