Navigators' final dinner
Almost 300 observers, navigators and weapon systems officers attended Saturday's final Navigator Dinner at RAF Cranwell.
The 29 October evening opened with a Reception at College Hall, followed by a Sunset Ceremony with the RAF Regiment Band and - precisely as the Ensign was lowered, as one would expect - a spectacular fly-past by a Merlin helicopter, VC-10, Hawks and Tornadoes.
The guests then moved to the adjoining Daedalus Officers' Mess for a pre-dinner Reception and traditional (almost...) formal Dinner.
Presiding at the Dinner was the Commander-in-Chief Air Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant - the most senior RAF navigator ever - with Air Vice Marshal Phil Osborn acting as MC in his role as 'Nav Union President'. 'Mr Vice' - traditionally the most junior officer present, who is expected to propose toasts and the like - was one of the three pilots dining, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, Chief of the Air Staff.
Diners included Institute President, Colin Beatty, as a VIP guest as well as 3 Past-Presidents, our erstwhile Director and a host of Fellows and Members. The oldest diner, proudly wearing an observer's 'O' brevet, was a spritely Squadron Leader Fripp, 97 - and he was not the only nonagenarian.
It was a memorable evening, superbly run and great fun - and a fitting tribute to the Navigation Branch.
A very nice piece on the demise of the RAF navigator by Sue Corbett appeared in The Times on Saturday. She finishes with a quote from a Tornado pilot on the PPRuNe website:
'I would like to record my unending admiration and respect for the RAF navigator community, and that's as someone with as much time single-seat as two-seat. To fly in the back of a GR4 (it was GR1s in my time) on an operational sortie takes considerable bravery and balls. I was never that happy being thrown around in the back-seat of a Tornado as a QWI on a peacetime sortie. We had people navigating in the back of Tornados on low-level night attacks against heavily defended airfields in near IMC and often with the TFR decoupled from the autopilot to prevent pull-ups into SAMs and AAA. As a pilot it was more or less OK as we had our destiny in our own hands. The navs just had to ride it out and hope for the best, night after night. None ever complained and we probably took them for granted. I felt honoured to get a glimpse of what navigators did for the RAF on just a few operations. Taking the history of the RAF as a whole, we all owe them a great debt. I take my hat off to you all. Signed, A grateful pilot.'