Harold Gatty

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Harold Charles Gatty
Wiley Post and Harold Gatty in Boston East Boston Airport 1931.jpg
Wiley Post and Gatty in July 1931 at Boston Airport
Born(1903-01-05)5 January 1903
Campbell Town, Tasmania
Died30 August 1957(1957-08-30) (aged 54)
Occupationnavigator
Known forWiley 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".[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 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.

Gatty opened a navigation school, teaching marine navigation to yachtsmen. In 1928, his attention turned to air navigation.

Aeronautical navigator[edit]

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 Ticker tape parade in New York City.[2] Along "The Canyon of Heroes" in New York City are thermal granite pavers on Broadway, marking the 204 Ticker Tape Parades. No.38 States " Wiley Post and Harold Gatty for their flight around the World/ Eight days, 15 hours, 51 minutes." [3][4]

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:[5]

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.

The article also lauds the artificial horizon and turn and bank indicator that Post and Gatty used, which was developed by Lawrence Sperry and manufactured by the Sperry Gyroscope Company.


In 1931, the same year as their flight in June, Wiley Post and Harold Gatty co-wrote a complete and detailed account of their record setting circumnavigation. “Around the World in Eight Days, The Flight of the Winnie Mae.” described their preparations for the flight, and each leg of the journey. Map endpapers were included. In this book, Gatty gave a detailed account of a method of dead reckoning he invented that revolutionized the ability of navigators to fly safely through cloudy conditions, without drifting off course through cumulative errors. [6]

“ I prepared a special drift-and-speed indicator for the flight around the world in which only one known factor was required, namely, the altitude above the object sighted……The instrument is somewhat similar in appearance to a microscope. In construction, it is similar to the projection outlet of a motion -picture machine. The eyepiece can be moved closer to or farther from the spectrum through which a film moves at a constant speed, governed by clockwork.
The procedure for making observations through the indicator is as follows. We estimate, or fly down and measure upward, our exact altitude from a spot on the surface of the earth. When aloft, I focus the eyepiece on it and start the clockwork going. There will be a difference in the apparent speed of the film and the rate at which the spot is passing across the spectrum, so the eyepiece is moved until both speeds are apparently equal. A table which I have prepared to go with the instrument shows the ground speed for the two known factors of the observation: the distance of the eyepiece from the film, and the altitude of the instrument from the object sighted.
For drift, the operation is simultaneous with that for calculating speed………..
If we can get continual observations, our course can be accurately determined. But when clouds obscure the sky, no observations can be made. Then it is that the navigator resorts to “dead reckoning.”

Wiley Post installed two hatches on the Winnie Mae for Gatty to use, one overhead and just forward from his seat behind the fuel tanks, and the other on the bottom of the cabin. Through the first, he was to observe the stars, and through the bottom hatch was to use his special drift- and -speed indicator. Gatty observed

“With those two “eyes” the Winnie Mae could find her way anywhere if the laws which regulate the universe of ours are held constant for the duration of the flight.”

[7] Within the feature in Popular Mechanics Magazine of their flight is a diagrammatic sketch that shows the workings of Gatty’s dead reckoning indicator, that, along with the skills of pilot Wiley Post enabled them to set a new record of 8 days for circumnavigating the world. The location of the large fuel tank meant they could not see each other whilst in flight. They communicated through written notes that were passed over the fuel tank by a pulley system. This detail indicates the degree of co operation and planning that was instrumental in their success. [8]


A year after the circumnavigation with Wiley Post, the US Congress passed a bill allowing civilians to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. President Hoover presented the medals to Gatty and Post at the White House on August 18, 1932. 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. 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:[9][10]

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.

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 was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1950 as one of two nominated European members,[11] and served for two years.[12]

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[edit]

  1. ^ Harold Gatty: Aerial Navigation Expert
  2. ^ [1] Smithsonian Museum, Time and Navigation. Film shows Wiley and Gatty in tickertape parade, Broadway, New York City. In Interview Gatty indicates on a map circumnavigation route and landings.
  3. ^ [2] Commemorative granite pavers in New York City.
  4. ^ [3] Downtown Alliance Commemorates 204 Canyon of Heroes Parades
  5. ^ Into the East and Out of the West, Around the World: What Aviation Needs Popular Mechanics (September 1931) pp 353–5, link from Google Books
  6. ^ Around the World in 8 days, Post and Gatty, Rand McNally and Company, 1931.[4]
  7. ^ Around the World in Eight Days, The Flight of the Winnie Mae. Post and Gatty. Published by John Hamilton Ltd. London for the Aviation Book Club Edition 1932. . Ch III, Driving from the Back Seat. Pg 34-35
  8. ^ Popular Mechanics Magazine , Into the East and Out of the West, Around the world, What Aviation needs. Pg 355 Volume 56, No 3 ,September 1931 [5]
  9. ^ John R. Stilgoe (2003) Lifeboat, pages 211,2 , University of Virginia Press, lk from Google Books
  10. ^ Julia Blakely, "Be Your Own Navigator" [6], (Feb. 22, 2016), Smithsonian Libraries Unbound
  11. ^ Fiji Royal Gazette: Year 1950, p243
  12. ^ 1957 Fiji Annual Report, H.M. Stationery Office, p7

External links[edit]