Harold Gatty

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Harold Charles Gatty
Born (1903-01-05)5 January 1903
Campbell Town, Tasmania
Died 30 August 1957(1957-08-30) (aged 54)
Cause of death
Occupation navigator
Known for Wiley Post's navigator on circumnavigation flight (1931)
Wiley Post and Gatty in July 1931 at Boston Airport
Wiley Post and Gatty in July 1931 at Boston Airport

Harold Charles Gatty (5 January 1903 – 30 August 1957) was an Australian navigator, inventor, and aviation pioneer. Charles Lindbergh called Gatty the "Prince of Navigators."[1] 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.

Early career[edit]

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 watch at night. Gatty served on many ships, some sailing between Australia and California, and ran a supply shop at Sydney Harbour until 1927, when he immigrated to the United States.

In California, Gatty opened a navigation school, teaching marine navigation to yachtsmen. In 1928, his attention turned to aerial navigation, particularly to trans-oceanic flights, where his experience as a ship's navigator applied.


Gatty is credited with inventing an air sextant which used a spirit level to provide an artificial horizon. He also invented the "aerochronometer", which offset inaccuracies introduced into observations taken in a moving plane. The most important invention of his career was the Gatty drift sight. This optical device was directed at the ground, or the tops of clouds, and used to determine the rate and direction of an aircraft's drift, or movement away from its heading. The device was also used as a ground speed indicator.


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.

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[edit]

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. He resigned his position in 1943, as a result of difficulties with MacArthur and his organisation being disbanded. He then moved to Washington, D.C., where he wrote The Raft Book, a survival guide for airmen downed at sea. The book became a success and was placed in the survival kits of all Allied airmen serving in the Pacific.

Later career[edit]

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. He wrote a book on navigation, Nature Is Your Guide, which was published soon after his death from a stroke in 1957. He was buried in Fiji.

External links[edit]