1940s pilots navigated by listening to A-N Beacon signals
When I first got my instrument rating I reveled, awash in a sea of modern technology. Waving needles, flashing lights, and pulsing sounds enabled me to fly anywhere, anytime. Once I spoke the language and mastered the steps, it became a precision junkie’s dream. Maintaining proficiency was a joy.
=&0=& contrast, my father’s stories of 1940s flying in the clouds held almost horrid fascination. Clunky, hard to read instruments scattered haphazardly around the panel dared the pilot to keep wings level and nose on the horizon. To navigate he clamped hard plastic headphones to his ears. Then straining to discern man-made signals amidst nature’s static crashes, he steered the airplane along an A-N Beam until he found a course that merged scratchy dot-dash “As” with dash-dot “Ns” with into a constant tone. Once attained, he held that course—for hours.
=&1=& during the modern times when I learned to fly inside clouds, the default panel sported six, same sized, round instruments set in a standard arrangement colloquially called a “six pack.” The panels of virtually every IFR certified airplane from two-seat trainer to 300-seat airliner used the same configuration. Two neat rows of three instruments each, one above the other, were centered directly in front to the pilot—and copilot, too, on the big birds.
=&0=& the top left corner, the Airspeed Indicator displayed the airplane’s speed through the air.
=&3=& right to top center, the Artificial Horizon showed both the wing’s angle of bank and the nose’s position compared to the horizon.
Next over to the right, forming the six-pack’s top right corner, sat the Altimeter presenting the airplane’s height above sea level.
Directly below it, the Vertical Speed Indicator told the pilot how quickly the airplane was climbing or descending.
To its left lay the Heading Indicator, a stable reference indicating the direction the airplane was heading.