Back Bearing: A Navigator's Tale, 1942 to 1974, Group Captain Eric Cropper

Back Bearing: A Navigator's Tale, 1942 to 1974, Group Captain Eric Cropper

The first thing to make clear is that this is not a Second World War memoir. Cropper did indeed train during the war, and saw service in Bomber Command, but VJ Day comes just under a quarter of a way into the book. Cropper remained in the RAF for another thirty years, finally retiring in 1974. As a result we get a rare change to follow a wartime airman through his career in the post-war RAF, a period that is often dealt with in a few paragraphs at the end of an autobiography.

Cropper's post-war career was quite varied. Although he spent much of his time working in navigation, this included a period spent in Alaska serving with the USAF (as an RAF officer). He also spent a year in command on Gan Island in the India Ocean, an isolated posting. A constant theme is the development of navigation techniques during his career, from the comparatively primitive methods used during his training, to the electronic aids in use with Bomber Command and then through three decades of post-war innovations, ending just before the early development of the GPS system in the mid 1970s (more than a decade before the first satellite was launched).

This is a useful account of a period of rapid development in the science of navigation, seen from the point of view of an officer who reached high rank in the post-war RAF, and began a senior figure in navigation training at Cranwell. It also gives us a rare view of the full extent of a long-service RAF career and the wide range of roles that one officer could find himself filling.

1 - Starting
2 - Learning
3 - Learning Again - the Hard War
4 - D-Day and After
5 - Staff Navigator
6 - An End and a Beginning
7 - Mahogany Bomber
8 - Specialist Navigator
9 - Back to Lincolnshire
10 - With the Boffins
11 - Whitehall Warrior
12 - Learning Yet Again
13 - Northern Exchange
14 - Cranwell
15 - 'Cropper's Island'
16 - A Flying Command
17 - From Navigation to Aerosystems
18 - End of Story

Author: Group Captain Eric Cropper
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 346
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2010

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