CHAPTER XLII. How an Airman finds his Way

In the early days of aviation we frequently heard of an aviator losing his way, and being compelled to descend some miles from his required destination. There are on record various instances where airmen have lost their way when flying over the sea, and have drifted so far from land that they have been drowned. One of the most notable of such disasters was that which occurred to Mr. Hamel in 1914, when he was trying to cross the English Channel. It is presumed that this unfortunate pilot lost his bearings in a fog, and that an, accident to his machine, or a shortage of petrol, caused him to fall in the sea.

There are several reasons why air pilots go out of their course, even though they are supplied with most efficient compasses. One cause of misdirection is the prevalence of a strong side wind. Suppose, for example, an airman intended to fly from Harwich to Amsterdam. A glance at the map will show that the latter place is almost due east of Harwich. We will assume that when the pilot leaves Earth at Harwich the wind is blowing to the east; that is, behind his back.

Now, however strong a wind may be, and in whatever direction it blows, it always appears to be blowing full in a pilot's face. Of course this is due to the fact that the rush of the machine through the air "makes a wind", as we say. Much the same sort of thing is experienced on a bicycle; when out cycling we very generally seem to have a "head" wind.

Suppose during his journey a very strong side wind sprang,up over the North Sea. The pilot would still keep steering his craft due east, and it must be remembered that when well out at sea there would be no familiar landmarks to guide him, so that he would have to rely solely on his compass. It is highly probable that he would not feel the change of wind at all, but it is even more probable that when land was ultimately reached he would be dozens of miles from his required landing-place.

Quite recently Mr. Alexander Gross, the well-known maker of aviation instruments, who is even more famous for his excellent aviation maps, claims to have produced an anti-drift aero-compass, which has been specially designed for use on aeroplanes. The chief advantages of this compass are that the dial is absolutely steady; the needle is extremely sensitive and shows accurately the most minute change of course; the anti-drift arrangement checks the slightest deviation from the straight course; and it is fitted with a revolving sighting arrangement which is of great importance in the adjustment of the instrument.

Before the airman leaves Earth he sets his compass to the course to be steered, and during the flight he has only to see that the two boldly-marked north points - on the dial and on the outer ring - coincide to know that he is keeping his course. The north points are luminous, so that they are clearly visible at night.

It is quite possible that if some of our early aviators had carried such a highly-efficient compass as this, their lives might have been saved, for they would not have gone so far astray in their course. The anti-drift compass has been adopted by various Governments, and it now forms part of the equipment of the Austrian military aeroplane.

When undertaking cross-country flights over strange land an airman finds his way by a specially-prepared map which is spread out before him in an aluminium map case. From the illustration here given of an aviator's map, you will see that it differs in many respects from the ordinary map. Most British aviation maps are made and supplied by Mr Alexander Gross, of the firm of "Geographia", London.

Many airmen seem to find their way instinctively, so to speak, and some are much better in picking out landmarks, and recognizing the country generally, than others. This is the case even with pedestrians, who have the guidance of sign-posts, street names, and so on to assist them. However accurately some people are directed, they appear to have the greatest difficulty in finding their way, while others, more fortunate, remember prominent features on the route, and pick out their course as accurately as does a homing pigeon.

Large sheets of water form admirable "sign-posts" for an airman; thus at Kempton Park, one of the turning-points in the course followed in the "Aerial Derby", there are large reservoirs, which enable the airmen to follow the course at this point with the greatest ease. Railway lines, forests, rivers and canals, large towns, prominent structures, such as gasholders, chimney-stalks, and so on, all assist an airman to find his way.