So what exactly does an Air Force navigator do?

JPilot9

Well-Known Member
#22
Check out Flight Dispatch. That is probably the most well-correlated civilian job for navigators. A close second would be railroad dispatchers. I know former and current navs who do both; both love their jobs and make very decent pay.

As a flight dispatcher you may have to work at a regional for a year or two, depending on the hiring outlook, and the pipeline to a major can be significantly shorter than for civilian pilots hoping to fly for a major. Some navs get on with majors as ops agents, schedulers, etc. with an airline then move to dispatch as an internal applicant when the company hires.
 

HeyNav

Well-Known Member
#23
I started my AF career at the end of the Viet Nam era. Upon reaching the end of my college deferment with a low lottery draft number (yes there was a draft then), rather than being drafted into the SE Asian swamps, I entered OTS instead. Due to marginal eyesight I did not qualify as a pilot, but became a navigator instead as the only other OTS option at the time, which actually suited my engineering/science background interests much better. For 9 years I flew the KC-135, advancing to instructor navigator and finally to senior wing stan-eval check flight nav. There was no GPS at the time. in later years, for long overwater or over the pole flights, INS might be installed, but I did not much care for it. INS became one more item to babysit, monitor, record and be responsible for. Besides, it was often wrong with a published error rate of 1.9mph per hour, and it too often crapped out altogether. I could routinely do much better than that with DR and celestial.

I enjoyed the career, but not so much the associated AF BS. I wanted to transition into the science/engineering field by attending AFIT, but as a SAC navigator, i was told that navs were too valuable in that position to transition into something else. After 9 years active I had the opportunity to jump into a civilian engineering career with an associated AF research laboratory, with my concurrent MS education being paid for (the AF eventually paid for s second MS degree). I had the very tempting chance to contiinue as a nav with the NG flying C-130s on missions to the south pole, but the required time requirement constraints were too much after what I had gone through in SAC, so I declined that exciting offer. Instead I joined the AF reserves as an engineer in a different division at the same laboratory as my civilian job, finally retiring as an O-5 with 22 years of service. I stayed on with the GS job, retiring as a GS-15 with a combined military/civilian service pension credit of 41.5 years.

Meanwhile, my eagle eye son attended USAFA, spending his career as an F-16 instructor pilot, retiring last year as an O-5 with his 20 years. He is now happily flying for an airline.
 
Last edited:

ppragman

Direct Yeska
#24
There isn't really a natural civilian analog career field for Navs of just ab out any flavor. In fact, most of them I know struggle with what to do after leaving big blue.

That being said, I currently work in a unit that has a bunch of end-of-career Navs who are deciding what to do with the rest of their lives. The vast majority of them end up finding GS positions or contractor jobs working in/around/with the DoD. The ones who don't go all over the place, from becoming school teachers, to working for the various railroad companies in management, off to the business world with companies that desire to hire military officers and veterans...I've only known one who moved over to the civilian aviation industry unrelated to the DoD became an academic instructor at American Airlines.
Just seeing this - such a shame. As I get older, I find I’m more and more interested in the theory of navigation and the math behind it. I kind of wish we still had a way to take star sights on long flights and taught how to do radar nav or partial pressure nav to aviation professionals.
 

HeyNav

Well-Known Member
#25
My nickname "HeyNav" comes from the usual crew call to me as navigator when they needed my attention. SAC did not recognize static individual callsign names.

So i turned my aptitude and love for astronomy, navigation, math, and outdoor activities into further good. I am an active participant, member and instructor and crew boss for my local and my state-wide's wilderness Search and Rescue organization, and was recruited by Homeland Security to formally teach land navigation to law enforcement officers and SAR statewide. No a huge effort job, but it earns a few bucks from the state doing what what I would otherwise enjoy doing for free in my retirement.
 
Last edited:

woodreau

Well-Known Member
#26
Just seeing this - such a shame. As I get older, I find I’m more and more interested in the theory of navigation and the math behind it. I kind of wish we still had a way to take star sights on long flights and taught how to do radar nav or partial pressure nav to aviation professionals.
If you’re looking for theory of navigation and the math, you can get the American Practical Navigator or just Bowditch.

Even though it looks intimidating and there’s an infinite number of stars out there, there’s really only 40 or so stars that are used for navigation and really only 7-10 that are used frequently from that list. In the old days you had to pick out which stars you were going to use for your star sightings and calculate what the stars approximate position was going to be at the time you were going to take your sighting. but even by the late 90s/ early 2000s there was a computer program you used to put in your dead reckoning position and it would give you the best stars to use and where they should be. And we were no longer using the nautical almanac and just using the air almanac for the sight reductions. Then it was a matter of going out there and presenting your sextant and sight the star and get the exact reading.

