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Airplanes don’t know, and don’t have to.Pilots have to know, and the science and art of navigation has been developed entirely for that purpose.Navigation in aviation means knowing where you are at this moment, and how to go from here to there.▲The navigational challenge: how do you get to the airport?Navigation first started with pilotage: the pilot looks at the ground features below and identifies them on a map to tell him/her where she is.▲Look down and……▲…follow the railroad tracks!▲Advertisement of Strandard Oil Company for their aerial markers.▲Early rooftop markings for pilots, in 10-foot letters.▲Pre-World War II rooftop marking▲Early rooftop neon signsMarking Aerial HighwaysBy the end of the Second World War, the US was well along the way to laying out markers on the ground for aerial navigation:THE United States system of air markers —which consists of orientation symbols painted on roofs and sides of buildings and on highways and water towers—may become a world-wide boon to private pilots as a result of recommendations recently adopted by the International Civil Aviation Conference at Chicago.The conference, adopting a committee report setting forth the standard American marker as a model for other countries, said such air guides should be placed wherever necessary to determine aircraft position, and specified that “every city and town may be marked.”The air marker, which is now recognized as standard for this country and is expected to serve as the pattern for an international system, is more complete than markers erected before the war.The major difference is that symbols for latitude and longitude have been added.Today’s air marker includes the name of the town in which it is located—or the nearest town, if the marker is outside city limits—latitude and longitude in degrees and minutes, an arrow pointing true north, and another arrow pointing toward the nearest airport having paved runways.Special symbols may be added to direct pilots to air parks.Letters and symbols, with a few exceptions, are chrome yellow on a black background.Ten feet is the minimum height for letters on roofs of buildings and ground markers must be at least 20 feet high.The United States already has far more air guides for private flyers than other countries but is only “off to a good start” toward providing an adequate system of markers throughout the country.The CAA-sponsored program to install air markers began in 1935, and 30,000 markers were completed by December, 1941.The program to erect air markers was halted soon after Pearl Harbor when the Army ordered all markers removed along the east, west, and gulf coasts.Nearly 2,500 markers—representing six years’ work—were blacked out in six weeks with labor crews provided by the Army.But the wartime setback was not without benefit to the marker program.The fact that the War Department thought the markers would help invaders landing on the coasts did more than anything else to sell the nation on their value.With the air marking program discontinued at the outset of the war, the Army found—as early as the spring of 1942—that many pilots flying near training bases were getting lost and cracking up.Consequently, a call went out to CAA for air markers in 50-mile areas around the training fields.Air markers went up in 50-mile areas around Alabama’s Maxwell Field, Thunderbird and Falcon Fields in Arizona, Langley Field in Virginia, and scores of other training fields in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and other states.The program calls for markers in every town and village.Cities require several markers, at least one on each side of the city.A projected goal of 100,000 markers throughout the country is “far too conservative” to meet the needs of private pilots.Air markers mean to private flyers what the nation’s highway signs mean to automobile drivers—there can’t be too many.In order to speed the installation of aerial highway signposts, she gives technical assistance to interested local groups on request.Complete directions for erecting markers are contained in the CAA Air Marking Bulletin No. 12, available on request.WPA funds were formerly allocated for the national air marking program, but no federal funds are now available.Financing is now a function of state aeronautical associations and local groups—Rotary clubs, pilot clubs, and business groups.CAA is now marking the roofs of its hundreds of range and communications station buildings in accordance with the new system as a maintenance job, and state and local groups are undertaking their own programs with the CAA extending technical assistance when needed.Amelia Earhart was the original sponsor of the federal air-marking program.She and Phoebe Omlie, another aviation pioneer now with CAA, devised the pro-gram and Miss Earhart sold it to the Government on the theory that private flying must be made safe before it could become popular with the average citizen.Thus, in 1935, a nation-wide air marking program was launched under sponsorship of the old Bureau of Air Commerce.WPA labor and funds were used as were contributions of state aeronautical commissions, committees, and local groups.Some 30,000 markers were sprinkled through all states in the six years preceding Pearl Harbor at an average cost of about $100 per marker.They went a long way toward eliminating the wide-spread practice of buzzing railroad depots to peer at the names of towns placed under eaves, a direct cause of numerous crack-ups, injuries, and deaths.As a result of intensive studies during the past three years, post-war signposts will be much better than pre-war.Inclusion of latitudes and longitudes enable pilots to “pinpoint” their locations and make it possible for the air marking system, as known in the United States, to be used internationally. An improved type of block lettering has been devised for increased visibility.International orange and white, and a variety of other colors, including silver, have been used for markers in the past.But chrome yellow on black, which can be seen from 3,000 feet, has been proved to have greater visibility than any other color combination and is suitable for more different backgrounds of varying terrain.When terrain tends to obscure colors, whitepainted crushed stone or concrete markers are favored.Chrome yellow on black was chosen following a series of tests and flight observations during which nearly all color