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passengerpigeon
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Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 12:08 am

How did airliners navigate in the days immediately prior to the advent of GPS for commercial aircraft in the mid-1990s? I am familiar with navigation methods used by fully non-computerised aircraft (NBDs, LF ranges, VORs and wind drift scoping overland, and astral navigation and dead reckoning to cross water), but the introduction date of airliner GPS systems means that some aircraft types that we don't think of as obsolete today (e.g. A320, 767, 757) must have started life without GPS. How did these computerised planes navigate compared to the earlier analog ones? Did they start life with modern keypad FMCs capable of flying fixes, and if so, how did those computers calculate where they were before receiving GPS capability? With regards to overwater navigation, how was this done in particular? If I was flying a 767 or 747-400 across the Atlantic shortly after either of those planes were introduced, how would I avoid getting lost at sea?

On another note, when was the last time you can remember a scheduled commercial flight flying without GPS? It seems like every time I see a modern cockpit photo or video of a vintage plane (e.g. DC-3, DC-9 or C-46) that is still in commercial service, there's a TomTom clamped to the dashboard.
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 12:23 am

Inertial navigation came into widespread use in airliners in the 1970s, I believe. The principles and early research came from WWII rocketry. INS combined with star sighting and radar ranging were used to navigate Apollo spacecraft to and from the Moon.

So to answer your question, inertial navigation (INS) and radio triangulation were used, and still are. Modern navigation systems use a combination of inertial navigation, GPS and radio triangulation to compute position.

If a 747 was flying over the Atlantic, say, INS would drift over time. So the aircraft would probably be off the nominal track by a number of miles once it reached the other side. As soon as it entered range of VOR/DME stations on ground, the position would be automatically corrected and it would return to the proper track.

An inertial navigation unit consists of a set of gyros and accelerometers. The accelerometers, one for each axis, detect acceleration, which together with time gives speed in each axis. The gyros, also one for each axis, detect angular acceleration (turning). So from a known starting point*, the position and attitude of the aircraft can be determined. Drift is normally less than a nautical mile per hour. Back in the day, gyros used to actually spin, but nowadays solid-state ring laser gyros are used.

GPS fixes did not exist, since no GPS. AFAIK, the Tristar used an early computerised navigational system where the next three fixes would be typed in, lat and long. The precursor to modern lateral navigation from an FMS.

*The reason parking bays have latitude and longitude displayed in front of the cockpit is so that navigation systems can be checked. Inertial navigation only works if the starting point is known.
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passengerpigeon
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 12:45 am

Starlionblue wrote:
So to answer your question, inertial navigation (INS) and radio triangulation were used, and still are. Modern navigation systems use a combination of inertial navigation, GPS and radio triangulation to compute position.


So did pilots of early non-GPS A320s, 757s and 767s have to tune into each radio beacon by hand like in previous-generation aircraft, or could you plug the frequencies/identifiers into a computer system and have it retune the radios as the plane went along?

Starlionblue wrote:
GPS fixes did not exist, since no GPS. AFAIK, the Tristar used an early computerised navigational system where the next three fixes would be typed in, lat and long. The precursor to modern lateral navigation from an FMS.


In that case, what was in the place of the current FMC panel in the aforementioned aircraft?
 
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fr8mech
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 12:58 am

passengerpigeon wrote:

So did pilots of early non-GPS A320s, 757s and 767s have to tune into each radio beacon by hand like in previous-generation aircraft, or could you plug the frequencies/identifiers into a computer system and have it retune the radios as the plane went along?


Both. The FMC could auto-tune the VOR frequency, or the crew could do it on their own.
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zeke
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 1:31 am

passengerpigeon wrote:
If I was flying a 767 or 747-400 across the Atlantic shortly after either of those planes were introduced, how would I avoid getting lost at sea?


It would be based off inertial navigation with automatic ground updates. After a long flight without navaid update sometimes you would see a 5 mm map shift once back within navaid range.

Airbus used DME DME update, the distance from two or more navaids for terminal area updates, it is just as accurate as GPS. GPS is essentially the same thing, DME DME update from a satellite.

