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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

Old 12th Jul 2013, 18:08
  #4021 (permalink)  
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First, thank you for the Link. This'll keep me happy for hours ! I've only had a hurried glance through, but it's a mine of information, tells me much I didn't know before about the civil side of the operation - and makes me more thankful than ever that I stuck to the aerodrome side of the business. I would recommend everone to read this.

The CR(CA)/DF tubes were set up to show QDMs, to get QTEs there was a little spring-loaded switch on the side of the console for the ATC to press. To give him the second or two he needed to do this, you had to chant: "True Bearing, True Bearing, (callsign) request True Bearing" (as I remember). Your tube couldn't do anything about drift: it was up to you to "aim off" as required.

You couldn't go far wrong with this (although you could lock the switch onto QTE, when your merry men were in the cross-country phase, and calling at every turning point). But when you had to fall back on the old manual D/F, you had to remember that the operator always gave you QTEs, you did your own arirhmetic with it after that......D.


I perked up at your mention of Clarke having "worked on GCA in WW2". Being too much of a cheapskate to buy the book, could you tell me if he says anything about it actually being used in the war?. The story we were told was that it was the post-war brainchild of a Professor Luis Alvarez from one of the West Coast seats of learning......D.

Dan Gerous,

The Mitsuibishi Zero was an aquatic bird, so they didn't trouble us much. The humble and largely forgotten Nakajima "Oscar", their terrestial cousin,was our threat. It was supposed to be almost as good as a Zero; both had been designed with Igor Sikorski's principle in mind: "Simplicate and Add more Lightness". Consequently they could run rings round our more powerful and sophisicated, but heavier and less agile fighters. Or so the story went.....D

I'm a bit puzzled. I'm sure I had a Post describing the Speechless Procedure. Must go and look. Meanwhile will send this off, otherwise bound to lose it.


EDIT: There is ! It's in draft on my Notepad. Hasn't been Posted yet ! So, Chugalug, how do you come to know about it ? You must be psychic !.....D.

Last edited by Danny42C; 13th Jul 2013 at 14:33. Reason: Add Material. Spelling Error.
Old 12th Jul 2013, 21:18
  #4022 (permalink)  
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So, Chugalug, how do you come to know about it ? You must be psychic !.
No, simply jumping the gun again, Danny. Sorry! We were still speechless in the '60's, and I suspect that such a simple idea requiring nothing extra in tower or aircraft yet able to cope with a carrier wave transmission only endures to this day. If not, why not?
So back to the script, Danny, and over to you. Oh, sorry...beep!

PS, BTW the '50s link I posted for Ronaldsway was one of a series. The '40s one deals with its time as a Naval Air Station and mentions GCA:-
Ronaldsway Air Traffic Control in the 1940s
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Old 13th Jul 2013, 13:41
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GCA in WW2

I've found this PDF document which gives the history of GCA in WW2 and ought to answer your questions better than I can...


You'll see that the authors mention that Arthur Clarke was their Radar Technical Officer and worked alongside Luis Alvarez.

One of my school chums had an Aunt who had been a tracker on the trial system...she told me that there was a spot on the front panel which had been marked "Thump here for more gain"!!

In later years, hearing the talkdown controller's voice was an assurance that shortly I'd be comfortably ensconced in the Mess bar....

Last edited by Molemot; 13th Jul 2013 at 13:43.
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Old 13th Jul 2013, 16:50
  #4024 (permalink)  
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GCAs Ancient and Modern.


Another feast in store for me ! (I'm set up with reading material till the end of summer now, what with your Ronaldsway histories and Molemot's priceless treasure that he has just unearthed). Still think that you have the "Second Sight", as my next Post gives a detailed account of the Speechless Procedure. .......D.


Another winner ! First, abject apologies to M.I.T. for my crediting of the GCA invention to those Californian upstarts ! And "RAF Hinton-in-the Hedges" ! (you couldn't invent it, could you ? - puts "RAF Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh" in the shade).

As far as I can see at first glance, your Link tells us "All you wanted to know about GCAs but were afraid to ask". This will help enormously to understand the early GCA story as I shall presently recount it.....D.

Cheers to you both,

Old 13th Jul 2013, 19:17
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Danny, you're now on a subject I like and have done since a was a lad. I was not able to get into ATC because I failed the RAF medical because of my eyesight and also not very bight in those days (slightly better now!).

