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Most of the tasks when navigating a Chinook helicopter would involve locating a 6 or even 8 figure grid reference on an Ordnance Survey map (or similar) to pick up or drop off some ‘customers’ e.g. troops. In some cases the mission would be to arrive at this destination, day or night, any weather with a +/- 5 second window. Sometimes the whole mission involving dozens or more aircraft would depend on getting this right.

An 8 figure grid reference defines a square area that is 10 metres by 10 metres. Flying along at 50’ above ground level and at 120 knots (2 miles per minute) it is nearly impossible to identify the drop point/pick up point until one is in close proximity; even then it can be a last minute (or second) identification. So where do we start?

Of course there is satellite navigation on board to assist with navigation, and often this is used to great effect. However, it is a navigation aid and not the navigator…there are many tales of drivers following their satnavs blindly and ending up in the wrong, sometimes embarrassing places. It’s no different in 22 tonnes of military hardware – but the consequences can be more severe. In addition to this there may be a distinguishing feature to look for specifically, or the troops awaiting pick up may be signalling…so the human element has a role to play.

What is it?

Big to small. The technique then is to start with big features and work towards the smaller ones. In early navigation training in fixed wing aircraft this could be large features such as towns or major road junctions and ideally would be something with ‘vertical extent’ so that it could be seen readily when low level flying e.g. masts, prominent landmarks etc. From the big features we can start to find the associated smaller features – the town may have a church in the north east corner with a spire and that may lead to a narrow valley heading east which we follow to pass two farm buildings and then at the junction of two lanes we find the red telephone box. Yes, seriously, this is the way we would locate an 8 figure grid reference in training. And let me tell you…when the phone box isn’t red it’s a real pain in the you-know-what! However, troops have a habit of dressing to match their surroundings so it is vital that navigation is able to use the technique to confidently get to exactly the right destination.

How can this help you?

So there’s a couple of questions I have for you. First, do you know where you are trying to get to – what is your metaphoric target, grid reference or drop point? If you’re not really clear about where you are heading how on earth will you get there? (See my later blog on mission command for thoughts on clarity of purpose). Second, what are the big features in your environment that indicate that you’re heading the right way – sales figures, revenue, employee engagement, customer feedback/satisfaction? If you are able to notice that your landscape is confirming that you’re heading the right way then how do you start narrowing it down – big to small – so that you can improve your accuracy and efficiency in what you’re doing?

If you need to think these things through or talk them through and you feel that a navigator could help you to find your way then do get in touch.