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Early Aircraft Dispatching

The emphasis on maintaining control, monitoring transportation progress, and issuing orders to moving vehicles originated with the railroad industry. After the invention of the telegraph in 1830, railroads established lines along their tracks to pass messages and monitor train progress. According to Harden (2006), railroads recruited “thousands of young men for the lines – as young as 16.” The station telegraph operator handled railroad traffic as his primary duty. Each station telegraph operator monitored and ordered train movements along his section of the railroad line. “Knowing the exact position of every train at all times was paramount in preventing a deadly train wreck or mishap” (Harden, 2006). To maintain safety in railroad transportation, operators closely followed traffic conditions and traffic on the tracks.

Lawrence Sperry’s October 1916 experiment explored the link between using Morse code and communication with an aircraft in flight. Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering (1916a) documented the use of three searchlights attached to the leading edge of the upper wing of the biplane so that “Morse code can also be used with these searchlights…which can be operated like a telegraph key” (p. 163). Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering (1916b) reported another test that successfully used a “wireless telegraph and telephone set invented by Dr. Lee de Forest for application to aeroplanes” (p. 197) at the United States Army Aviation Station on Long Island, New York. Less than three years later, a detailed article entitled “Wireless Telegraphy Applied to Aviation” by W. Knight (1919) appeared in Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering (p. 572-575). Knight’s article served to endorse the absolute necessity of positive communication with aircraft in flight. This need to communicate became especially important as Army pilots began flying mail in 1918 (Stroud, 1977). By 1930, Boeing Air Transport pilots made required position reports to ground stations every 20 minutes through radiotelephone and received updated weather information (Garvey & Fisher, 2002).


In 1929, the term “dispatcher” first appeared in advertisements in aviation trade publications in conjunction with more sophisticated means of communicating with aircraft. Advertisements in Aviation (1929) promoted the Western Electric two-way radio telephone system that “permits the dispatcher at the airport to talk at will with pilots in flight, advising them and receiving constant reports of their progress” (p. 4). A similar advertisement is available for viewing online as of the date of this writing.