By Michael Raffety
One of the pieces of electronics that was I was rated to work on was LORAN receivers. LORAN is short for Long Range Navigation. It was also one of the pieces of equipment I never worked on and we never saw in the base aviation electronics repair shop at Naval Air Station Quonset Pt., R.I.
I mainly worked on radar and ultra high frequency radio. The UHF radio was a circuit of vacuum tubes with the frequencies controlled by a collection of gears. Most of the time I used a tool and frequency counter to adjust the gears so the pilots could dial the correct frequency.
I even worked on a 25-watt radio out of a PBY, a long-range seaplane widely used in WWII and afterward. Quonset Pt. was actually a seaplane base even though I only saw one. Our squadron had helicopters, C-130 turboprops and a C-121 Super Constellation (passenger plane with three tails).
When I qualified for flight training pay I got my flight time in on the helicopter as the pilot practiced auto-rotations over Narragansett Bay. On the helicopter I didn’t have to learn to make coffee for the pilot and navigator.
I never did fly on the C-130. In New Zealand the admiral had a C-47, which is a twin-engine airplane that most people would recognize as a DC-3. The admiral’s plane had a red carpet down the center of it. I got my flight time in on that when he flew from Christ Church, New Zealand, to the capital in Wellington to play tennis with the U.S. ambassador. The C-121 flew me from New Zealand to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.
I mention the LORAN system because the Coast Guard was the last service to use the navigation system with a 1,500-mile range. I assume one of those LORAN units never made it into our shop because it didn’t have any moving parts and was very reliable. President Obama eliminated the LORAN. But GPS is a satellite-based system. GPS could be knocked out of commission by an extreme solar storm or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear explosion high in the atmosphere.
Without GPS there would be no navigation backup since LORAN was discontinued nine years ago after President Obama called it obsolete.
We know the power of EMP because in 1962 a nuclear test by the U.S. knocked a British satellite out of commission and destroyed streetlights in Hawaii, according to a column by A.P.D.G. Everett and Alex Berezow in the Nov. 17, 2017, Wall Street Journal. The systems engineer and the senior fellow at the American Council on Science and Health, also noted that a truck driver with a GPS Jammer to prevent his boss from tracking him drove past Newark Liberty International Airport as his jammer blocked air traffic control signals.
Congress can reactive the LORAN system. It’s a much better system than navigating by the stars. Navigating by the terrain only works when not obscured by clouds. Terrain navigation is more appropriate for bush pilots. I’ve seen single-engine pontoon planes flying along the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska, about 100 feet above the water as they use the terrain to navigate. A pilot really needs to have the map memorized for that area. Those channels are surrounded by mountains.
That type of navigation only works in a local area like the Alaska Inside Passage.
GPS needs a backup system. Congress should refund the LORAN system.