In many charts today you can still see a requirement of either GNSS or DME-DME required aircraft capability.
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Starlionblue
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 3:28 am

passengerpigeon wrote:
Starlionblue wrote:
So to answer your question, inertial navigation (INS) and radio triangulation were used, and still are. Modern navigation systems use a combination of inertial navigation, GPS and radio triangulation to compute position.


So did pilots of early non-GPS A320s, 757s and 767s have to tune into each radio beacon by hand like in previous-generation aircraft, or could you plug the frequencies/identifiers into a computer system and have it retune the radios as the plane went along?


The FM would auto-tune beacons. Just like it does today.

As fr8mech notes, you could also "hard tune", using frequency or ident. Again, just like we can today.

passengerpigeon wrote:
Starlionblue wrote:
GPS fixes did not exist, since no GPS. AFAIK, the Tristar used an early computerised navigational system where the next three fixes would be typed in, lat and long. The precursor to modern lateral navigation from an FMS.


In that case, what was in the place of the current FMC panel in the aforementioned aircraft?


In many cases there was nothing. However, various contraptions have been tried from time to time, including moving paper maps on spools.

Here's a Trident with a moving paper map. Image

(EDIT) Here's a Tristar with one navigation panels on the FO side, and some screen in the middle. Image

Here's a 727 with no nav panels. Image

Here's a Tristar with the nav panels. Image

Here's a 727 which I'm guessing has been retrofitted with some sort of FMS. Image
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
Woodreau
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 3:54 am

The last commercial flights that operated without GPS in the United States were probably flown by Beechcraft 1900D aircraft. I believe the last commercial airline flight using Beech 1900 aircraft ended in March 2018, when the airline that operated them, Great Lakes Airlines, ceased operating.

Airlines that operated the Beech 1900 did not spend any extra money to install GPS or any FMS, which were optional equipment. Beech 1900s did have a GPS receiver installed as part of the TAWS system, but TAWS did not interface with the aircraft navigation system.

Navigation on these flights was usually filed via airways and flown from VOR to VOR, but in actual practice, flights rarely flew on airways, it was usually radar vectors direct when able.
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mmo
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 7:38 am

Just a little bit more info about nav systems. The first "high tech" nav system installed was the INS. It had mechanical gyros which sensed acceleration in three axes and updated the position like that. The initial position had to be entered for the INS to know where it was. Nav accuracy was directly related to the length of the flight. The limit was 3+3T where T is the length of time the INS was in NAV. I am only familiar with the Delco Carousel units but they could hold 9-way points then you had to enter more as the flight went along.

Then as IRS/FMC began to enter the market there was an interface added to the INS which provided the ability to load pretty much the entire flight plan and IIRC, provided for updating the computed position by DME/DME. The INS position computed could not be updated by the DME/DME just like the IRS functions today with GPS.

Finally, the 757 came along pre GPS and there was a hierarchy of updating the FMC position. If you left the VOR in auto you could watch it update along the route. DME/DME was primary with ILS DME being favored, then you had varying priority such as vor/vor vor/dme the slash being indicative of the Land R nav function being used to update the FMC position.

Finally, you had GPS functioning and that was pretty much automatic with no pilot inputs, except in China where you had to inhibit GPS updating since the WGS-84 database was not used in China. Again, the IRS position itself was never updated but the FMC position was updated by the GPS input.

Just wanted to fill in some of the blanks.
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N1120A
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 5:32 pm

Woodreau wrote:
The last commercial flights that operated without GPS in the United States were probably flown by Beechcraft 1900D aircraft. I believe the last commercial airline flight using Beech 1900 aircraft ended in March 2018, when the airline that operated them, Great Lakes Airlines, ceased operating.

Airlines that operated the Beech 1900 did not spend any extra money to install GPS or any FMS, which were optional equipment. Beech 1900s did have a GPS receiver installed as part of the TAWS system, but TAWS did not interface with the aircraft navigation system.

