|Harold Charles Gatty|
5 January 1903|
Campbell Town, Tasmania
|Died||30 August 1957
Cause of death
|Known for||Wiley Post's navigator on circumnavigation flight (1931)|
Harold Charles Gatty (5 January 1903 – 30 August 1957) was an Australian navigator and aviation pioneer. Charles Lindbergh called Gatty the "Prince of Navigators". In 1931, Gatty served as navigator, along with pilot Wiley Post, on the flight which set the record for aerial circumnavigation of the world, flying a distance of 15,747 miles (24,903 km) in a Lockheed Vega named the Winnie Mae, in 8 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes.
Gatty was born on 5 January 1903 in Campbell Town, Tasmania.
He began his career as a navigator in 1917, at age 14, when he was appointed a midshipman at the Royal Australian Naval College. After World War I, he became an apprentice on a steamship in the Australian merchant navy, where he learned constellations while standing night watch. He became an expert in celestial navigation and served on many ships, some sailing between Australia and California. After the Navy, he worked in Sydney Harbour provisioning vessels anchored there. In 1927 he relocated to California.
In 1929, Gatty navigated a Lockheed Vega on a flight from Los Angeles to New York City for Nevada Airlines, in an effort to demonstrate the feasibility of coast-to-coast passenger service. The flight made four stops and took 19 hours and 53 minutes, which set the transcontinental airspeed record for a commercial airliner.
In 1930, Gatty prepared a coast-to-coast route and navigation charts for Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whom he had also taught as a student. Anne Lindbergh served as navigator with her husband Charles on a record-setting cross-country flight of 14 hours and 45 minutes.
The next year, Wiley Post asked Gatty to accompany him on an effort to break the world record for circumnavigating the earth, which was previously set at 21 days by the Graf Zeppelin airship. Gatty accepted, hoping to demonstrate the effectiveness of his navigation methods. The journey began on 23 June 1931 at Roosevelt Field in New York and followed a 15,000-mile course across Europe, Russia, and Siberia, due to the lack of suitable airfields nearer the equator. Post and Gatty crossed the Atlantic in a record time of 16 hours and 17 minutes and continued to Berlin, Moscow, and Khabarovsk, then crossed the Bering Sea, landing on the beach near Solomon, Alaska, then to Edmonton, Alberta, arriving finally back at Roosevelt Field after 8 days, 15 hours, and 51 minutes. The pair received a tickertape parade in New York City.
Air navigation in Gatty’s time used dead reckoning. When setting out for a destination the aircraft heading is taken with respect to a compass. Motion over the earth is determined by the wind triangle. Heading must therefore be compensated for wind speed as well as drift rate. In 1931 Popular Mechanics published an article featuring Gatty’s method for computing the wind drift experienced by an aircraft:
- Gatty’s invention consists of an endless film cut across by fine parallel lines. This strip of film moves at a speed synchronous with that of the plane over the earth. The navigator looks through a periscope and makes his observations of the ground. He found the device quite satisfactory, but intends to define it further.
A year after the circumnavigation with Wiley Post, the US Congress passed a bill allowing civilians to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. President Hoover pinned the medals on Gatty and Post. Gatty was offered American citizenship and the newly created position of Senior Aerial Navigation Engineer for the US Army Air Corps. Gatty expressed his wish to remain associated with Australia and Congress passed a bill allowing foreign citizens to hold that post.
In 1934, Gatty formed the South Seas Commercial Company with Donald Douglas, with the plan to deliver air service to the islands of the South Pacific. However, the company was soon sold to Pan Am who brought Gatty into the company to organise flight routes in that region.
World War II
During the Second World War, Gatty was given the honorary rank of group captain in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and worked for the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the South Pacific. He was later appointed director of Air Transport for the Allied forces, based in Australia, under General Douglas MacArthur. Gatty moved to Washington, D.C. in 1943 where he worked on a navigational supplement to a survival kit for Air Force personnel flying over the Pacific in the event they should become castaways.
Gatty produced The Raft Book: Lore of the Sea and Sky to fill the need:
- Supplemented by a foldout table for navigation computations, folded paper scales for measuring distances, and a unique worldwide chart, The Raft Book demonstrates the usefulness of the Polynesian star-based passage-making technique.
- [Polynesians] viewed the stars as moving bands of light, and knew all of the stars of each band which passed over the islands they were interested in.
- Their method of navigation by these heavenly beacons was to sail toward the star which they knew was over their destination at that particular time.
- Gatty found the lore of birds especially useful for castaways.
After World War II, Gatty relocated to Fiji with his Dutch-born second wife. Here he formed Fiji Airways which later became Air Pacific, subsequently the company name was changed in 2013 back to Fiji Airways.
Gatty suffered a stroke and died in 1957. He was buried in Fiji.
In the end, Gatty advocated "natural navigation" in his book Nature is your Guide which was published in 1958. He expanded on the ideas of The Raft Book and developed a narrative of Pacific settlement by Polynesian navigators following migration of seabirds. He attributed cultural significance to the use of the pelorus by ancient Polynesians.
Notes and references
- Harold Gatty (1958) Nature is your Guide: Finding your Way without a Map or Compass, preview from Google Books.
- Terry Gwynn-Jones (2006) Harold Gatty: Aerial Navigation Expert from HistoryNet.
- Alan Warden (1981) Gatty, Harold Charles from Australian Dictionary of Biography.