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Senior Memoirs- July reading

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  • vonbargenr@aol.com
    ZULU TIME Time is something we all have in common. Time is a very important element in our lives. It has been humorously observed that if we did not have
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 15, 2009



      Time is something we all have in common. Time is a very important element in our lives. It has been humorously observed that if we did not have time, everything could happen at the same moment, and that would not be good.

      Do you remember how time is measured? For centuries time has been measured by the movement of the sun in relation to the observer. However, as mariners ventured out over the oceans they were confounded with navigation problems. They could determine their latitude (the distance north or south of the equator) by using the North Star, Polaris, or the mid day transit of the sun. However, they could not calculate their location east or west, that is the ability to determine their longitude, until shipboard chronographs were produced that maintained accurate time.

      As the United Kingdom grew into an advanced maritime nation, British mariners kept a chronometer set on Greenwich time in order to calculate their longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which was by convention considered to have longitude zero degrees.  This Greenwich Time was soon used by railroads and other industries that needed a “worldwide” or universal time reference. Greenwich Time, or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), is sometimes referred to as “Zulu Time”. It is the international time used throughout the military and civil aviation world.


      During the airline pilots’ strike of 1966, my squadron was tasked to airlift servicemen who were home on leave back to their military duty stations. Many of them were enroute to combat in Vietnam. We did not want to cut into the time they had with their families, consequently we invited family members to stay with them during the required passenger briefing. The passenger briefing was a part of the longer aircrew briefing conducted prior to the flight. Tactical Air Command Aircrew briefings follow a detailed and lengthy procedure. It’s quite formal, with precise timing stressed throughout the briefing. Greenwich Mean Time or “Zulu Time” was mentioned at several points during the aircrew briefing.


      After the briefing a little old lady, picture “Aunt Bea of Mayberry”, came up to Major Jim McKay, the briefing officer, and said: “I don’t understand … what is Zulu Time?” Jim carefully explained the twenty four hour military clock. He told her how time is measured from a small English town called Greenwich, and  “Greenwich” or “Zulu” time was used by collective agreement as a reference for all worldwide flight operations.


      The old lady looked at him quizzically, and again declared that she did not understand why people had to use this “Zulu” or “Greenwich” time. After some aborted attempts to answer her question, Jim finally responded in desperation:  “Well Madam, let me put it this way. In Greenwich, England there is a famous observatory; it has a very good clock. This clock is so accurate that all the nations of the world have agreed to use it to keep time!” 


      A big smile moved over the dowager’s face, and she said happily: “Oh, now I understand. Thank you very much.” … and walked away delighted with his explanation.



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