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The Volunteer Navigator


Reverse Engineered Navigation


by Bill Mitchell

Allan Walker took this photo of the cockpit of VH-AGE during the survey in question. Significantly, Bill's "town hall clock" is missing from the panel! (See explanation below).


Hudson aircraft VH-AGE had been operating in the north west of Australia for some months on charter to an overseas company doing an electromagnetic survey of Timor Sea. This company provided their own data collecting equipment and operating technicians, so all Adastra had to do was provide a serviceable platform and fly it wherever the overseas company required.

Main source of magnetic information was an enormous towed cesium magnetometer which was aerodynamically unstable, requiring two crew to control whenever it was in close proximity to the aircraft as it was capable of doing spectacular aerobatics when it got in the wake of the Hudson.

The job was nearing completion and we were looking forward to getting back to home base and taking some leave. The final job for our client was a magnetic profile of three lines to be flown somewhere between Daly River and the Bastion, Wyndham.

Preparatory to our dawn takeoff, the skipper, Allan Walker and I were met by our navigator on the front steps of our hotel and informed that he was unable to carry out his flight duties that day, and who knows maybe the next day too. This was too much for me, so in a rush of fervour, I volunteered to do the navigating. Allan agreed and the technicians said "that's fine", so off we went.

I was quite comfortable sitting in the R.H. seat next to the pilot. None of that up in the nose, getting punched in the eye with the Aldis sight stuff for me. Didn't even need the intercom. Tap on the shoulder and point if communication was needed, besides there was the Smiths Gyrosyn compass with a dial as big as the face on the town hall clock looking at us.

It was not difficult finding our start point, in fact there were several, so it was just a matter of selecting the most obvious. So it was bird out, gear on, camera on and we were on line. The Bastion was looming and Allan did his impeccable rate turn which brought us onto the reciprocal and the clients crew looked pretty pleased with the quality of the data which was rolling in. The next line was flown without any problems, so it was home James and wait for the data to be processed. We were eager to know if any of the flight lines were rejected so we headed down to the client's headquarters to see how things went. We were greeted with good news and bad news. O.K. the bad news first. The location of the start point was in error and miles out of position. The good news, all the work was accepted as all the lines flown were straight and the spacing perfect and their geophysicist considered this fact most important to the value of the Profile, and to our astonishment, screwed up the original map from which we had flown, produced a new chart and ruled in new lines exactly where we had flown them.

The Hudson departed for Sydney next day. I kept well away from the flight deck on this trip as I had come to realize it was much easier changing spark plugs and draining oil than trying to direct the course of an aircraft.

I humbly acknowledge a fact that has been pointed out to me that seeing that none of my navigational work has ever been rejected I have a 100% success record as a survey nav. It also explains why our navigationally oriented Operations Manager put me in hospital for one night after a few friendly beers at De Marco's Essendon Hotel.


Bill Mitchell
21st July 2003


The missing Gyrosyn Compass explained by Allan Walker:

"The Gyrosyn was installed where that big hole is. When we were operating off shore we were using a French navigation system called Toran. The navigator used to sit next to the Toran operator, back in the cabin, and relay the heading changes to me on intercom. The Gyrosyn was then mounted next to the Toran display, hence the hole in the panel. After all the off shore work was completed we had a few days over land where visual navigation was required. The Gyrosyn would have then been returned to the cockpit."



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