I recall a visit as a adult member of the Air Training Corps visiting Marham and being in the approach room when a Victor came in for a PAR. Even I could see he was all over the place and all was explained when the controller mentioned to me it was a Station Commander earning his flying pay.

I also was present on a "speechless one" once, can't remember where but was very impressed by the controller. The crew decided it was "be awkward" time and added just a little more than a radio problem and the controller was having to do turns timed on a stopwatch because of a simulated compass failure. How the controller remained cool and collected have no idea.

By the way if you want to renew your blip driving have a look for a program called "London Control", they do a demo so you can view it for free. Its not easy on high levels!
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Old 13th Jul 2013, 20:31
  #4026 (permalink)  
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Thank you for the link (I like "Free"). It will be interesting, but it'll confirm me, I'm sure, in my long held belief that places like West Drayton and now Swanwick (?) were never for me. If you want to be a battery hen, well and good, but if you really want to avoid the light of day, Fighter Control might be a better bet.

Your comment on customers like your Station Commander (on PAR) touch a raw nerve. But on that subject (and on the timed turns in "No Compass"), your observations are positively uncanny, for (like Chugalug's "Speechless"), they anticipate work which I have already in draft for future Posts.

Something funny is going on here. Could the Middleton Ghost be poking his nose in ?

Cheers, Danny.
Old 13th Jul 2013, 23:42
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Fighter Control?

Well Danny I was lucky enough to get a visit to RAF Neatishead many years ago just prior to a refit so I saw the old equipment.

To be honest I was shocked at the state of the kit they had then. Civil radar had been using displays with mode A/C readouts and callsign conversions for some time but Air Defence was still using just primary radar with a tracker ball "click and read out" which at best gave a single readout every 15 secs (ie per radar head rotation).

I was there during a small evening exercise where I sat with one controller who had an attacking pair while my friend sat with the controller with the defending pair. The attackers got through using a small trick. Clearly the defenders were monitoring the attackers TAD. As the attackers lead called a climb to FL210. The defenders also climbed but the attackers in fact stayed at low level. Great visit as we also were allowed into the controllers brief and debrief and learnt a lot from it like what hot and cold meant and the bulleye system.

Glad to see they have much better stuff now having seen a display they had at RAF Waddington's show a couple of years ago.

Not managed a visit to Swanwick but remember one to West Drayton when they still didn't have radar there. Believe that was at Sopley at the time.

What's better is that I can sit and watch a lot of stuff going on, yep I'm a bit of a anorak with a Mode S box connected to my PC which shows a fair bit of the higher civvie stuff around plus a radio to try and figure what's going on locally.
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Old 14th Jul 2013, 01:10
  #4028 (permalink)  
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I stand in awe of your experience ! When I was an RAF Adjutant of an Auxiliary Fighter Control Unit, they wouldn't even let me go down our "hole" (RAF Seaton Snook). Not special security cleared, old boy !

All right, give me a special clearance. Can't do that, old man, no need for you to know, you see. Less you know about our marvellous equipment, the better, that way you can't inadvertently betray any of our secrets to a Russian agent. (Ten years before, we'd sold a batch of Nene engines to our late gallant allies to cement our relationship). Sorry about this, old chap, but you do see how it is, don't you ?

From what you tell me, the Russkies could sleep easy in their beds !

Cheers, Danny.
Old 14th Jul 2013, 01:35
  #4029 (permalink)  
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Danny gets down to work.

After "making my number" at Manby, I reported to Strubby Tower, introduced myself to S/Ldr Norcross and all the chaps, read all the Station Flying Orders (and duly signed to that effect), and settled in front of the CR/DF console.

Now I had to consider what sort of customers I would have to keep happy. They would be a very mixed bag. At the top of the tree would be the members of the College Course. I think it was a six-month stint at Staff College level. The most junior students, IIRC, were Wg.Cdrs, and they ran right up to 2-stars. They put their studies into practice, and for that purpose they had Lincolns (at Manby) and at Strubby Canberras, Meteors and a couple of Hunters (but these were hangared at Manby).

Next came what was in effect an ordinary AFS, flying the Meteor 7s. Besides the home-grown Bloggs, they earned an honest copper taking in courses of foreign students, predominently from the oil-rich lands of the Middle East and the Gulf.

