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Harry Callaghan's navigator training

Having completed his ITW stage in England and selected for navigator training, Harry sent some time at Heaton Park, Manchester which was a "holding camp" for aircrew awaiting posting to other areas for further training.  Harry would have received a copy of the following booklet to let him know about the regime of Heaton Park: (with thanks to Clive Smithers for the copy of these pages)

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Harry sent this photograph his friend of George Brumpton.  The white flash in his cap denotes this was taken earlier on in his initial training days.


No. 1 Central Navigation School, Rivers, Manitoba, Canada

Ground Instructional School is the backbone of No. 1 C.N.S.(Central Navigation School). G.I.S. is the seat of learning for student navigators coming to No. 1 C.N.S. for 20 weeks of instruction, as well as for bomb aimers who come from B. & G. (Bombing & Gunnery) Schools for a final six week course prior to graduation.

The most looked forward to thrill, generally, on the part of the navigation students is flying. It is quite a surprise to many of them to find their practical navigation is confined to the Synthetic Dead Reckoning Trainer for the first four weeks. In these trainers, Navigators and Air Bombers learn how to put into practice on the ground the navigation methods they will be using in the air. The rooms are in total darkness except for a small light over each table, as in an aircraft, and by use of projections on the screen they are required to pin-point themselves, using Topographic maps. They must also familiarize themselves with all navigation methods. In addition to the normal navigation instruments, the trainers are equipped with drift recorders, altimeters, air speed indicators, compasses and radio loops. Even rough weather conditions can be duplicated in operating the drift recorder. The value of these Synthetic Trainers is their inexpensiveness in comparison to operating an aircraft. They also familiarize the students with navigation instruments, methods, etc. They are a real advantage for the instructors who may watch their students navigate step by step, correcting on the spot any particular faults.


A student navigator using a similar piece of equipment to the Synthetic Dead Reckoning Trainer.


Plotting a course


The navigator's bible and a typical page.


The first flights were all in daylight and were called familiarization and map-reading, the most elementary form of navigation, that of identifying features on the ground.  Canadian maps were simple in comparison to the British equivalents.  The prairie, which stretched out to the horizon was prominently marked by radio ranges which were then the chief aid to navigation.  These operated on the Lorenz system of a dot-zone and a dash-zone.  In the centre of the zones the two systems overlapped to give a continuous note: this was the beam the aircraft followed.  There was a cone of silence over the actual transmitter, this gave an accurate pinpoint.

So early flights were related to ground pinpoints related to topographical map features and trying to find the angle of drift from a sighting instrument.  Later training included aerial photography from hand-held cameras, taking a series of over-lapping oblique shots from which a mosaic called a “line overlap” could be built up.  But at this stage, the basis of all the trainees navigation was dead-reckoning which involved keeping a plot, that is drawing the route on a chart to be followed and after calculating the various parameters involved in solving the triangle of velocities (the effect of wind velocity and direction on the aircraft’s course), marking the actual position of the aircraft over the ground to enable any corrections of direction and time to be made.

Standard symbols were used on the charts: the course was a line marked with one arrowhead, the track with two arrowheads and the wind direction with three.  An air position was a triangle and a fix a cross.

The winter cold across the prairies, with the wind blowing almost permanently from the Arctic, made flying in the draughty Ansons a numbing business, so Harry would have needed every layer of clothes underneath his flying suit in order to keep as warm as possible!

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R L  Austen in his book “High Adventure” which covers training in the war years in Canada says:


...when flying over the featureless prairies if you got lost you only had to turn south, pick up a railway line with an east-west axis and go down to read the name on the grain elevators in order to get a pinpoint.


...the aircraft were yellow painted Ansons....the first task of the student navigator was to manually wind-up the undercarriage after take-off, some 140 turns of a crank.  Initially some classroom work, then a familiarization and map-reading flight to introduce the student to identifying pinpoints on the ground.

Canadian maps were simple by comparison with British ones, the prairie was divided into sections usually delineated by dirt roads orientated to the four points of the compass as laid out by the Government’s surveyors.  Radio ranges were prominently marked, they were the main aid to navigation and worked on the Lorenz system of a dot-zone and a dash-zone received into the pilot’s headphones.  In the centre of the zones the sounds overlapped to give a continuous note with a cone of silence over the actual transmitter which gave an accurate pinpoint.  Thus you could ride from one beam to another in an uncongested airspace, a factor which gave confidence to the pilots who were flying with the trainee navigators.

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Early attempts at navigation were by daylight and related to ground pinpoints derived from topographical maps, and trying to find the angle of drift from a sighting instrument.  First flights were normally about an hour and a half long but soon extended to three hours and included aerial photography, taking a series of overlapping oblique shots with a large hand-held camera from which a mosaic called a line overlap could be built up. 

The basis of all navigation at this stage was dead reckoning which involved keeping a plot.  The plot was drawing the route to be followed on a chart and after calculating the various parameters involved in solving the triangle of velocities, marking the actual position of the aircraft over the ground to enable any corrections of direction and time to be effected.  A system of symbols had been evolved for all navigators: the course was marked with one arrowhead, the track with two and the wind direction with three.  An air position was a triangle and a fix a cross. 

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Flying in the winter in draughty Ansons was a numbing business since a Polar air mass settles over the country for months.  Icicles formed on moustaches from condensed breath and it was unwise to touch bare metal with ungloved hands.  However aircrew were fit and well fed so the coldness was at times exhilarating. 



The curriculum included other aspects such as armaments, being able to strip down a .303 Browning machine gun, signals and aircraft recognition.  There was plenty of sport and the occasional intelligence lecture.  Extracts from the Operation Record Books:

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And some events on the airstation was also reported in the Rivers Golden Jubilee book:  

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A beaming and delighted Harry successfully completed his course as a fully-fledged navigator and gained his sergeant's stripes before heading back over the chilly dangerous Atlantic Ocean:

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