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Navigation cadets were sent to flying school following preflight where they
spent from 15 to 20 weeks in training. Emphasis was placed on precision
dead-reckoning navigation with basic proficiency in pilotage, radio, and
celestial navigation. A navigation cadet logged approximately 100 hours in the
air but for every hour of flight, he spent five hours in the classroom.
The demand for navigators required a constant expansion of the training
program through 1943 and by VJ-Day, more than 50,000 had been graduated. The
elimination rate was approximately 20%
Upon completion of training, navigators usually were sent to operational
training units to become part of a flying crew being readied for combat
“The Navigator Graduate”
By Marvin C. Petersen
I’ve won the right to wear these Silver
and see the many awesome sights of
which the poet sings.
I’ve earned a place among the gods of
under the sun’s and moon’s eternal light.
I now can join that group so proud
who can look down upon a cloud
And find their way across unmarked space
where for them alone there is a place.
I can now join that honored fraternity
whose members look into eternity,
Who fly beyond the fetters of the earth
and see at once, yesterday’s death and
I stand today upon duty’s threshold here
where opportunity is shining clear
And know that what tomorrow brings
depends on how I guide these Silver Wings.
Duties and Responsibilities of
the Pilot Training Manual for the B-17 Flying
The navigator's job is to direct your flight
from departure to destination and return. He
must know the exact position of the airplane at
Navigation is the art of determining
geographic positions by means of (a) pilotage,
(b) dead reckoning, (c) radio, or (d) celestial
navigation, or any combination of these 4
methods. By any one or combination of methods
the navigator determines the position of the
airplane in relation to the earth.
Pilotage is the method of determining the
airplane's position by visual reference to
the ground. The importance of accurate
pilotage cannot over-emphasized. In combat
navigation, all bombing targets are
approached by pilotage, and in many theaters
the route is maintained by pilotage. This
requires not merely the vicinity type, but
pin-point pilotage. The exact position of
the airplane must be known not within 5
miles but within ¼ of a mile.
The navigator does this by constant
reference to groundspeeds and ETA's
established for points ahead, the ground,
and to his maps and charts. During the
mission, so long as he can maintain visual
contact with the ground, the navigator can
establish these pin-point positions so that
the exact track of the airplane will be
known when the mission is completed.
Dead reckoning is the basis of all other
types of navigation. For instance, if the
navigator is doing pilotage and computes
ETA's for points ahead, he is using dead
Dead reckoning determines the position of
the airplane at any given time by keeping an
account of the track and distance flown over
the earth's surface from the point of
departure or last known position.
Dead reckoning can be subdivided into two
Dead reckoning as a result of a
series of known positions obtained by
some other means of navigation.
For example, you, as pilot, start on
a mission from London to Berlin at
25,000 feet. For the first hour your
navigator keeps track by pilotage; at
the same time recording the heading and
airspeed which you are holding.
According to plan, at the end of the
first hour the airplane goes above the
clouds, thus losing contact with the
ground. By means of dead reckoning from
his last pilotage point, the navigator
is able to tell the position of the
aircraft at any time. The first hour's
travel has given him the wind prevalent
at altitude, and the track and
groundspeed being made. By computing
track and distance from the last
pilotage point, he can always tell the
position of the airplane. When your
airplane comes out of the clouds near
Berlin, the navigator will have a very
close approximation of his exact
position, and will be able to pick up
pilotage points quickly.
Dead reckoning as a result of
visual references other than pilotage.
When flying over water, desert, or
barren land, where no reliable pilotage
points are available, accurate DR
navigation still can be performed. By
means of the drift meter the navigator
is able to determine drift, the angle
between the heading of the airplane and
its track over the ground. The true
heading of the airplane is obtained by
application of compass error to the
compass reading. The true heading plus
or minus the drift (as read on the drift
meter) gives the track of the airplane.
At a constant airspeed, drift on 2 or
more headings will give the navigator
information necessary to obtain the wind
by use of his computer. Groundspeed is
computed easily once the wind, heading,
and airspeed are known. So, by constant
recording of true heading, true
airspeed, drift, and groundspeed, the
navigator is able to determine
accurately the position of the airplane
at any given time. For greatest
accuracy, the pilot must maintain
constant courses and airspeeds. If
course or airspeed is changed, notify
the navigator so he can record these
Radio navigation makes use of various
radio aids to determine position. The
development of many new radio devices has
increased the use of radio in combat zones.
However, the ease with which radio aids can
be jammed, or bent, limits the use of radio
to that of a check on DR and pilotage. The
navigator, in conjunction with the radio
man, is responsible for all radio
procedures, approaches, etc., that are in
effect in the theater.