Military ATC in those days could easily be divided into two sides - Flying Training Schools (Primary and Advanced), which were hard work, and the rest which were not. Then there were the poor souls at West Drayton (and other ATC Centres) of course, but they were relatively few in number and pitied by all the others who devoutly prayed never to be posted there.

Your work-load varies inversely as the skill and experience of your pilots. One thick Bloggs can be more difficult to handle than three top-notch squadron pilots put together. The first thing I found was that the old "Tee Emm" character Air Commodore Byplane-Ffixpitch was alive and well, and on the College Course. I would think that all the ATCs and QFIs of the time at Strubby would agree that: if you think young Bloggs is hard work, you should try some old ones. They were very rusty indeed.

But we were there to serve all our clients without fear or favour. At first, plain vanilla Controlled Descents (QGHs) were the order of the day, with or without feed-in to GCA, then the optional "extras" started to appear.

First up was a thundering good idea: the "Speechless" procedure. This simulated a situation (by no means uncommon) where the pilot's microphone is u/s, so he cannot speak, but his radio is still OK, so by keying his"transmit" button, he can send a series of clicks. All that remains now is to set up a simple code. Four clicks "...." ("H" in Morse), sets the ball rolling. Then it's one click for "yes", two for "no", three for "say again". It works like a charm; (it recalls the old miners' tap code: "one, two, three-four-five", meant: "is there there a man alive ?")

This has so many possible applications (survivors in the rubble of collapsed buildings is one obvious example), that it should be taught to all children at school. Obviously, it would work with torch flashes just as well, or any other visual signal (yes, I know, Morse Code - how much do you remember? - once it was second nature to us all).

In our case, the four transmissions flashed up at once on your CR/DF tube, you gave "Speechless Aircraft" a steer and "is this a practice ?" straight off, and then (with a sinking heart) asked: "Do you have any other emergency ?"

Now the fun would start.

Goodnight, all,


What's well begun is half done.
Old 14th Jul 2013, 10:21
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Yes I considered that visit very lucky and it was a case of "don't ask, don't get".

I noticed one day that Neatishead was having an open day but it was a restricted audience, RAF only or similar, but decided to drop them a line explaining I was very interested in their line of work, my air cadet background and my current line of work which had including the fact I had signed the official secrets act while working for the police.

I was very pleased, and surprised, when a reply came back saying the visit was in order. Then came the day, nice walk around the establishment which didn't take too long as the ground area was quiet small followed by a visit "down the hole" as Danny called it. This lasted all of 5 minutes in the room but they had a few folks to get round.

Given the kindness shown I wrote another letter thanking them and adding that the hole was very interesting but my eyes had barely adjusted to the light before we were outside again. That resulted in another reply inviting myself to come back one evening in a few weeks time which resulted in the exercise observation.

As I mentioned in the previous post it was very informative to both of us, we knew quite a bit of the chatter from being "anoraks with radios" but it made a lot of sense when sat in front of the amber screen with the controller giving us briefs insights when time allowed. I sat with a Luftwaffe exchange officer who was excellent even though things didn't go as briefed at first.

Last edited by clicker; 14th Jul 2013 at 10:21.
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Old 14th Jul 2013, 15:59
  #4031 (permalink)  
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"If you knows of a better 'ole......"


Your............"sat with a Luftwaffe exchange officer who was excellent even though things didn't go as briefed at first".........

There's a story here, waiting to be told. Out with it !

Old 16th Jul 2013, 18:46
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Every time the supply seems exhausted, another story surfaces! I've been away quite a lot recently but return to follow this wonderful thread woven so constantly by our dear friend Danny. Be back as soon as I can, must fly now or I'm in the doghouse again
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Old 16th Jul 2013, 20:25
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Aunty Joan always excused the Luftwaffe exchange officer from the BoB Cocktail Party, but he always cane to the "after-party". Good troop, as were the Dutch, French and US exchange guys,
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Old 16th Jul 2013, 22:22
  #4034 (permalink)  
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Review of GCA History Link.

Molemot (#4011 p.201 link)

Thank you for the graceful compliment, which I accept on behalf of all past and present "Talkdowns".

