A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Bob Goethe
Date: 2016 Feb 23, 09:48 -0800
I took the Dalton with me to have breakfast with Dad at his assisted living place, and asked him what he could tell me about it. I probably should have asked that question 15 years ago, as Dad didn't actually remember when he got it.
But holding an E-6B in his hands today did trigger a good set-and-drift story. Dad was in the US Army Air Corps, but at a certain point had been seconded to the British, and was flying some goods from Cairo to Catania, Sicily, with a refueling stop at a British strip in Libya. The operations officer there didn't want to give Dad a full load of fuel, but only what they calculated he needed to get to Sicily. Dad said, no...that no plane in his outfit ever took off with less than a full tank of gas. This conversation went back and forth for a while, until Dad said that he supposed he could save on take-off weight by dumping all the British cargo he was carrying onto the runway. This triggered rather more conversation.
In the end, Dad got a full tank of gas, took off, and shortly encountered a storm. Based on what he could see of the breaking waves, he knew the winds were out of the west, and fairly strong. He went up to try and get above the clouds. From the way the cloud tops broke, he said, he estimated the set and drift of the wind, and steered a course that compensated by rather more than 30°. He said his idea was that if he overcompensated, he would end up to the west of the mainland, and could just turn downwind at his ETA and find the coast of Italy. If he failed to compensate for the wind, he was afraid he could blow across towards Turkey and run out of gas.
His navigator, who was freshly arrived from the USA, had evidently been taught that course compensations should never exceed some specified maximum degrees...which Dad had vastly exceeded. Dad said that when you are trying to fly in a storm, it doesn't leave you at your most socially graceful. He engaged in a certain amount of re-education of the navigator, and then told him to go to the back of the plane and sit down.
Anyway, at his ETA, good fortune had it that there was a break in the clouds, and there below him was Catania. This morning as he told the story, he was obviously still quite proud of having intuited/deduced the set-and-drift. Of course, the pilots who fail to make useful set-and-drift decisions may never live to tell their children about those decisions, and those children never have the chance to be born to begin with.