Celestial navigation is the science of
determining position by reference to 2 or
more celestial bodies. The navigator uses a
sextant, accurate time, and many tables to
obtain what he calls a line of position.
Actually this line is part of a circle on
which the altitude of the particular body is
constant for that instant of time. An
intersection of 2 or more of these lines
gives the navigator a fix. These fixes can
be relied on as being accurate within
approximately 10 miles. One reason for
inaccuracy is the instability of the
airplane as it moves through space, causing
acceleration of the sextant bubble (a level
denoting the horizontal). Because of this
acceleration, the navigator takes
observations over a period of time so that
the acceleration error will cancel out to
some extent. If the navigator tells the
pilot when he wishes to take an observation,
extremely careful flying on the part of the
pilot during the few minutes it takes to
make the observation will result in much
greater accuracy. Generally speaking, the
only celestial navigation used by a combat
crew is during the delivering flight to the
theater. But in all cases celestial
navigation is used as a check on dead
reckoning and pilotage except where
celestial is the only method available, such
as on long over-water flights, etc.
Instrument calibration is an important
duty of the navigator. All navigation
depends directly on the accuracy of his
instruments. Correct calibration requires
close cooperation and extremely careful
flying by the pilot. Instruments to be
calibrated include the altimeter, all
compasses, airspeed indicators, alignment of
the astrocompass, astrograph, and drift
meter, and check on the navigator's sextant
Pilot-Navigator Preflight Planning
Pilot and navigator must study
flight plan of the route to be flown and
select alternate air fields.
Study the weather with the
navigator. Know what weather you are
likely to encounter. Decide what action
is to be taken. Know the weather
conditions at the alternate airfields.
Inform your navigator at what
airspeed and altitude you wish to fly so
that he can prepare his flight plan.
Learn what type of navigation the
navigator intends to use: pilotage, dead
reckoning, radio, celestial, or a
combination of all methods.
Determine check points; plan to make
Work out an effective communication
method with your navigator to be used in
Synchronize your watch with your
Pilot-Navigator in Flight
Constant course - For
accurate navigation, the pilot -- you --
must fly a constant course. The
navigator has many computations and
entries to make in his log. Constantly
changing course makes his job more
difficult. A good navigator is supposed
to be able to follow the pilot, but he
cannot be taking compass readings all
Constant airspeed must be
held as nearly as possible. This is as
important to the navigator as is a
constant course in determining position.
Precision flying by the pilot
greatly affects the accuracy of the
navigator's instrument readings,
particularly celestial readings. A
slight error in celestial reading can
cause considerable error in determining
positions. You can help the navigator by
providing as steady a platform as
possible from which he can take
readings. The navigator should notify
you when he intends to take readings so
that the airplane can be leveled off and
flown as smoothly as possible,
preferably by using the automatic pilot.
Do not allow your navigator to be
disturbed while he is taking celestial
Notify the navigator of any
change in flight, such as change in
altitude, course, or airspeed. If change
in flight plan is to be made, consult
the navigator. Talk over the proposed
change so that he can plan the flight
and advise you about it.
If there is doubt about the position
of the airplane, pilot and navigator
should get together, refer to the
navigator's flight log, talk the problem
over and decide together the best course
of action to take.
Check your compasses at intervals
with those of the navigator, noting any
Require your navigator to give
position reports at intervals.
You are ultimately responsible for
getting the airplane to its destination.
Therefore, it is your duty to know your
position at all times.
Encourage your navigator to use as
many navigation methods as possible as a
means of double-checking.
After every flight get together with the
navigator and discuss the flight and compare
notes. Go over the navigator's log. If there
have been serious navigational errors,
discuss them with the navigator and
determine their cause. If the navigator has
been at fault, caution him that it is his
job to see that the same mistake does not
occur again. If the error has been caused by
faulty instruments, see that they are
corrected before another navigation mission
is attempted. If your flying has contributed
to inaccuracy in navigation, try to fly a
better course next time.
The navigator's primary duty is
navigating your airplane with a high degree
of accuracy. But as a member of the team, he
must also have a general knowledge of the
entire operation of the airplane.
He has a .50-cal. machine gun at his
station, and he must be able to use it
skillfully and to service it in emergencies.
He must be familiar with the oxygen
system, know how to operate the turrets,
radio equipment, and fuel transfer system.
He must know the location of all fuses
and spare fuses, lights and spare lights,
He must be familiar with emergency
procedures, such as the manual operation of
landing gear, bomb bay doors, and flaps, and
the proper procedures for crash landings,
ditching, bailout, etc.