Navigation on these flights was usually filed via airways and flown from VOR to VOR, but in actual practice, flights rarely flew on airways, it was usually radar vectors direct when able.


There are still 767s flying out there without GPS.

Also, as far as I know, most 1900 operators put in at least a Garmin GNS unit before their retirements.
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Chemist
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 6:01 pm

My uncle was an avionics mechanic for Western Airlines. I remember talking with him in the 1980s about navigation.
He said that Western's 720B aircraft had used VORs, and dead reckoning while say LAX-HNL. they would get close enough to HNL and pick up the local VORs.
He told me that once other airlines started flying the 747 which had the then-new INS, the INS was so accurate that if a Western 720B took off LAX to HNL behind an HNL-bound 747, they could follow the contrails to the islands. He said the INS on the 747s would get the plane to within 3 miles of HNL. At the time I was amazed that there was navigation so accurate that they would only be off by 3 miles after >2000 mile trip!

How times have changed...
 
GalaxyFlyer
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 6:05 pm

That’d be a long DR, about 1,600 nautical with lots of wind changes. Certainly, there’s no OpsSpec allowing it. Probably had a navigator with LORAN, celestial and Doppler.
 
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zeke
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 6:21 pm

Woodreau wrote:
The last commercial flights that operated without GPS in the United States were probably flown by Beechcraft 1900D aircraft. I believe the last commercial airline flight using Beech 1900 aircraft ended in March 2018, when the airline that operated them, Great Lakes Airlines, ceased operating.


Looking at this Great Lakes 1900 up for sale, they did have GPS installed. I looked at the panel for that aircraft and didn’t see a GPS on it. Some of the King Airs and 1900s had their GPS units on the centre pedestal.

https://www.controller.com/listings/air ... raft-1900d
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kalvado
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 7:18 pm

Starlionblue wrote:
Inertial navigation came into widespread use in airliners in the 1970s, I believe. The principles and early research came from WWII rocketry. INS combined with star sighting and radar ranging were used to navigate Apollo spacecraft to and from the Moon.

So to answer your question, inertial navigation (INS) and radio triangulation were used, and still are. Modern navigation systems use a combination of inertial navigation, GPS and radio triangulation to compute position.

If a 747 was flying over the Atlantic, say, INS would drift over time. So the aircraft would probably be off the nominal track by a number of miles once it reached the other side. As soon as it entered range of VOR/DME stations on ground, the position would be automatically corrected and it would return to the proper track.

An inertial navigation unit consists of a set of gyros and accelerometers. The accelerometers, one for each axis, detect acceleration, which together with time gives speed in each axis. The gyros, also one for each axis, detect angular acceleration (turning). So from a known starting point*, the position and attitude of the aircraft can be determined. Drift is normally less than a nautical mile per hour. Back in the day, gyros used to actually spin, but nowadays solid-state ring laser gyros are used.

GPS fixes did not exist, since no GPS. AFAIK, the Tristar used an early computerised navigational system where the next three fixes would be typed in, lat and long. The precursor to modern lateral navigation from an FMS.

*The reason parking bays have latitude and longitude displayed in front of the cockpit is so that navigation systems can be checked. Inertial navigation only works if the starting point is known.

Inertial navigation wasn't a big thing during WWII, it was developed for later ballistic missiles, and culminated with "beryllium baby" - AIRS - developed for MX missiles. There is a book " Inventing Accuracy. A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance" by By Donald MacKenzie.
Unfortunately, those are very expensive ($1M per unit in 1980, if I got it right) and tend to drift in time; what is good for 30 min of ICBM flight can be problematic for the multi-hour ocean crossing.
Laser gyros - with no fast-moving parts, where laser beam is spinning in a loop - were a better choice. I don't remember the numbers, those conversations were a while ago; I believe 10 km (6 miles) drift off-track on Atlantic crossing was the requrement where optics kicked in.
 
Chemist
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 7:55 pm

GalaxyFlyer wrote:
That’d be a long DR, about 1,600 nautical with lots of wind changes. Certainly, there’s no OpsSpec allowing it. Probably had a navigator with LORAN, celestial and Doppler.