I have been going through the link you so kindly gave me with increasing wonder (the level of responsibility that the RAF and RCAF were happy to place on the shoulders of airmen in those early times !!) and admiration at their complete and well-written account of the genesis and first days of the AN-MPN-1 GCA. We still don't know whether it came into operational use in Europe before close of play in May '45. It certainly didn't get out to the Far East. No matter now.

It occurs to me that others (I sincerely hope) may be studying this jewel of a link, and may think that the description of the operation of the equipment also holds good for post-war RAF practice. There were considerable differences (the main ones which I list below, point by point).

But I am very glad that this has appeared, for it relieves me of having to tell the whole weary tale ab initio in a Post (already on the stocks, to appear soon) and will allow me to concentrate on minutiae which (I think) had a terrible consequence.

First, the technical detail they give is first-rate ( I've learned a lot that I didn't know, and I worked the gear for two years). You can take it as read.
(Quotes from Link in italic, RAF operating practice in plain text)

Prime Mover

The O-853 AEC Matador 8-ton was the prime mover used by the RAF. Ours carried a Lister diesel driving the generator (nice pic on Wiki).

Placement on the airfield

The truck was placed approximately 100 ft to the right of the runway in use and near the windward end.

IIRC, the RAF required a further 75yds from the edge of a runway to be kept free from all obstructions, so our truck would be at least at that distance.

Therefore the trailer was tilted two degrees below the level.

We tilted ours four degrees (the truck was then termed to be "on tilt").

radar reflectors placed a fixed distance from the end of the runway, and from the centreline of the runway.

These would be our "touchdown" and "offset" markers.

Operation of the Truck

The standard crew was made up of four operators, one Controller, one Radar/Radio mechanic and one motor mechanic/driver for the prime mover and power units. I recall that, if available a second Controller would take over one of the PPI operating positions.

The RAF Crew comprised one Controller ("Talkdown") and one "Tracker" (each operated one of the two precision radars). The one Radar Director operated one PPI tube (the other was disused, as the CR/DF operator in Approach took over its function). There was never a second Controller.

"Talkdown" always drove the prime mover (then he had no one to blame but himself if the rig ended up out of position !) We always seemed to have two or three Radio and Radar Fitters/Mechs on site.

The operators normally manned the two PPI positions, the horizontal precision CRT and the Vertical Precision CRT.

(See above)

the selected aircraft was handed over to the second operator to vector into the landing pattern.

We needed only one PPI operator, the "Feed" Director, who did this.

By using cursors to intersect the radar blips, Height and Azimuth information was fed to the Controller who normally stood between and behind the two precision operators so that he could monitor the height and azimuth information with relationship to the pre-planned glide/approach.

This I would like to have seen. It must have been rather like the circus trick where a rider rides standing on two horses. Our "Talkdown" sat at the azimuth precision display, his "Tracker" at the elevation one beside him (how was that coordinated ? - wait and see).

At two miles from touchdown the precision operators would switch to a Two-mile range on their CRT which would enable them to get more accurate positional information.

This puzzles me. I do not remember any two-mile "zoom" facility. What we were able to do was to speed-up the precision scan rate (for the last mile of talkdown) from 1 to 4 sweeps per second. Do they mean this, perhaps ?

With the Link, and these Amendments, you really have a good introduction to the "Stephenson's Rocket" of GCAs, and it makes my task that much easier.....D.


Be my guest in mine ! Welcome back !......D.


Very tactful ! Yet his Dad (probably) was only doing his job to the best of his ability, same as we were. It was just his fate to be on the wrong side. Alles vorbei now, anyway ! Yes, good blokes all.....D.

Bit of a long story, I fear,

Cheers to all, Danny.

Last edited by Danny42C; 18th Jul 2013 at 00:13. Reason: Spelling error.
Old 17th Jul 2013, 00:03
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One of the best known personalities to be trained with the Rhodesian Air Training Group (RATG) during the war is Tony Benn. Tony Benn was Labour MP for Bristol South-East for 31 years and in 1943 joined the R.A.F. for training as a pilot.

He was posted to Southern Rhodesia for pilot training and the entry below is for 14th June 1944, the day of his first solo in a Cornell PT-26 trainer at No. 26 EFTS Guinea Fowl not far from Gweru (Gwelo) in the middle of the colony.

