Harold Gatty – The Navigator’s Navigator

Photo of Harold Gatty renoun navigator from the early days of aviation. He also produced a survival manual for sailors to help them find their way home if their ship sank. Amazing man.

I’m such a sucker for the story behind the story.

Yes Wiley Post was the first #pilot to fly around the world in only eight days. But the reason he pulled this off was because of his #navigator, Harold Gatty. Gatty was almost killed on the flight, but more on that in a bit.

Harold Gatty was known and respected by the fliers of his day. Humorist Will Roger’s once praised Gatty as a man who could ““take a $1.00 Ingersoll watch, a Woolworth compass, and a lantern, and at twelve o’clock at night tell you just how many miles the American farmer is away from the poor house.”

I’ve been collecting Gatty’s books, and they are amazing. There’s one, a rare and hard-to-come-by volume called “the Raft Book” that was written to help people who had to abandon ship or jump out of an airplane figure out just where they are. The book opens with Gatty talking in glowing terms about how the Polynesians were able to use the stars and their knowledge of animals to know where they were.

It’s a great read.

Gatty wrote similar books that are easier to come by and fun to read. He was able to use the most sophisticated navigational instruments of his day, but he also believed that the skill of knowing just where you were with the simplest of tools was possible and highly desirable.So, your assignment for this weeks is to find one of Gatty’s books and read it. You won’t be sorry.

And about him almost being killed…. Well, the plane that made that 8-day flight, the Winnie Mae, didn’t have an electric starter. The propeller had to be manually spun, and that was part of Gatty’s job. But in Alaska, when they were only a few thousand miles from home, the engine backfired during a start-up, and smacked Gatty to the ground, seriously injuring him. He made the rest of the trip in terrible pain. But did his job even so.

A real hero in my book, and it’s a shame he’s not a house-hold name. His books probably saved many people’s lives. And he got Wiley home safe, too.

Read more about Gatty in Penenberg, Adam L.. Sky Rivals: Two Men. Two Planes. An Epic Race Around the World. Wayzgoose Press. Kindle Edition.