I did run into an Airbus captain who carries around an astrolabe and takes celestial in flight. he said he’d always be 7-11 miles off. I asked him what he used for time? GPS time off ACARs. Nope have to use UTC time (not the same as GPS time) do your utc time hack off 5khz, 10khz, 15khz or 20khz any one of those frequencies. The difference between gps time and utc time is enough to cause the 7-11 mile error he was experiencing.
 

ppragman

Direct Yeska
#27
If you’re looking for theory of navigation and the math, you can get the American Practical Navigator or just Bowditch.

Even though it looks intimidating and there’s an infinite number of stars out there, there’s really only 40 or so stars that are used for navigation and really only 7-10 that are used frequently from that list. In the old days you had to pick out which stars you were going to use for your star sightings and calculate what the stars approximate position was going to be at the time you were going to take your sighting. but even by the late 90s/ early 2000s there was a computer program you used to put in your dead reckoning position and it would give you the best stars to use and where they should be. And we were no longer using the nautical almanac and just using the air almanac for the sight reductions. Then it was a matter of going out there and presenting your sextant and sight the star and get the exact reading.

I did run into an Airbus captain who carries around an astrolabe and takes celestial in flight. he said he’d always be 7-11 miles off. I asked him what he used for time? GPS time off ACARs. Nope have to use UTC time (not the same as GPS time) do your utc time hack off 5khz, 10khz, 15khz or 20khz any one of those frequencies. The difference between gps time and utc time is enough to cause the 7-11 mile error he was experiencing.
I have a copy of the American Practical Navigator - it’s a really great book, I just need to practice if I want to get sharp. Personally I think it’d be cool to learn the lunar distance method. Maybe one day I’ll have the time.

The FAA “flight navigator handbook is really good too - it’s a free pdf online, and I found an air force nav training manual at a used bookstore about 10 years ago. Just need the time.

Honestly, it’s such a cool science - I wish there was a way to make money navigating these days.
 

JeppUpdater

Well-Known Member
#28
Honestly, it’s such a cool science - I wish there was a way to make money navigating these days.
I found “Primer of Celestial Navigation” by John Favill online by accident one time. It was a WWII publication primarily for ship navigators, but touches on aviation as well. It’s interesting reading.

I started to get into it a few months ago just for kicks as we moved somewhere with a much better starfield view, but learning to fly helicopters has sucked me in for the time being and it takes what little spare brain power I have to try and figure that out.
 

ppragman

Direct Yeska
#29
I found “Primer of Celestial Navigation” by John Favill online by accident one time. It was a WWII publication primarily for ship navigators, but touches on aviation as well. It’s interesting reading.

I started to get into it a few months ago just for kicks as we moved somewhere with a much better starfield view, but learning to fly helicopters has sucked me in for the time being and it takes what little spare brain power I have to try and figure that out.
My wife bought me a sextant for Chrismas one year because I said I wanted to learn now I just have to find the time and good enough weather at the same time lol.
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
#30
I started my AF career at the end of the Viet Nam era. Upon reaching the end of my college deferment with a low lottery draft number (yes there was a draft then), rather than being drafted into the SE Asian swamps, I entered OTS instead. Due to marginal eyesight I did not qualify as a pilot, but became a navigator instead as the only other OTS option at the time, which actually suited my engineering/science background interests much better. For 9 years I flew the KC-135, advancing to instructor navigator and finally to senior wing stan-eval check flight nav. There was no GPS at the time. in later years, for long overwater or over the pole flights, INS might be installed, but I did not much care for it. INS became one more item to babysit, monitor, record and be responsible for. Besides, it was often wrong with a published error rate of 1.9mph per hour, and it too often crapped out altogether. I could routinely do much better than that with DR and celestial.

I enjoyed the career, but not so much the associated AF BS. I wanted to transition into the science/engineering field by attending AFIT, but as a SAC navigator, i was told that navs were too valuable in that position to transition into something else. After 9 years active I had the opportunity to jump into a civilian engineering career with an associated AF research laboratory, with my concurrent MS education being paid for (the AF eventually paid for s second MS degree). I had the very tempting chance to contiinue as a nav with the NG flying C-130s on missions to the south pole, but the required time requirement constraints were too much after what I had gone through in SAC, so I declined that exciting offer. Instead I joined the AF reserves as an engineer in a different division at the same laboratory as my civilian job, finally retiring as an O-5 with 22 years of service. I stayed on with the GS job, retiring as a GS-15 with a combined military/civilian service pension credit of 41.5 years.