Wednesday 14 June 1944

At six this morning Crownshaw told me to get into 322 straightaway, a PT-26 Cornell trainer. I apologised to him for boobing the check yesterday and he remarked they were really only nominal things and that they didn’t really matter.

We taxied on to the tarmac and I got out and walked back with Crownshaw. He said we’d just have a cigarette and then go up again. I was very surprised, but put it down to a desire on his part to finish me off ready for another check tomorrow. However, we took off, did a circuit or maybe two, and then as we taxied up to the take-off point, he said to me, ‘Well, how do you feel about your landings?’ I replied, ‘Well, that’s really for you to say, sir.’ He chuckled. ‘I think you can manage one solo,’ he said. ‘I’m going to get out now and I’ll wait here for you,’ he went on.

So this was it, I thought. The moment I had been waiting for came all of a sudden just like that. ‘OK, sir,’ I replied. ‘And don’t forget that you’ve got a throttle,’ he said. ‘Don’t be frightened to go round again -OK? And by the way,’ he added -he finished locking the rear harness and closing the hood, then came up to me, leant over and shouted in my ear, ‘you do know the new trimming for taking off?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ I replied, and he jumped off the wing and walked over to the boundary with his ‘chute.

I was not all that excited. I certainly wasn’t frightened and I hope I wasn’t over-confident but I just had to adjust my mirror so that I could really see that there was no one behind me.

Then I remembered my brother Mike’s words: ‘Whatever you do don’t get over-confident; it is that that kills most people and I only survived the initial stages through being excessively cautious.’ So I brought my mind back to the job, checked the instruments, looked all around and when we had reached 500 feet began a gentle climbing turn. It was very bumpy and the wind got under my starboard wing and tried to keel me over, but I checked it with my stick and straightened out when my gyro compass read 270 degrees. Then I climbed to 900, looked all round and turned again on to the down-wind leg. By the time I’d finished that turn we were at 1,000 feet, so I throttled back, re-trimmed, got dead on 180 and I felt pretty good about things.

I thought I was a little high as I crossed the boundary so I eased back to 800 rpm, and as I passed over, I distinctly saw Crownshaw standing watching where I had left him. Now we were coming in beautifully and I eased the stick and throttle back. A quick glance at the ground below showed me to be a little high, so I left the stick as it was, gave a tiny burst of engine and as we floated down I brought both back fully. We settled, juddered and settled again for a fair three-pointer.

I was as happy as could be. I taxied up, stopped and braked. Try as I did, I couldn’t restrain the broad grin which gripped me from ear to ear and Crownshaw, seeing it, leant over before he got in and said ironically with a smile, ‘Happy now?’

I was more than happy, I was deliriously carefree, and as he taxied her back I thought about it all and realised that the success of my first solo was entirety due to the fine instruction I had received; it was a tribute to the instruction that I never felt nervous once, and all the time had imagined what my instructor would be saying, so used had I got to doing everything with him behind me. We climbed out, and attempting to restrain my happiness I listened while he told me where and what to sign. Then I wandered back to my billet and one of the greatest experiences of my life was behind me. The lectures were pretty ordinary, and it being my free afternoon I had a bit of lemonade in the canteen and wrote this.

His diaries can be viewed online here:
The Benn Diaries: 1940-1990 - Tony Benn - Google Books
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Old 17th Jul 2013, 00:28
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AN-MPN-1 "Bendix".


You will forgive me, I hope, for working "out of turn" on Molemot's link, but in view of the current work-in-progress Post on my GCA training at RAF Sleap (which will, I trust, be coming out shortly), it was more convenient to give priority to what is in effect the complete historical background and technical description of the MPN-1 in one "package", whereas the Ronaldsway story is far more a wide-ranging (and intensely interesting) general review of the wartime and early postwar attempts to assist civil and military pilots to get home safely.

Nevertheless, there are items in the general sweep of the Ronaldsway tale which ring bells. The Navy seems to have had the bright idea first. What they had (by the photographs) was clearly an MPN-1. Now you may remember that, in the RCAF airmen's story, they note the fact that, while the prime contractor was Gilfillan (Los Angeles), the USN put out their own separate contract to Bendix. Now the RAF's MPN-1s were always known to us as the MPN-1 "Bendix"! In fact "the Bendix" was the colloquial term, to differentiate it from its successor, the AN-CPN-4 (which was also built by Gilfillan, but nobody called it that).

