Generations of navigation cross paths as graduates reunite at RAAF 40 years later

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Generations of navigation style and technology crossed paths when former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) navigators reunited 40 years after graduating from No. 64 navigator course. 

The close-knit group of friends reunited to visit what was then called the RAAF School of Air Navigation. Despite one member passing away, six surviving graduates toured simulators and observed the latest software at RAAF Base East Sale’s Air Mission Training School.

The class of 1984 donned their old flying jackets and suits as they surveyed takeoff checks on the ground missions trainer simulator, showcasing technology that is remarkably different from the 1980s. 

Back then, manual navigation over water relied on whatever positional data was available – often celestial cues and solar observations.

Sextants and mathematical equations helped calculate heading and airspeed, always mindful of the wind’s potential to alter its course.

Despite the ‘navigator’ title no longer existing, many aspects of the role remain the same.

“The work during our course was vastly different from what students do now, but someone still occupies the seat I once did, they just have extra duties and a bit more comfort with modern equipment,” one of the group members, retired Wing Commander Gavin Small, said in a press release published by the RAAF.

The former navigators marveled at how today’s compact A4-size charts starkly contrasted with the sprawling maps of the past, which required origami techniques to fold.

The veterans’ strong bond left an impression on current students, offering them a glimpse at what their futures might hold.

The group told the students that their classmates could potentially become lifelong friends, not just temporary acquaintances.

“We wanted to show them that we old blokes are still great friends, as it certainly never crossed our minds during the course that we would forge such a lasting bond,” Small said.

The class of ‘84 group previously celebrated their 30th reunion, with plans already underway for a 45th reunion.

Small said: “We don’t want to wait too long between gatherings; after all, we’re not getting any younger.”

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