combinations were checked in different areas of the country.In planning a suitable distribution air markers, the CAA divided the cot try into “grids,” each 15 miles square markers to be placed near the con of each grid so that a flyer cannot out of sight of a marker any considerable length of time.The original “grid” plan has been modified somewhat, as it I became apparent that the most travellled routes require more markers and that very large cities should have as many a dozen.While painted rooftop markers are “the best possible type” from a visibility standpoint, other types are more suitable for certain sections of the country.The rooftop marker is best in mild climates where there is not much snow.In northern sections, where snows may last a long time, markers should be painted on the sides rather than the tops of buildings so that they are not obscured by snow.Markers in regions with heavy snowfall may also be painted on sides of silos, grain elevators, or water towers.Letters and arrows formed of crushed rock and painted white are recommended for mountain sides.In desert areas, letters should be made of metal strips with enamel coating and mounted on posts a few feet above the ground so that sand drifts will not obscure them.Air markers may also be placed on highways in areas where there is not too much snow, and a large number of these highway markers have already been installed.They are not considered as satisfactory as rooftop markers, however. Another variation of the air marker is formation of letters and symbols with small shrubs on lawns, road intersections and cloverleaf drives.In climates where shrubs lost their leaves in winter they should be evergreen. In all cases, ground markers must have letters at least 20 feet in height, while 10 feet is the minimum for rooftop markers.Many markers erected before the war were too small. If the name of a town is long, it is better to abbreviate the name than to reduce the size of the letters.Width of the letters should be one-eighth of the height.Wider letters may blur, however. In selecting a rooftop, the following factors should be considered: the roof should be in good condition; it should be a prominent roof near the center of the community or near a main highway or road; the view should not be obstructed by overhanging trees or tall adjacent buildings; it should be located where it will not be obstructed by smoke.These rules also apply to highway air markers.The CAA will advise as to a suitable location for markers, but no CAA approval of the site is necessary.All air markers installed before the war now need repainting, and latitudes and longitudes should be added.The 2,500 markers which were blacked out need replacement and more than 70,000 new ones must be installed.Maintenance of markers is not expected to be a serious problem.Rooftop markers need repainting about every three years, depending on weather conditions.Highway markers must be repainted whenever necessary, and CAA recommends that they be inspected at least twice a year for signs of wear.Ground markers of crushed stone bound together with cement require only an occasional repainting with a white cement and skimmed milk mixture.Other ground markers, constructed of loose aggregate, should be repainted at least once a year.Pruned shrub markers require constant care and upkeep.CAA has made no recommendations as to how communities shall maintain their markers, but it is suggested that civic groups may volunteer for the job.CAA flight surveys to check condition of all markers may soon be authorized.In many states, plans for extensive air marking systems are well advanced—work has already been started on some.The Army last fall removed its ban on markers on the east and gulf coasts and only the area 150 miles inland along the west coast is now subject to the restrictions.Although labor and equipment shortages are hindering installations elsewhere to some extent, there is much enthusiasm for the program.State aeronautical commissions in Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, West Virginia, and Connecticut have their programs ready and some work started. In Massachusetts, North Carolina and Missouri—states which have no aeronautical commissions—committees have planned state-wide programs in which cities will participate by placing their own markers.The Civil Air Patrol is backing the program in North Carolina, and the CAP in Texas has begun a project to mark 500 Texas towns.Chambers of commerce in the state are also cooperating.Pennsylvania has a well-advanced program.In many other states, legislation providing funds and working methods is under way.Illuminated air markers are included in the post-war sky-sign program.These will be much more expensive to construct, maintain, and operate, but they will be the last word in aerial signposts.Two general illumination systems are applicable: direct light, in which markers are outlined by exposed incandescent lamps or gaseous-discharge tubes, placed along the center line of letters and symbols; and reflected light, in which case either floodlight projectors with spread lenses or industrial reflectors are arranged to give a uniform distribution of light over the entire surface of the markers.The direct light method is more effective than floodlighting because it gives greater brilliance.Either method may be used for roof markers, while reflected light is considered best for ground markers.Oil companies have installed a very few illuminated markers—a general installation program is not an immediate prospect.Incidentally, while the exact origin of air markers is somewhat clouded, Mrs Noyes believes the idea originated with large oil companies.Several years before the national air marker program was launched, several oil companies began to mark all the towns where they had gas stations.The Standard Oil Company of Ohio constructed many markers, while Standard Oil of California and the Richfield Oil Company had large pre-war air marking programs on the west coast—and did their own obliterating after the Army’s ban was imposed.To aid groups planning air marker installations, CAA has designed a set of three plywood templates with which unskilled laborers can lay out any letter of the alphabet or any figure from 10 to 20 feet in height.Templates are available to interested groups.The air marking bulletin tells how to use the templates, how to mix paint, how to select the site, and gives other pointers needed by groups embarking on air marking programs.Air markers now offer the simplest, cheapest, and most effective guides for private flyers and it is anticipated that they will be needed for a number of years.Eventually, radio aids may be perfected for the private pilot so that the system of air markers will no longer be required—but that day, according to CAA, is a long way off.How far the international marker program will be extended in the immediate future is a question that will have to go unanswered until a final agreement is approved by all nations concerned.This should be on the books by mid-1945.