Thursday, 5 September 2013

9. Jim Haworth - navigating at night

Anyone who has read Jim Haworth's letters in earlier posts will be aware of his wicked sense of humour. During the winter of 1943-44, under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), Jim found himself posted to No. 5 A.O.S. (Air Observers' School)  in Winnipeg, in the province of Manitoba, Canada.

Trainee navigators at No. 5 A.O.S. on board an Avro Anson (June 1941)
Here is his description of the challenges he faced flying 'Second Navigator' whilst training on an Avro Anson long before GPS and other modern navigation aids were thought of.

Winnipeg 13th Feb 1944
Started to snow this morning & is quite warmish to what we have had. We flew one day last week with a temperature of -26C up at six thousand feet and believe me after the first half hour we really froze. I did mentally anyhow and being only 2nd Navigator that day had a loaf after that. Poking your head out of a side window to check courses on the sun with the astro compass and taking shots out of the top hatch is no joke in that temperature. So after one or two attempts just called it a day. When you are a 2nd Nav you only have a collapsible (literally) seat to sit on and a collapsible table to work on and usually the 1st Nav is trying to get past to get a pin point or so from behind the bomb aimer's seat, which is alongside the pilot and just in front of this d--- table. So usually you sit on the spare parachute in the rear of the wireless operator, and try to balance log and 2 books of air tables in each hand while working out each sextant shot. If it is at night you also have to use a torch to see what you are trying to read or do. So summing up everything it’s just ‘loovely’ being 2nd Nav. In between times you are trying to thaw your fingers out so you can write at all.

You might just be interested in the routine of checking the course at night on a star – without a torch as it was one night!

First step (of umpteen to and fro) – you fit the little thingymybob (the astro compass(sometimes called numerous other things)) in the appropriate mount and then find that you have omitted to remember the star is now on the port side, not starboard, so you fumble in the dark and undo the little clamp holding it, after once more taking off one glove which you have replaced after taking it off to fix the darned thing – then you once more get it clamped into the correct mount (there is one for each side) and open the side window and push the outfit into the fitting. Then seeing it’s dark and you have no torch you try and see the levels to level it up with thumb screws fore and aft and otherwise, but you can’t see them so you do it by guess and by God. Next you have to check the compass itself on a known bearing on a wing tip (no time to do this before you left) as they are usually out a few degrees.

Then – at last you can start to do what you started out to do – take a bearing on the star selected.

So you turn the little knob& get the little chappie (the star) all lined up but – blast it! – you can’t see what time your watch reads – so you dash up to the W.A.G and by the light of his little light get a dim view of your ticker and keeping that in your noodle as your pad seems to have done a bunk in the black-out, you next dash back, pull the astro compass out of the mount & dash back to the little light to read the bearing then – whew! About halfway now – close the window in case the W.A.G does his block as he is just ahead of it –then you put up your little collapsible seat and table again – which the 1st Nav between times has put down - and get out your 2 books of words – pardon – tables, and go to work on working out what the course is or rather what the tables say it is.

By that time the 1st Nav has asked you about half a dozen times if you have got ‘it’, 'it' being the correct course, and at last has given up the ghost and taken the magnetic compass as read and plotted this in.

By now you are wondering what all this is for – well, you see, the little compasses they install usually have a small error which has been recorded for the unwary, but somehow or other this doesn’t always stay put so it is necessary to do all this work to check it.

Finally by this time the 1st Nav has altered course and you do the whole proceeding again.

How do you like it? Of course when you have a torch or in the daytime it is not quite so complicated and I have managed to do it in about two and a half minutes. In fact the other day we had an evasive action exercise, 2 series of about 6 alterations of courses with only 5 minutes between. Believe me I was a busy man that day.

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