That’s one way to get from Point A to Point B

Austin Bay writes about navigating when GPS isn’t available.  He reports that a Kazakh helicopter gunship recently found its way across a snowbound landscape the old-fashioned way.

… there was a recent incident in Central Asia (that was caught on a cell phone video and widely distributed) showing a Kazakh Mi-8 helicopter landing on a highway and asking people in the next vehicle to show up where they were on a map. A truck driver pointed to where the city was they were looking for and the helicopter went on its way. The Mi-8 crew were on a training exercise to see if they could navigate without GPS and back in the old days that sometimes involved landing and asking for directions.

There’s more at the link.

Here’s the video, shot by a Kazakh trucker.

I imagine a snow-covered landscape, with all landmarks or identifying features hidden beneath the snow, must be almost as difficult as the open sea, out of sight of land, as far as navigation is concerned.  Without electronic aids, one’s reduced to a great deal of guesswork.

(On the lighter side, I’d hate to be a traffic cop trying to give the pilot of a fully armed, missile-equipped helicopter gunship a ticket for obstructing traffic!)



  1. There is a very old aviation joke that IFR means I Follow Roads instead of Instrument Flight Rules.


  2. Nevermind that, imagine you are the trucker out the middle of nowhere in central asia.

    "Yep there's a huge helicopter gunship on the road, I'm not drunk. I'm so dead, aren't I? You want directions? Just directions? Uhm, sure?! "

  3. Yep, I Follow Roads (or Rails)… 😀 You just gotta remember to pick it up and go OVER the tunnels…

  4. Try to do that in your F-22/SU-27/Eurofighter.
    OK maybe a MIG 29 and a AV-8 Harrier could do it.


  5. I saw the video prior to the whole story coming out. It actually makes a lot of sense once it was explained.

  6. Reminds me of a joke I heard many moons ago. Paraphrased:

    A helicopter loses all communications and navigation electronics mid flight in a heavy dense fog. After slowly dropping altitude they finally see a large building emerge. with no where to land, the pilot holds the 'copter at a hover near the buildings windows while the copilot scribbles out a sign for the office workers to read: "Where are we?"

    The workers held up a sign: "In a Helicopter". The pilot immediately climbed above the fog, took a bearing from the sun and flew safely to their destination.

    When asked how he knew where to fly the pilot replied: "I knew it HAD to be the Microsoft Campus because the answer they gave us, while technically correct, was completely USELESS!"

  7. One of the major reasons Schwarzkopf's flanking maneuver through the desert in Desert Storm was so successful is that the Iraqi army didn't know we could navigate large formations through an area largely devoid of roads and other landmarks. They thought we would have to stick to major roads and their defense was built accordingly.

  8. Was the pilot a woman? Because everyone knows that no man would ever stop and ask for directions.

  9. Navigation on a relatively featureless landscape is a real bear. Dead reckoning will get you there, but it's a pain to keep shooting azimuths every few steps. I've done it in desert and on snow, and every time I had to backtrack to a known good several times to find my way. I can only imagine trying to do it when you're in a craft that desperately wants to crash and kill you with a very finite amount of fuel.

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