Observers and Navigators

ISBN: 9781909808027

Author: C G Jefford    Publisher: Grub Street

This book begins with a detailed examination of the previously little understood observers, aerial gunners/gunlayers and kite balloon observers who flew with the RFC, RNAS and latterly the RAF between 1914 and 1919. It reveals that the RFC had, if not actively fostered, at least, condoned the development of a systemic bias in favour of pilots, a bias that was carried over into, and subsequently sustained by, the RAF for much of the rest of the century.
During the 1920s the RAF dispensed with its remaining observer officers and spent the next fifteen years attempting to make do by misemploying a variety of ground tradesmen as air gunners on a part-time basis. This wholly inadequate practice is contrasted with the Royal Navy's positive attitude towards its non-pilot aircrew. Observers were reinstated in 1934, now ranked as corporals, but still on a part-time basis. Wartime experience soon revealed that the omnipotence of pilots had been a myth. Non-pilot aircrew having become full-timers in 1939, by the summer of 1940 all observers and gunners were at least sergeants and many were being commissioned. The book goes on to examine the proliferation of non-pilot aircrew categories until 1942 when the observer was supplanted by the air bomber and a variety of specialised types of navigator.
Having provided an overview of wartime aircrew training, the story continues with a consideration of the ill-conceived '1946 Aircrew Scheme' which had to be abandoned in 1950 in favour of an all-officer policy for pilots and navigators. As early as 1948 it was announced that they were to have 'comparable career' prospects. The author examines the way in which this egalitarian policy has actually been implemented while continuing to trace the rises and falls in the fortunes of all non-pilot aircrew categories and the evolution of post-war aircrew training until the last navigators graduated in 2011. He concludes by posing several questions to which he suggests some answers.

Bind: hardback

Pages: 416

Dimensions: 210 x 286 mm

Publication Date: 13-04-2014

Availability Date: 20-06-2014

Tag: April 2014

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