Last month, a contrast unfolded in the art of navigation.

CAPTIONAir Force aviators reunite 40 years after graduation. Rear, from left: Squadron Leader Michael Spencer, Squadron Leader (retd) Geoffrey Menzies, Wing Commander (retd) Gavin Small, Flight Lieutenant (retd) Russell Lucas, Group Captain (retd) John Heinrich and (front) Wing Commander Michael Hicks. Story by Corporal Melina Young.

A group who once relied on the celestial dance of stars and planets to chart their course met a generation trained with GPS.

Forty years to the day after graduating from No. 64 navigator course, a close-knit group of friends reunited to visit what was then called the RAAF School of Air Navigation.

Despite one member passing away, six surviving graduates toured simulators and observed the latest software at RAAF Base East Sale’s Air Mission Training School.

The group, who have shared a lifetime of career changes and health challenges, donned their old flying jackets and suits for the reunion.

Mission aircrew students guided the class of ’84, which included retired Wing Commander Gavin Small, through take-off checks on the ground missions trainer simulator, showcasing technology vastly different from the ’80s.

Back then, manual navigation over water relied on whatever positional data was available – often celestial cues and solar observations.

Sextants and mathematical equations helped calculate heading and airspeed, always mindful of the wind’s potential to alter its course.

Despite the ‘navigator’ title no longer existing, many aspects of the role remain the same.

“The work during our course was vastly different from what students do now, but someone still occupies the seat I once did, they just have extra duties and a bit more comfort with modern equipment,” Mr Small said.

The group marvelled at how today’s compact A4-size charts starkly contrasted with the sprawling maps of the past, which once required an origami lesson to fold.

The old and new generations shared lunch and listened to yarns from “back in the day”.

The veterans’ strong bond left an impression on the students, offering them a glimpse of what their futures might hold.

The group emphasised to the students that their classmates could potentially become lifelong friends, not just temporary acquaintances.

“We wanted to show them that we old blokes are still great friends, as it certainly never crossed our minds during the course that we would forge such a lasting bond,” Mr Small said.

CAPTIONPilot Officer Zachary Smith shows Squadron Leader (retd) Geoffrey Menzies and Group Captain (retd) John Heinrich the ground missions trainer simulator used for mission aircrew training.

Reflecting on the camaraderie he observed, Pilot Officer Zachary Smith found it inspiring and was proud to be part of the reunion.

“Hearing their war stories and learning what they got up to on trips away was fascinating,” he said.

“I could see their personalities in their mateship – the funny guys, the thoughtful guys.

“I could picture them all 40 years ago on course together.

“I hope to stay in touch with my current training mates and return to relive memories years from now.”

Most of the original course, including those who did not graduate, continue to have regular catch-ups and maintain a Facebook group.

“RAAF Base East Sale holds significance for us and provides another opportunity to reconnect and reminisce about old memories,” Mr Small said.

The group previously celebrated their 30th reunion, with plans already underway for a 45th reunion.

“We don’t want to wait too long between gatherings; after all, we’re not getting any younger,” Mr Small said.






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