Yes, he said that they used celestial as well. I got to visit a 720B cockpit and the glass dome was there above the FE panel.
 
Tristarsteve
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:29 pm

Here's a Trident with a moving paper map. Image


My first civil aircraft was the Trident. That map is driven by the Decca Navigator system using Decca's navigation beacons in Europe.
The three dials above the map were part of Cat3B autoland. The centre dial shows distance to go to the end of the runway. The crew dialed up the distance from the touchdown point before landing.

I remember flying between ARN and LHR on BA B737-200 many times in the 1990's. They flew the route up till 1999. They had no INS and no GPS.
There was a waypoint in the middle of the North Sea called Dunker. There was no beacon there, just a dot on the map. Anyway it was out of VOR range and the crew had to make this quite sharp turn on DR.
 
GalaxyFlyer
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 9:04 pm

Inertial navigation wasn't a big thing during WWII


Well, considering Draper Labs started work on inertial nav in 1952, it wasn’t anything, big or small, in WW II.

GF
 
kalvado
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 9:45 pm

GalaxyFlyer wrote:
Inertial navigation wasn't a big thing during WWII


Well, considering Draper Labs started work on inertial nav in 1952, it wasn’t anything, big or small, in WW II.

GF

World is a little bit bigger than US. Germany had some very advanced weapons - not that those were that efficient, but some things were ahead of the curve. So did some things on all sides, dire need makes people more inventive i suppose...
Anyway, Allies had nothing similar to german V-2 rocket - and V-2 utilized the inertial navigation system. (google "LEV-3 V-2 rocket"). It was pretty crude by today's standards; and V-2 itself had limited success - but it did exist.
 
GalaxyFlyer
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 10:17 pm

I was thinking of the V2, but that’s not guidance so much as stabilization. It didn’t use controls to guide the missile to a pre-determined target, it just stabilized the initial trajectory and timed motor cut-off. The Draper INS could guide a missile to its target continuously.

GF
 
kalvado
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Mon Dec 02, 2019 11:08 pm

GalaxyFlyer wrote:
I was thinking of the V2, but that’s not guidance so much as stabilization. It didn’t use controls to guide the missile to a pre-determined target, it just stabilized the initial trajectory and timed motor cut-off. The Draper INS could guide a missile to its target continuously.

GF

One is pretty close to the other, to the point they are almost impossible to distingush. Most rocket flights have pretty limited, if any, lateral change as that consumes precious fuel. So would you call flight in a straight plane - e.g. Space Shuttle - controlled or stabilized? Initial rotation on the ground vs initial rotation after takeoff makes some difference, of course. But flight along pre-computed trajectory in a single plane is a common task. Its a gig of solid state rockets with limited control of thrust and burn duration what makes things more convoluted than they should be.
Besides, most importantly for this discussion, V-2 is said to have a gyrointegrator for speed integration and controlled engine cutoff. It is a single-axis integrator only, but that is arguably the keymost component of inertial navigation..
 
phllax
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Tue Dec 03, 2019 4:51 am

What was an Omega?
 
RetiredWeasel
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Tue Dec 03, 2019 5:01 am

phllax wrote:
What was an Omega?


This will explain it better than I could.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega_(navigation_system)

We used Omega (dual units) on B-727s flying out of Guam to Japan, Korea, Taiwan etc for nav in the western pacific. Not quite as accurate as INS (which we didn't have in the 727s) but would usually be within 4 miles or so once in VOR range.
 
B2147
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:14 am

Tristarsteve wrote:
Here's a Trident with a moving paper map. Image


My first civil aircraft was the Trident. That map is driven by the Decca Navigator system using Decca's navigation beacons in Europe.
The three dials above the map were part of Cat3B autoland. The centre dial shows distance to go to the end of the runway. The crew dialed up the distance from the touchdown point before landing.

I remember flying between ARN and LHR on BA B737-200 many times in the 1990's. They flew the route up till 1999. They had no INS and no GPS.
There was a waypoint in the middle of the North Sea called Dunker. There was no beacon there, just a dot on the map. Anyway it was out of VOR range and the crew had to make this quite sharp turn on DR.


