Being an observer could get a bit, well dull. Air traffic in the 1950s was a fraction of what it is today. Some places hardly had any air traffic. Air Force bases and the local Civil Defense office ran drills to keep everyone’s skills sharp but it wasn’t the same as the real thing.
Fortunately, there were lots of other things that observers could spot. Many observing posts also helped out with spotting dangerous weather, forest fires, and downed/distressed aircraft. The August 1953 edition of The Aircraft Flash features a California observation tower on the cover with the headline “Smoke Spotters – Plane Spotters”. This tower was one of the 1300 fire watch towers in the state and took on the additional duties of the GOC. These observers could see forest fires up to 50 miles away and were a relay service for 5 US Forestry service towers in the area.
Also on the same issue is an article about how observers in many areas filled in as weather stations for areas that didn’t have their own. The GOC weather service was started in Montana and the Dakotas which the article states “where weather information has always been sketchy.” Their service was valuable to the Air Force and they would report hazardous weather such as storms or fog with an aircraft flash. This task was rolled out in stages as the article also tells observers not to start sending in weather reports until they receive training and instructions from their local filter center.
From fires on the ground to fires in the air, the Flashes section of the August 1953 issue reports that observers Beth Van Horn and Gladys Palla of Bakersfield, CA called in a B-36 with an engine on fire. The B-36 crew was very appreciative of their timely assistance.