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Corporal David Wolman; Air Traffic Controller with the 412th Air Service Group, 100th Bomb Group (photo courtesy of David Wolman). 





                         Air Traffic Control at Thorpe Abbotts: A
                             Story of David Wolman’s Service
                       By Matt Mabe, 100th BG Historical Team

During the 100th Bomb Group reunion this past October, we had an opportunity to talk with David Wolman, who served as an Air Traffic Controller at Thorpe Abbotts during 1943-1945. Of note, the Dulles Reunion was 96-year old Wolman’s first, and he attended with his daughter Nancy. 

A summary of Wolman’s service during World War II is detailed below.
David Wolman was born in Brooklyn, New York, and
was drafted in 1942. After completing basic training,
Wolman learned there were openings in the control
tower operations field, and he elected to pursue that
job path. Wolman subsequently attended a sevenweek
training course on control tower operations near
Champaign, Illinois, and he also completed radio
operator school at Truax Field in Wisconsin. In early
1943, Wolman was sent to Hunter Army Airfield in
Georgia, where he received advanced training and he
also installed radio equipment in B-26 Marauders.

Wolman arrived at Thorpe Abbotts in August 1943, where he was assignedas an Air Traffic Controller with the 412th Air Service Group and he held the rank of Corporal. Wolman worked for Captain Vincent Biondino, Group Communications Officer, and Lieutenant James Pound and his work station was on the ground level of the
control tower. Wolman remarked that his fellow flying control members were “all good fellas”to work with. The flying control personnel worked in the tower during the course of three different shifts, and Wolman primarily covered the day shift. Wolman’s duties on any given day included keeping a log book of planes and recording other occurrences near the runway area. On the day of a mission,  the pilots would check their radios with Wolman or with the respective Air Traffic Controller on duty in the
tower as their planes lined up on the taxiway, and the tower was referred to over the radio as “clearup”.

Wolman remarked that it was an “incredible” sight to see all the B-17s line up and take off fora mission. 

During the actual mission, Wolman remained on duty and monitored the radio inthe event a plane had to return to the base early. In anticipation of the group’s return to base after a mission, Wolman vividly recalled seeing Colonel Thomas Jeffrey and other senior officers standing against the railing on the second floor of the tower, counting the returning B-17s.

During the landing process, there was no unnecessary radio chatter. As aircraft returned, Wolman would communicate with the pilot or co-pilot and advise if they were “cleared to land” and he would direct them on which runway to land on. If there were any injured airmen on board, the pilot would communicate that information to Wolman, and the medics would be notified to be ready. Additionally, if the approaching aircraft
advised Wolman of a mechanical issue that may result in the plane missing the runway or making a hard landing, the fire department on base would be dispatched immediately. Wolman was also on duty at the control tower
during some of the 100th’s most difficult missions, such as the October 10, 1943
mission to Munster. Wolman said it was always tough to see only a few planes come back from a particular mission, and he recalled one instance that lingered with him in which saw the tail section of an incoming B-17 that was badly damaged and he later learned that the tail gunner had been killed.

Wolman’s busiest and most memorable experience at Thorpe Abbotts came on June 6, 1944, D-Day, when the 100th Bomb Group flew three missions. Wolmanwas awoken at 0500, and was directed to immediately report to the control tower. Wolman said the pace of operations during that time “remained busy”, and Wolman worked exhaustively for the next three days. During his time with the 100th Bomb Group, Wolman also assisted with the weekly Jewish service on base. There was only one chief rabbi for the 3rd Air Division, therefore there was not a rabbi permanently based at Thorpe Abbotts. Wolman would help
conduct the Jewish service on Friday evenings, and a photo of that service, which shows Wolman, can be seen in the Contrails book.

After the war, Wolman returned to New York where he worked for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
as an Air Traffic Control Specialist. Wolman remained in contact with his former Lieutenant,James Pound, for many
years, and Wolman maintains fond memories of his time with the 100th. Wolman and his wife Gladys
were married for 66 years, and he currently lives with his daughter Nancy on Long Island, New York.


