Pilot Eyes!

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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Jeppesen, CJ-208000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.

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Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available here. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.

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A video biography in two parts is available on YouTube as of August, 2008. Part one is here, and part two is here. Please, if you find these links no longer work, let me KNOW.

A National Archives film depicting air mail activities during the 1920s is here. The location is Chicago, IL.

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Google "e.b. jeppesen" and get about 500 hits.

A brief biography and a link to the contemporary Jeppesen corporate website are available here.

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Notebook at right is from this REFERENCE.

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ELREY BORGE JEPPESEN

PATHFINDER


I didn't start out to chart the skies; it's just no one had done it before.

Elrey B. Jeppesen
Elrey B. Jeppesen

Born in Lake Arthur, LA on January 28, 1907, Elrey Jeppesen landed once at Tucson on August 15, 1929 flying either a Curtiss Robin or Fairchild NC63H.  He had only been a pilot for two years or so.   He was based at Dallas, TX and his itinerary as outlined in the Register was from Portland, OR to Santa Monica, CA.  He left nothing in the Register that suggested the purpose for his solo trip.

However, his son Richard clarifies the itinerary (based on review of his father's pilot log books) as, "... Dallas, Midland, El Paso, Tucson, San Bernandino.  This was after he had done photo work for Fairchild Aerial Surveys in Shrevport and New Orleans." NC63H in pilot Jeppesen's log book is identified as a Fairchild, but as a Curtiss Robin at this link. This will be clarified shortly.

Not long after his visit to Tucson, “Jepp”, as he was called, began a business that has had lasting and fundamental impact on the aviation community to this day.  His legacy is in aerial navigation and the charting that pilots use to fly from place to place.

Jeppesen learned to fly in 1927 after taking a ride with a barnstormer in 1921 at Portland, OR.  Just before learning to fly, at age 18, he joined Tex Rankin’s flying circus, first as a ticket seller, than as a prop twister and wing walker.  After he learned to fly, with his $500 savings, he bought his first airplane, as surplus OX-5 Jenny.  He organized and operated his own flying circus in the Oregon-Washington area.

During his learning period he also took courses in photography, engineering and mathematics.  He became adept at taking pictures from his airplane.  In 1928, when he was 21, he worked for the Fairchild Aerial Surveys Company as manager of their foreign photographic mapping division, based in Mexico City. 

Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"
Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"

For two years he flew thousands of miles making the first photo mappings of the Mexican coast from Brownsville, TX to beyond the Yucatan Peninsula.  Interestingly, at least three of Fairchild Aerial Surveys’ airplanes landed at Tucson.  For example, see NR8016, NC9174, and NC8006.

In 1930 he joined the Boeing Air Transport Company, forerunner of United Airlines (UAL), as an airmail pilot with the rank of captain.  He flew routes like Salt Lake City to Reno, Cheyenne to Salt Lake and Cheyenne to Omaha.  He also flew for UAL, and he is cited in the log books of fellow Register and UAL pilot Benton R. Baldwin (q.v. logbook number 4, April 29, 1936 to June 18, 1937, PDF page 2).

Jeppesen experienced the poor navigational system that caused many pilots to become lost (four of the 20 Boeing pilots were killed in airplane accidents during the winter of 1930). He purchased a notebook (left) in Cheyenne, carried it with him on every flight, and jotted down particulars of airports and terrain profiles.  Armed with his notebook, Jepp had an enviable record of completed flights.  He recorded field lengths, slope, drainage patterns, obstacles, airfield layouts, telephone numbers of farmers who could provide weather reports, and beacon and light information.


He had no idea of commercializing his concept; he was merely collecting information for his own personal use as a pilot.  He went so far as to climb hills with an altimeter to obtain accurate data about safe minimum altitudes for an airplane crossing the area. 

He measured the heights of smokestacks and water towers in the vicinity of airports to establish safe circling altitudes for himself.  When radio ranges were installed by the government in 1931-32, he flew all legs of each installation and transcribed into his notebook the safe letdown procedures for airports from Omaha and Cheyenne to Salt Lake City and Oakland. An interesting aside here is that in 1932 Jeppesen touched the life of another Register airplane, Boeing NC842M. Please direct your browser to the link for further information.

Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"
Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"

His “little black book” became popular among early pilots.  So much so that in 1934 he borrowed $450 and set up business in his basement in Cheyenne and published the first of his Airway Manuals: fifty mimeographed copies which sold out immediately for $10 each (don't forget, this was in the middle of the Great Depression). 

Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"
Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"

Over the next 20 years he built his charting business, and worked as a transport pilot for United Airlines.  He had a busy career balancing his business and United responsibilities.  His business blossomed with WWII, as he was the only person in the country with such a huge compilation of nationwide flying information which was vital to national defense.  The Army used his manuals, and the Navy signed a contract with his firm.

Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"
Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"

In 1954 he took early retirement from United to devote more time to his expanding firm.  By the end of the decade he employed 200 people in a new building he had constructed in Denver, CO.  In 1961 he sold the firm to the Time Mirror Publishing Company, but still remained as President and then Chairman of the Board. 

Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"
Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"

On November 16, 1971 Jeppesen received the FAA’s distinguished Service Award for outstanding contributions to the progress and safety of aviation.  His files then contained data on millions of miles of charted airways, diagrams of 8,000 airfields, national weather interpretation and the latest information on approach patterns and takeoff and landing procedures, including communication and navigation frequencies and obstacle avoidance information.  The award citation hailed him as, “…America’s pioneer charter of airports and foremost mapper of skyways.”

Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"
Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"

Jeppesen’s flying career spanned 50 years, three million miles and 20,000 hours of flight time.  Jeppesen Sanderson, Inc. (a subsidiary of Boeing) survives today as the company he founded, still compiling and publishing aerial navigational aids for aviators.  Nearly all U.S. commercial airlines and many foreign airlines, as well as a large percentage of instrument-qualified private, business and executive pilots, use Jeppesen charts for enroute planning and guidance, as well as for terminal approach procedures. 

Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"
Jeppesen's "Little Black Book"

He leveraged his 10-cent notebook into a $121-million company (as of 2005), and became a self-made millionaire in the process. Pilot Jeppesen flew West on November 26, 1996. We can be assured he did not get lost.

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Update of April 23, 2009. Your Webmaster met and exchanged autographed books with Richard Jeppesen, son of our Register pilot Elrey B. Jeppesen.

Your Webmaster (L) with Richard Jeppesen, April 23, 2009, Lakeland, FL
Your Webmaster (L) with Richard Jeppesen, April 23, 2009, Lakeland, FL

The venue of this meeting and exchange was the "Author's Corner" at the EAA Lakeland Museum. Your Webmaster holds Mr. Jeppesen's new biographical book about his father. Mr. Jeppesen holds the cross-referenced Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield available at the link near the top of the left sidebar. You may order Richard Jeppesen's book at the link.

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Dossier 2.1.104

UPLOADED: 06/03/07 REVISED: 01/15/08, 08/03/08, 02/15/09, 04/23/09, 07/30/09, 07/01/12

 
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I'm looking for photographs of his airplane, Fairchild NC63H, to include on this page. If you have one or more you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.
Thanks to pilot Jeppesen's son, Richard, for information on this page. He has written a book about his father, which can be found here.
 
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