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Thread: Whitley Crew Roles

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    Default Whitley Crew Roles

    Dear all,

    during my research of a Whitley V crash I found that the crew roles included a Pilot and Copilot - but the technical data shows a pilot and a navigator position; but no double controls.
    In my case the Pilot was a Pilot Officer and the Copilot an Sergeant.
    In German aircraft it was common that the Pilot-in Command was mostly an officers degree but the Pilot steering a Sergeant or Private.
    So - maybe equivalent in RAF aircraft - the Pilot in Command had to keep situation awareness and the Copilot was the pilot steering... can you confirm?

    Cheers,

    Edgard

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    Might depend on the particular year(s) you are looking at Edgard.
    Early in the war the RAF was very short of trained Observers/Navigators.
    As far as I know - early in the war on multi engine aircraft - the 1st Pilot (pilot in command) would have been the Captain and Pilot Flying.
    The 2nd Pilot would normally be the Navigator.
    At that time the 1st Pilot was always the Captain (commander) of the aircraft regardless of rank,so it was fairly common to have a Sergeant Pilot as Captain even if the Navigator was an officer.
    The RAF was very different to the Luftwaffe in its Crew chain of command.

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    Edgard,
    The captain of a heavy British (RAF) aircraft would USUALLY be the senior pilot (by experience at least), whether commissioned or NCO, and the second pilot would normally be of limited operational experience (and of any rank, but usually very junior), so would be "learning the ropes" at the elbow of his senior.
    For the first half of the war, there were usually TWO pilots carried aboard most heavier RAF aircraft, including Whitley, Wellington, transport aircraft (which were few and far between) and practically all large flying boats, so long as there was a handy second seat in the appropriate place in the cockpit. Dual controls were not necessarily required, as most of these aircraft had "George" (automatic pilot) as standard equipment, so handing over control in flight was usually not a problem. The second pilot was basically a "spare" who could relieve the captain as required (including in cases of tiredness, sickness or injury), but his main function was to learn how to be an operational captain in the best classroom and under the most realistic conditions. Often he had other miscellaneous tasks to relieve the captain of some of the strain, including (in the Wellington at least) standing on a low platform in the main cabin to use the astrodome as an extra lookout for enemy aircraft, or constantly monitoring certain instruments in flight. Like most British heavy aircraft the Whitely was notoriously lacking in good lookout stations, apart from the few gun positions. This may also have been SOP (standard operating practice) in the Whitley. Changing over fuel cocks in flight was another task undertaken by various crew members, such controls being located in various obscure locations.
    Early in WW2 there was a chronic lack of qualified observers (navigator/bomb-aimer/gunner/photographer) within RAF commands operating heavy aircraft, so additional qualified pilots (who were also trained in navigational principals but not to extent of observers) were frequently posted to operational squadrons to make up operational crews, and this was particularly noticeable in flying boat squadrons where you could have three pilots (one as acting observer), no observer, and sundry gunners and wireless operator/air gunners.
    To sum up, the German (and similar Japanese) system of a non-flying captain, with a comparatively lowly pilot at the controls (and an even more lowly second pilot) was definitely NOT one employed by the air forces of the British Commonwealth, and neither by the Americans so far as I know. The German/Japanese system had, so far as I am aware, Naval origins, and was also used by the German Naval (and Army?) airship branches, where steering and manipulating other controls for navigational or operational purposes were seen as very lowly manual tasks to be undertaken by very junior (usually in rank AND age) personnel under the control of NCOs, the latter acting on orders from the captain.
    Any other comments re this interesting subject welcome. Incidentally, until relatively recent years at least, most ships were also handled (the wheel at least) by a very junior sailor under close control of the officer of the watch. Apparently the sweaty job of manipulating that wheel (in the early days before mechanical assistance became available) was considered to be not conducive to formulating command decisions in times of crisis, and therefore more appropriate to a very young and obedient sailor who would do as he was told instantly and without question.
    David D

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    I haven't read this about the Whitley, but in other RAF heavy bombers it was possible to have two-pilot versions, which were mainly used for conversion training but not normally used on operations. I believe that on the Halifax a fold-up seat against the starboard wall could be used, at the cost of blocking the movement of other crew in the nose. I have also read that the pilot's control could be passed over to this second pilot's position, so that the pilot did not have to leave his seat, but do not know which types this applied to. That transport versions of these aircraft were so readily made, and even planned for in advance, shows that two-pilot operation was built into all these designs.

    Later in the war both Navigator and Bombaimer might well be individuals who had retrained after dropping out of pilot training, so would retain considerable skills.

    I'm unsure why British heavy aircraft should be singled out for a lack of good lookout positions, apart from the turrets. I'd have thought this a common feature of all such types.

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    Checking the AHB Training narrative, Wellington, Whitley and Stirling crews were trained with two pilots up to the intro of the 'New Deal' in spring 42. The narrative states the obvious - OTU training was effectively halved for each of two pilots. Unfortunately, there's no indication as to how Captain and Second Pilot roles were decided within each crew.

    The Sep 43 Lancaster crew drills include a 'seat changing' drill for the pilot. At that time, B/A's were being trained to fly the aircraft in emergencies (later switched to F/E's). Presumably the drill was a legacy from the days of two pilot crews when the there was a greater likelihood of P1 swapping out.

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    Hi Edgar,

    I am not sure if this helps, but in researching the Aussies on Course 58, 4 SFTS Saskatoon June-October 1942 one of the pilots Bob Rennick was sent to 30 OTU which was on loan to Coastal Command at the time. During a patrol in the Bay of Biscay on 14 June 1943 they spotted two U-Boats (U185 and U564) on the surface and after waiting for back up which never came they went into attack. Bob was acting as Co-Pilot with another Aussie Arthur (Buzz) Benson as Pilot.

    Bob maned the front Vickers gun at the front of the aircraft. They released the depth charges which straddled U564 which sank with the loss of 28 of her crew. Their own aircraft Whitley BD220 had been hit and after trying to return to base ditched in the sea, after three days they were picked up by a French fishing vessel and landed in France where the whole crew spent the rest of the war in a pow camp. Benson received a DFM and Bob a MID. Bob passed away in 2009.

    Regards,

    John.

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