Notes from Cpl. David Wolman, Flying Control, Control Tower, 100th Bomb Group

• Wolman noted that the air traffic control team practiced good radio discipline, in that there was no unnecessary chatter over the radio or in the tower itself during takeoff/landing times. They never said a pilot’s name, the name of an aircraft (ie: “Our Gal Sal”), or the word “Thorpe Abbotts” over the radio. Additionally, Wolman always spoke to the pilot or the radio operator on board.
• During a mission, Wolman recalled there would be four radio operators on duty (one of which was him) and three officers who covered Flying Control: Lt. Miceli, Lt. Pound, and Capt. Biondino. There were an assortment of senior officers who would stand out on the railing, and the exact number varied, though Wolman would regularly see the 100th’s C.O.
• As the planes prepared to depart, Wolman may check in with a plane that is taxiing, and say something like ““This is clearup radio, call in Aircraft # 123 (the last three digits of the tail number)” The pilot may respond with “Roger clearup, this is Aircraft #123”. There wasn’t a need for all the planes to check in, and most said nothing prior to takeoff.
• Wolman would reply with “Cleared for takeoff on Runway 10/28, wind from the southeast, 10 knots”.
• Wolman said there were three 8-hour shifts for the control tower personnel: 8-4, 4-12, 12-8. Wolman usually worked the day shift from 8am-4pm. During a shift, and after the planes took off, Wolman stayed at his position, and said part of his daily duties involved monitoring radio traffic, checking the various frequencies, and they regularly responded to interference on their frequency from other planes. If a non-100th BG plane called in for whatever reason, ie: they’re lost, needed to land, etc, Wolman would always acknowledge them by saying “This is clearup”.
• When planes were returning, if there wounded men on board, Wolman said he could see the red flares being fired from as far out as 20 miles.
• The plane who fired the red flare may say “Clearup this is Aircraft #123, we have wounded on board.” Wolman would reply with “Roger, aircraft #123”. At that point Wolman would turn and notify one of the officers behind him that there would wounded on board Aircraft #123 (he specifically recalled doing so with Capt. Biondino), and that officer would pick up the phone and call for the ambulance to respond. A similar notification would be made if a plane was landing with extreme mechanical difficulty (ie: if it could potentially crash while landing, the fire crew would be called in advance).
• If there were no issues on board, the returning plane may say “hello Clearup, this is Aircraft #123 approaching, requesting landing instructions.” Wolman’s response would be “Roger Aircraft #123, cleared to land on runway 10/28, weather is clear.” After the plane would land, they’d turn off the runway, basically getting out of the way as soon as possible for other planes landing behind them.
• RAF Personnel: In 1943, Wolman recalls there were “RAF visitors” in the tower on occasion, however he didn’t recall if they were enlisted or officers and he did not see them in the tower post-1943
• Difficult Missions: On a mission where a lot of crews were lost, there was a somber mood in the tower. Wolman could see the C.O.s and other officers standing out along the railing of the tower and he could see the looks of dismay on their faces.

Separate Notes: I spoke with 100th BG Co-Pilot John Clark as well about his recollections of radioing the tower, who said that at the time he was flying; he would identify himself as “this is Aircraft #123 A-Able”.

Clark also recalled an instance where he came back and night, and was flying at around 1500 feet. At that time he couldn’t see anything as there was limited lighting from the base. Clark radioed the tower saying “approaching your position, request identification with landing lights.” Clark said “it was amazing, like magic, that the main runway lights and approach lights suddenly came on”, thus enabling him to see where to land.

... Matt Mabe 






David Wolman (far left) assisting with the Jewish service at Thorpe Abbotts. Photo taken on Friday, December 15, 1944. This photo originally appeared in the book "Contrails - My War Record".

David Wolman displaying his medals, following an interview at the 100th Bomb Group reunion in October 2017. 

David Wolman, inside the control tower (100th Bomb Group Archives)



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