It seems clear that the USN got this batch from Bendix, the RN begged some of them, then the RAF got in the queue for the "cast-offs" (but none the worse for that). Now I'm sure that somebody else was building them, for Heathrow had an MPN-1 built by a third name, but I've forgotten it. This one was was destined to come into the limelight.

It is also clear that all manner of prime movers with diesel-generator sets were used as were available; I suppose all the customers of Gilfillan/Bendix/A.N.Other needed to buy was the Radar Truck. (Pre-Aug'45, would these qualify for Lend-Lease ?) Suppose so - in which case they'd all be "repossessed" for sure.

Settling down for a more careful read of the Ronaldsway links - thanks again !

Cheers, Danny.

Last edited by Danny42C; 19th Jul 2013 at 15:49. Reason: Spelling Error.
Old 17th Jul 2013, 18:05
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Danny finds things going from bad to worse.

Your tormentor now had three more arrows in his quiver: he could let you have the lot if so inclined. The first was "No Compass". This was really quite unrealistic, how can a Compass go u/s unless you hit it with a hammer ? (Lightning strike ? - not all that common, now is it ?)

The antediluvian aircraft of those times had a "Directional Gyro" on the panel. This was, in effect, a compass with no north-seeking function (clearly an Irish idea in the first place). You waited till your magnetic compass settled down, then set your D.G. in accordance with it. (Many people routinely set the exact runway heading on the D.G. each time when lined up for T.O.)

The D.G. did not jiggle about like a compass needle, and it was much easier to hold a heading on it. The ATC practice assumed that the D.G. had not been so set before you found your compass u/s, so it was no use to you. Of course, the answer now was to orientate it some other way. Where is North ?

Any scornful cub scout will now tell you, that in GMT, and in the Northern Hemisphere, if you point the hour hand of your watch at the Sun, half way between that hand and 12 is South, near enough (no, you do not have to find the moss on the trees). To make it easier for the pilot, and to cover the occasions when he had no watch, or had forgotten to wind it up, ATC had Tables of Sun's Azimuth, corrected for date and latitude. Bloggs headed into Sun, and set the figure you gave him on his D.G. Easy.

By night ? - Pole Star. Can't see Sun or Polaris ? - tricky now, but there was a "one-and-two" method, I vaguely recall. This involved instructing your man to fly S&L at constant speed, then taking successive bearings on him at (say) exactly zero, +30 and +90 seconds. You plotted these, marked a ruler at the 1 and 3 inch points, and wiggled it on the plot until you got a perfect "match". It'll only fit in one position: now you know his track (roughly, but good enough). Tell him to put it on his D.G. Bob's your uncle.

This, of course, was so time-comsuming that it was a one-to-one business; it was really only an ATC tour-de-force to keep us on our toes.

But enough already. There was worse to come.

'Night, all,


Do not bite off more than you can chew.
Old 18th Jul 2013, 03:05
  #4038 (permalink)  
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ATC at Ronaldsway in the 1950s.


I've been having a closer look at this Link you gave me and my curiosity was roused by this snippet:

Quote: "The FV5 VHF Direction Finder could be used to provide instrument approaches to aircraft not equipped to use radio navigation aids, either a pilot interpreted 'D/F Approach' or a controller interpreted 'QGH Approach' ".

Poked about in Google a bit, and they say a lot about the installation of this gear in ships, but I can't find a technical description of this bit of (Naval) kit. It sounds very like our CR/DF, but how about the "pilot interpreted D/F Approach" bit ? Could this be our old friend the "Voice Rotating Beacon" , which I thought we'd seen the last of, or somthing like it, reappearing in some new guise ?

Anybody any idea ? Union Jack ?

Cheers, Danny.
Old 18th Jul 2013, 08:04
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how can a Compass go u/s unless you hit it with a hammer ?
Bullet or shrapnel? This is after all, a warplane.
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Old 18th Jul 2013, 11:16
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Anybody any idea ? Union Jack ?

Danny, sadly not I fear - a bit out of my bailiwick, but I never fail to be enthralled by the fascinating story of your "War and Peace".

With very best wishes


PS 0305 ......?

Last edited by Union Jack; 18th Jul 2013 at 11:18.
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