Aircraft Navigator

The main responsibility of navigators is to locate positions of other aircraft and to direct the course of their aeroplanes. They use navigational aids such as charts, radar, compasses, navigation computers, and sophisticated electronic equipment such as GPS or global positioning system.

Navigators are fully fledged members of the air crew and make use of highly specialised computer systems to carry out their tasks. They may be appointed as operational commanders of the aircraft and must be able to make quick decisions. Electronic warfare is an integral part of the Airforce navigators’ tasks.

Navigators operate the electronic systems on board, and because of rapid development in the electronics field, must be increasingly competent in their computer operations.

There are 4 main specialisation areas, namely:

Assault navigators: whose primary task is to trace hostile targets, such as hostile aeroplanes, runways, tanks and convoys so that they can be destroyed. They make use of, amongst others, the Cheetah-D fighter aircraft that is flown by two crew members, the pilot and the navigator. The pilot and assault navigator work as a team to neutralise the enemy. Assault navigators sometime also do visual and photo reconnaissance.

Maritime navigators: who watch over the coastline and specialise in air operations, which are carried out over the sea. The maritime force protects the coastline of South Africa, which is one of the world’s busiest. Maritime navigators perform operations such as coastal patrols, tracing of hostile ships and submarines, and rescue operations.

Reconnaissance navigators: fly in aircraft, such as Impalas, which are equipped with sophisticated spying equipment. The main function of a reconnaissance navigator is to obtain information on the position and potential of the enemy without the enemy realising that they are being watched. These functions sometimes take reconnaissance navigators deep into enemy territory and they must know exactly what they are looking for and how to find it.

Airborne navigators: pinpoint landing sites for parachutists. It is important in warfare that supplies are accurately and regularly provided. Supplies which are lost or which do not reach their destinations can result in an unsuccessful mission. The airborne navigator must ensure that the supplies and troops are in the right place at the right time. To perform this work, airborne navigators must be able to navigate at any time, day or night, in any conditions, and in any territory. Often there is no suitable place to land and troops are dropped by parachute. Airborne navigators must work very accurately to ensure that equipment, supplies and troops are dropped as close as possible to the target and not in enemy territory.

Personal Requirements

  • interested in electronics, science and aeroplanes
  • sharp mind, with pinpoint accuracy
  • able to make accurate decisions quickly
  • able to remain calm under extremely stressful conditions
  • demonstrate leadership abilities
  • good interpersonal skills
  • self-confident
  • able to communicate well with people

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate

What to Study

South African Air Force: Basic Navigator Course, lasting 18 months, comprises 3 phases, namely:

  • Regimental training
  • Officers’ formative course
  • Navigation training
Prospective navigators in the SAAF must:
  • be fully bilingual in two official languages
  • be between 17 and 25 years of age
  • pass a strict selection process, including medical and psychological evaluation
Advanced Training: The Military Academy at Saldanha Bay offers degree courses in collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch. Students can enrol on completion of the Basic Navigator Course.


SA Air Force

Further Information

SA Air Force
Private Bag X199
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 312-2911

South African National Defence Force (SANDF) 
Private Bag X161 
Pretoria, 0001 
Tel: (012) 339-5395/5751

Getting Started

  • arrange to speak to a navigator about this type of career
  • contact the SA Airforce for more information or look at their website

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