• Jeppesen navigation charts:

    How did they fly a century ago, without maps or land references?

How do pilots manage not to get lost? This is one of the most frequent questions we hear. At present, there are many systems and aids to find out where they are located but this has not always been the case.

In today’s post, we go back a century in aeronautical history, to tell you about the origins of Jeppesen, currently the biggest aeronautical cartography firm, who started out with the use of a notebook. Would you like to find out more? Let ‘s get started!

Elrey Borge Jeppesen, the creator of Jeppesen charts

Elrey Borge Jeppesen was born in Lake Charles in 1907 and from a tender age he spent hours upon end observing the majesty of birds’ flights; this pursuit would go on to mark his entire life.

When he was only 18, he joined the flying circus where all kinds of air acrobatics were performed. After only two hours’ instruction, he performed his first flight and at 21, in 1928, he obtained his first license.

His license, number 27 of the state of Oregon (number 7034 in the whole country) was authorised by Orville Wright, who, in 1903, carried out the first manned and semi propelled flight in history.

In 1930, he joined Boeing Air Transport as a post pilot, covering the company’s best paid routes, which were also the most dangerous ones.

He earned 50 dollars weekly, as well as an extra 14 cent for each air mille. Jeppesen had to avoid any obstacle he found en route, as well as deal with the most complicated weather conditions. This was what created the need for a descriptive information register of the flying routes.

Jeppesen navigation charts were initially a simple notebook

As you can imagine, in the 30s, access to information was practically impossible, so pilots would turn to road maps to navigate. They also made use of telephones to find out what the weather conditions were at the airports.

Some of Jeppesen’s peers lost their lives in accidents with terrain so he decided to buy a notebook in which to keep notes about each airport. In his small pad, he’d include all sorts of details: runway conditions, lighting, direction and even places to carry out emergency landings.

As time went by, his notes became more sophisticated, including very detailed drawings of airports, altitude of mountains nearby (he would climb them himself to log data) and he’d also jot down farmer’s telephone numbers along the route, in case it was necessary to ask them about the meteorology.

Elrey Jeppesen’s Little Black Book

The ‘Little Black Book’ was how Jeppesen’s notebook became known and word got out so quickly, other pilots also started wanting to collaborate with him, adding information from new airports and navigation routes.

It wasn’t long before Jeppesen was making his first charts for friends but as it was such a good idea and in such demand, in 1934, Elrey created Jeppesen & Co, based in Salt Lake City, and started selling the copies at 10 dollars.

During World War II, Jeppesen became the firm in charge of providing the North American Army with navigation charts, making his enterprise grow exponentially.

In 1973, Jeppesen integrated his database in the first commercial flights and in the 90s, they brought out a CD-ROM containing the information of all the airports.

From then on, the company hasn’t stopped growing, incorporating GPS technology and the elaboration of instrument approach charts.

Presently, Jeppesen, the firm that started out with a simple notebook, provides both commercial and general aviation pilots with powerful air navigation applications.