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Greenham Control Tower: A different sort of desk job

Talented young cabinetmaker’s unusual commission

Trish Lee

Trish Lee


01635 886663

Greenham Control tower

Tom Rackley at the control tower desk he built

TOM Rackley isn’t the sort of chap you’d find sitting behind a desk doing the usual sort of desk job, which is good news for Greenham Control Tower, says tower director/trustee ANDY KEMPE.

When the USAF left Greenham Common in 1992, the control tower rapidly became derelict. Following extensive restoration the tower opened to the public two years ago. However, something was conspicuous in its absence; the control desk which would have been the nerve-centre of the airfield.

Volunteers, some of whom have first-hand experience of air traffic control and military architecture, visited
similar towers such as North Weald and Brize Norton which are still active to see just what Greenham’s desk might have looked like. At one point it was even hoped to pick up a secondhand one from somewhere though it was finally agreed that having one tailor-made would suit the purposes of this popular visitor attraction better.

Cue Oxford-based Rackley’s Bespoke Joinery and Furniture Maker ( Talented young cabinet maker Tom visited the tower and consulted with the volunteers who had undertaken the research and figured out the dimensions of what was needed. It took him almost two weeks to work out the final design, which needed to be an accurate representation of what would have originally existed in the tower and robust enough for its use as a key feature.

“It wasn’t easy working out so many angles on all of the legs and panels,” he said. “There was a lot of standing back and head scratching.”

Altogether, the desk took six weeks to build. “It was more time-consuming than I first expected because of the number of components that had to be cut and jointed to a precise angle. The project threw up quite a few challenges – two of which I had never encountered before.

“The first was the type of glue I had to use for the material. It had a very fast setting time, which made it a real challenge to keep things square when gluing. The second issue was the size of the desk. It measures 3.3 metres end to end so finding enough flat space to work around it was a problem.”

The idea of designing and building the desk had many attractions for Tom, not least because the unique commission was for a community project: “Having the opportunity to bring the observation deck back to life and show what it would have been like as a functioning control tower has been a labour of love. It’s a lovely thought that this desk will be seen by many visitors and be used as a teaching aid for years to come.”

The tower’s directors and volunteers are delighted to have the desk in position and kitted out with equipment that displays military air traffic in the UK as well as global commercial/private aircraft tracks and the “radar view” that air traffic controllers work with. The desk also displays live radar weather tracking and is linked to the tower’s own wind speed and direction indicator, just as the control tower would have had when operational.

Tom says: “I’m incredibly happy and proud of the desk and that’s been made even better by the positive feedback I’ve had from the volunteers who worked so hard on this project.”

Greenham Control Tower is a registered charity. Volunteers are given training to serve as guides or help in the café.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer go to:

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