Hello,

Yes, those were the days…

Wasn't the name of that fix in the North Sea in fact "Dandi"? Brings indeed back nice memories, like the standard good old soutbound routing from ARN via the VOR's "Dunker", "Shilling" and "Hilda".
 
aeropix
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Tue Dec 03, 2019 2:45 pm

Woodreau wrote:
The last commercial flights that operated without GPS in the United States were probably flown by Beechcraft 1900D aircraft.... but in actual practice, flights rarely flew on airways, it was usually radar vectors direct when able.


Yes I remember those days, everyone was using handheld GPS and saying something like "If you could give me a Radar Heading of 267 degrees for 183 NM, that might send me direct to XXX fix (Wink Wink)", thus alerting the controller that you had the (non-approved, non-installed) navigation ability and often they would grand those long directs on that wink-wink nudge-nudge basis.

I remember everyone was using Magellan or Lowrance branded units, and that Garmin was mostly for cars or boats at the time! Now the former two companies have pretty much disappeared and Garmin is so market-saturated that they are even creeping into the biz jet and commercial markets. How times have changed!
 
Woodreau
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Tue Dec 03, 2019 3:35 pm

Lol mine was an $80 eTrex hiking GPS. I had all the airports we flew to saved as custom waypoints After takeoff, punch in direct to hiking waypoint.

I just asked ATC for a radar vector of “whatever the hiking gps told me.”

Tuned the on field DME in the VOR and everyone was happy.


I know none of the 1900s I flew at my airline had GPS, but when I happened to see the 1900s after they were sold, the new owners usually did install GPS, autopilot and flight directors, heated brake pads, etc. .none of the luxuries us lowly airline pilots were allowed to have operating under 121 carrying paying passengers.
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747classic
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Tue Dec 03, 2019 4:14 pm

mmo wrote:
Just a little bit more info about nav systems. The first "high tech" nav system installed was the INS. It had mechanical gyros which sensed acceleration in three axes and updated the position like that. The initial position had to be entered for the INS to know where it was. Nav accuracy was directly related to the length of the flight. The limit was 3+3T where T is the length of time the INS was in NAV. I am only familiar with the Delco Carousel units but they could hold 9-way points then you had to enter more as the flight went along.


Delco Carousel IV Inertial Navigation System (INS), very expensive to maintain, high failure rate.
Note the gimbel(s) , inside are the three accelerometers . All the circuitboards are for gimbel control and for the actual deadreckoning (computing acceleration, to speed and distance a function of time).

Image

See : https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-o ... al-airline

Carousel IV Control Dispay Unit (CDU), with only 9 waypoints.
Actual wind + direction was displayed as a funcion of computed INS airspeed, HDG and measured True Air Speed (derived from the IAS measured by the airspeed probes.)

Image

See : http://polytoximania.blogspot.com/2015/ ... oxing.html
Operating a twin over the ocean, you're always one engine failure from a total emergency.
 
RetiredWeasel
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Tue Dec 03, 2019 4:49 pm

747classic wrote:

Delco Carousel IV Inertial Navigation System (INS), very expensive to maintain, high failure rate.


NW replaced all the Delco's around the mid 90's with the Litton LTN-92s which had a laser ring gyro. Added much to the reliability while enhancing and simplifying crew procedures.

Until they retired their last 747-200 in 2007, there was never a GPS installed to interface with the INS position to correct it. Interestingly, when the EGPWS was installed, it had a dedicated GPS to run the terrain map, but the crew couldn't access it to see position or anything.
 
Tristarsteve
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Re: Airliner navigation immediately before GPS

Tue Dec 03, 2019 9:06 pm

Wasn't the name of that fix in the North Sea in fact "Dandi"? Brings indeed back nice memories, like the standard good old soutbound routing from ARN via the VOR's "Dunker", "Shilling" and "Hilda".


Yes you are right. There was another in the North sea balled Beano!!

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