RAF navigators swap protractors for bombs

RAF navigators are changing job titles, thanks to the emergence of new technologies that have replaced the old methods of pinpointing an aircraft’s position.

From October, the posts will be called Weapons Systems Officer and Weapons Systems Operator. Global positioning satellite systems (GPS) and other navigational aids have, for some time, enabled pilots to fly without help from a navigator. As a consequence, the navigator’s role has shifted to dealing with radio traffic, weapon arming and targeting, countermeasures and as an extra pair of eyes for the pilot.

For the first few decades of military air operations the only equipment a navigator had was a map, a ruler, a pair of compasses and a protractor. This dead reckoning system was used until the mid 1960s when the first Doppler devices to monitor speed over ground became available.

Introduced into fighter and maritime aircraft, the Doppler device could measure speed and track an aircraft’s position from a longitude and latitude starting point with help from the navigator.

This system was then replaced by inertial navigation which today is combined with GPS to provide a continuous picture of an aircraft’s whereabouts.

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