Meanwhile, my eagle eye son attended USAFA, spending his career as an F-16 instructor pilot, retiring last year as an O-5 with his 20 years. He is now happily flying for an airline.
Which SAC wings were you with?

And A-model -135s.........time hacking that takeoff for the water available. Some awesome old school stuff there. Last of those I saw fly was in the early 2000s.
 

HeyNav

Well-Known Member
#31
I was with the 121st Air Refueling Wing at Rickenbacker, then the 416th BMW at Griffiss.

Water wagons. How well I remember, it was my job to alert the pilot when the water injection was about to run out on climbout: "120 on water" and he would lower the AOA for reduced thrust as 670 gallons of water ran out a few seconds later. I can still hear and remember my very first instructor telling me when to start the clock for water - "when the engine noise goes from a loud deafening roar to a God-awful roar", that's when the water kicks in and I start the stopwatch.

By the way, there were standard 58 stars to memorize for celestial navigation. I came into the program with a leg up, because I grew up as an amateur astronomer, so I already knew every one of them and how to identify them by their brightness, color, and nearest neighbors.
 
Last edited:

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
#32
I was with the 121st Air Refueling Wing at Rickenbacker, then the 416th BMW at Griffiss.

Water wagons. How well I remember, it was my job to alert the pilot when the water injection was about to run out on climbout: "120 on water" and he would lower the AOA for reduced thrust as 670 gallons of water ran out a few seconds later. I can still hear and remember my very first instructor telling me when to start the clock for water - "when the engine noise goes from a loud deafening roar to a God-awful roar", that's when the water kicks in and I start the stopwatch.

By the way, there were standard 58 stars to memorize for celestial navigation. I came into the program with a leg up, because I grew up as an amateur astronomer, so I already knew every one of them and how to identify them by their brightness, color, and nearest neighbors.
One thing the Navs did have over everyone else.....the best O'club in the AF there at Mather. Back in the day, there wasn't a PPR to be had for a Friday or weekend, if you didn't get one way early. They used to have a IMAX-style theatre that celestial nav was taught in, as the theatre depicted outer space and various stars/planets etc.

And being -135s, you got to experience beautiful Atwater, CA, and the daily smell of onions all around Castle. :)

Griffis....some sharp looking BUFFs they had with the Statue of Liberty on the tail.
 

HeyNav

Well-Known Member
#33
I don't remember much about the O'club at Mather. Guess I was too busy learning the craft in the beloved T-29 at the time. I was in one of the vey last T-29 classes before the T-43 came online. The leadership said that with the T-43 they could train navigators 'faster". We joked that yeah, a jet goes much faster than a prop driven trainer. A lot of the old skills and techniques changed with the change in aircraft. Had more time at Castle to explore the CA outdoors and countryside near Merced as the gateway to Yosemite. I found that in general O'clubs weren't all that great for service or food. Luckily most of the time I had a senior enlisted guy as a boom operator on my crew and he could get pilot, copilot and nav officers into the senior enlisted "Top 3" clubs when we went TDY. Those clubs tended to be much preferred with better food menus, entertainment, and bars. In return we usually got him into officer's quarters instead of enlisted slums by citing the need for "crew integrity" and common transportation for early morning scheduled flights.
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
#34
I don't remember much about the O'club at Mather. Guess I was too busy learning the craft in the beloved T-29 at the time. I was in one of the vey last T-29 classes before the T-43 came online. The leadership said that with the T-43 they could train navigators 'faster". We joked that yeah, a jet goes much faster than a prop driven trainer. A lot of the old skills and techniques changed with the change in aircraft. Had more time at Castle to explore the CA outdoors and countryside near Merced as the gateway to Yosemite. I found that in general O'clubs weren't all that great for service or food. Luckily most of the time I had a senior enlisted guy as a boom operator on my crew and he could get pilot, copilot and nav officers into the senior enlisted "Top 3" clubs when we went TDY. Those clubs tended to be much preferred with better food menus, entertainment, and bars. In return we usually got him into officer's quarters instead of enlisted slums by citing the need for "crew integrity" and common transportation for early morning scheduled flights.
T-29 and T-43: the only two aircraft that could be at 8-12 different places on earth at the same time, with only one of those being correct. :)
 
Top