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How did Spitfire and Hurricane pilots navigate

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How did Spitfire and Hurricane pilots navigate

Old 6th Oct 2016, 21:23
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How did Spitfire and Hurricane pilots navigate

Pootlng around Kent the other day trying to find a farm strip VFR with my visual navigation, Garmin box of tricks, VOR and so on, my brain decided to pester me with this question.

How on earth did those young pilots find their field in any weather and any visibility on their return from a no doubt trouser filling mission? What nav instruments did they have? How did they do it?

And whilst I am on the topic can someone remind me of the name of this book or story? I read it loads of times as a kid in a tatty old volume I found and it was about a pilot returning at night from a WWII mission (a twin from memory) and his search for his airfield through the dark and the clouds. It might have been called moonshine but don't trust me! I want to read it again now that I fly and will probably appreciate it even more.
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Old 6th Oct 2016, 21:31
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Search the web for a film called nought feet, it has all the answers.
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Old 6th Oct 2016, 21:38
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Good question :-)

I know that occasionally when a pilot was unsure of position the Observer Corps would ignite a flare if requested. Eg. Flare lit 20 miles NNW of Biggin. Obviously this had to be done with the coordination of the Fighter Control, pilot and Observer Corps.

( Later to become Royal Observer Corps )


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Old 6th Oct 2016, 22:32
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I don't know the answer for sure and perhaps the film mentioned does tell all but I reckon the fighter boys did most of it by pilotage. Eg follow the river, third airfield on the left. They got used to the major landmarks and probably did some ded reckoning as well. If you had a navigator perhaps a bit more science went into it.

They were doing 200-300kts so you ran out of country pretty fast no matter which direction you chose to go. No matter where you are by my reckoning you will hit the coast in less than an hour.

If they got lost they landed at one of the many airfields scattered across the country asked where they were, refuelled and took off in the right direction, or if the weather was shockers they got a bed in the mess and did it the next day. There are many stories in the books about landing at the wrong place.

The big difference in those days was there was no controlled airspace or air traffic so it didn't matter as much if you were uncertain of your position. I also reckon in real ifr probably a lot of them didn't make it. I wonder what their minima was? You needed good viz to drop bombs so perhaps that precluded flying in terrible weather. They had fido strips for when it was really bad , big wide runways that they burned fuel around the perimeter to burn off the fog.

That's my theory anyway.
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Old 6th Oct 2016, 23:02
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Before I retired from Agricultural Contracting, one farmer requested I plough his 40 acre 'Light Field'. About half way through the job, the old Ransom Plough started to dig up big chunks of brickwork, (which I took to the edge of the field.).
When I asked what that was all about, I was informed it was for the air-ministry WW2 Light foundations. Apparently the light was a Navigation aid, which was switched on to help returning aircraft, and was exactly 3nm from the end of the airfield runway.
I looked for any similar structures at the 3 mile distance from the other runways, but could find no trace of anything, after all these years.
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Old 6th Oct 2016, 23:06
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I remember reading Alex Henshaw's book and he used to find his way back to Castle Bromwich through 8/8ths when he had been test flying Spits by looking for the rise in the stratus layer caused by the hot air in power stations. He knew where the local ones were and could drop out of the clag right over the airfield.

I never forgot that and it does actually work. There are two power stations near me and flying on top you can see two huge bumps where they are.
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 00:49
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There was a tv series where RAF pilots from what was today, flew a simulated bombing raid in a Lanc, that covered it, might be on YouTube etc
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 00:50
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You could ask Danny42 in the military forum, as he was one of those guys doing it.
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 03:29
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Jayemm: they used a procedure called QGH to let down through cloud cover over their base. This relied on their Radio being serviceable. You transmitted asking for QDMs or QDRs and flew a pattern like an ADF approach without the needle. ie. Pilot interpreted. This procedure was still being taught in civvy and RAF ops in the early '70s.
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 06:38
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For IMC bombing runs the allies invented something called Oboe. This is the predecessor of modern day DME and transponders, but they worked in reverse.

The pilots would essentially fly a DME arc until intercepting a different DME arc, and that would be the cue to release the bombs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oboe_(navigation)
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 06:45
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they used a procedure called QGH
I used to teach this in the '70s where it was termed a VDF letdown. The direction finding kit included a "Goniometer" which I still find hilarious as it sounds slightly rude
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 06:47
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JM, is the book you're thinking of Bomber, by Len Deighton?
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 06:55
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I was but a kid when the likes of Joan Hughes [ATA] and her cohorts were delivering front line fighters and bombers to UK airfields with just a map and compass - no radio allowed.

Often before the Ace RAF types had even flown one and all the ATA crews had was their amazing "Ferry Pilots Notes" and often flew a handful of different types on a daily basis.
Anyone seen that wonderful shot of Joan Hughes dwarfed by the Starboard main wheel of the RAF's biggest bomber of WW2 the Shorts Stirling......

My heros..... I forgot to add that the airfields were camouflaged too! IFR meant "I Follow Rails"

Last edited by aviate1138; 7th Oct 2016 at 07:05. Reason: missing letter
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 07:08
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Originally Posted by Hydromet View Post
JM, is the book you're thinking of Bomber, by Len Deighton?
Or could it be The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth ? If not, it's still worth a read.
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 08:13
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ETOPS;

I learned the VDF procedure in the 1986 while on my commercial course. At least one UK airfield was able to provide VDF let downs until around 1988.

They worked well.

SND
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 08:22
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Geoffrey Wellum describes looking for home in the clag first hand in First Light.
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 08:38
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There is a strikingly straight railway line that leads straight to London from the coast. I have been told repeatedly that they used this to find their way to London.

On an clear night, you can see the signal lights turning green, one after another before a train passes, then turning to red after it has passed and this seems to extend right to the coast!

Something to consider is that without them ever considering relying on fancy Garmin, VOR/DME etc... All pilots must have been much more proficient at navigating by sight / dead reckoning!
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 08:47
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Here you go

http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafcms/mediafi...BD35A68C31.pdf
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 09:35
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From reading many Battle of Britain autobiographies, it seems that after being 'temporarily unsure of position' following action the drill was to head to the coast, turn left or right (depending on base location) and follow until a known reference point where they could then head inland. Given you can't be further than 70 miles from the coast - and in many cases, much nearer for airfields - it was probably the safest way to let-down in bad weather.
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Old 7th Oct 2016, 10:22
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There were many navigation systems for bombing, as described by R V Jones in Most Secret War. This led to a whole saga of measures and countermeasures.
Well worth reading.
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