And in so doing it can snuff out dangers before they escalate.
As a pilot I find it hard to believe however strange things do happen while flying. The was the primary aircraft for passengers during those days. Typically our flight hours to Paris or Berlin might be 10 hours of real flight time but perhaps 18 or more hours of duty time as we might have to refuel, etc.
We carried three pilots so one could be sleeping and two navigators so one of those could also be sleeping. Today we need no navigators due to the state of the art navigation equipment using satellites and the increased speed from knots for the DC-6 and knots for a jet.
Flying east looking into the sun and then the moon can sure make one sleepy over 18 hours. The navigator had a table directly behind the pilots and he used navigation equipment that today would be from the dark ages.
He took shots with his sextant, used dead reckoning, and LORAN which is not very precise to say the best. The auto pilot set directly between the pilot and co-pilot and direction was controlled by turning a round knob about ' in diameter.
Typically if the navigator wanted to change the direction a couple of degrees he would just reach up and slowly turn the knob to the new direction and then return it to neutral.
One night over the Atlantic in the winter the navigator made a two degree change in direction using the auto pilot. He however left it just barely off neutral. After some point I noticed our direction was almost due north when we should be heading almost due west.
The rate of change of direction was so miniscule you would have to stare at the compass to have noticed it. For all I knew we might have been heading north for an hour. There was no radar in those days to reach out into the Atlantic.
We did have a couple of permanently stationed boats in the ocean we could check in with and report our position. I immediately turned to the navigator and asked him when he last adjusted the heading and fortunately he said about 20 minutes past.
I had him immediately give me a position report and it turned out we were only about 20 miles of course. No harm done but I never again failed to check the auto pilot control after it had been used to insure it was in neutral.
Thule is not far from the North Pole. Compass headings in this area of the world are next to useless. Thule had a Omni Range navigation system which you could pickup when you were about miles from the base.
You could also track outbound on an Omni out of Newfoundland or Labrador for a couple of hundred miles.
As all you cold see on the ground was ice and snow you had not ground marks to use. When I was about miles from Thule and clearly had it on the Omni which showed direction and distance to Thule the Navigator advised me to turn 40 degrees to the left.
He was clearly lost due to the magnetic forces in this far northern areas and his lack of experience in this area. Sure glad we had other navigation devices than the navigator.
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Today you can set the coordinates of where you want to fly anywhere in the world and your plane will fly you there all by itself. It can even land itself although that is only done in practice. I am sure every pilot who has flown for thousands of hours has some real strange stories to tell and some he does not care to tell.
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