▲Giant shrubbery marker, 1945▲Metal marker in the desert, 1945In the early days of flying, towns had their names painted on big white letters on top of their water tanks, so pilots passing over could read those from up above and know where they were.Today. getting from here to there is no longer a matter of raising a wet finger to determine the direction of the wind and flying from bonfire t0 bonfire through the dark night.Since aerial navigation began with pilotage, here is something for aviation fans.An Ode to Pilotage(The following clearly does not apply to commercial airline aviation, since they have heavy-duty equipment, heavy-duty procedures, and heavy-duty training in the usage of that equipment, and therefore airliners never get lost.)Pilotage, the most basic navigational technique available to pilots, is the technique that falls into disuse soonest after pilots discover the ability of VORs to lead them by the hand from one place to another.Pilotage involves drawing a line from your departure airport to your destination on a sectional chart and marking checkpoints along the line.Once you launch, you hold a predetermined—or adjusted—compass course as you monitor your progress across the ground and over your checkpoints.It is the technique that falls into disuse soonest after pilots discover the ability of VORs to lead them by the hand from one place to another.There are, nevertheless, times when the old ways are necessary, and even times when they are better than the new ones.VORs do not serve well in mountainous terrain, for instance.Sometimes they are too widely spaced or in the wrong places: the airport at which you want to land may be far from a VOR, or you may be making a trip into a foreign country where a VOR, or even an ADF, is as much a bemusing oddity as a navigational aid.Or weather may force you down to an altitude so low that radio reception is lost or undependable.Pilotage is indispensable for low-level flying in weather—although it is also most difficult under those conditions.On the other hand, in the sense that they enable a pilot to fly in a straight line where VORs may lead him on a zigzagging course, it can serve as free area navigation.There’s another thing that one forgets too easily: that is the pleasure of attending to the ground as you fly.Most pilots are inclined to fly higher and higher, because high altitudes offer a number of attractions: generally better fuel efficiency, higher speeds, smoother and cooler air, better radio reception and, to the extent that they use it, better visibility for pilotage.But flying high is also quite boring.Peter Garrison, a private pilot who writes for many aviation publications, writes:There is a certain point at which scenery ceases to give pleasure, and it isn’t too far up.From 7,000 or 8,000 feet above the ground, even great scenic chestnuts like the Grand Canyon are stale.From 500 or 1,000 feet, however, even flat, monotonous farmlands become a fascinating panorama, and the sight of cows grazing, and of the web of their paths to and from water, gives a benign satisfaction.Just be sure you know the location of all the tall towers.At that low an altitude, time passes quickly.When your attention is riveted by the passing scene, you forget to be bored.Nothing makes an airplane faster than a good distraction, and the few miles an hour you lose by descending from the empyrean are dwarfed by your feeling of surprise when you find yourself at your destination after a flight that seems to have only just begun.The best of both worlds, actually, is to combine pilotage with the radios, but not to allow yourself to become completely dependent on the avionics.You might, for instance, plan a flight to make a straight course from departure to destination, passing over or near one or two VORs on the way, but otherwise relying on pilotage.Non-directional beacons or AM radio station transmitters can also be used, if you have an ADF, to help keep you on course.You don’t have to fly over them; it’s sufficient to keep track of your progress by verifying when you pass to the right or left, and to get some sense of your position by comparing your heading with the bearing of the ADF needle.Though you can time the swing of the needle as you pass abeam a station and compute the station’s distance, a little bit of practice gives you a feel for “close,” “medium” and “far” in terms of fast, medium and slow needle swings.More precision than that is rarely necessary, unless you’re completely lost.Pilotage requires almost continuous attention.The whole point is to know exactly where you are on the map at all times, and to do this you constantly have to compare the chart with the terrain below.If you let ambiguities or doubtful identifications creep in, you can quickly get lost.If you can’t find enough landmarks, or if cloud cover obscures the scenery, you have to fall back on dead reckoning.Dead reckoning takes its ominous name from the word “deductive”; it ought really to be “ded” reckoning. It is a supremely rational style of navigation.It argues that if you know your speed, your direction and the time you have been maintaining them, then you know where you are and, conversely, that to get somewhere it is sufficient to know your speed and direction, and then to navigate entirely by the clock.Pilots are sceptical of dead reckoning, but only because they don’t use it enough.The story of Lindbergh dead reckoning for 20 hours across the Atlantic and making his landfall in Ireland precisely where he had planned is somewhat overworked—it was as much luck as anything else—but the principle is sound, and ferry pilots daily repeat his trick, with more meaningful success because they know the winds with greater certainty than Lindbergh did.One feels astonished to make a perfect landfall after 10 hours without a navigational fix, but there is no reason to.Direction, speed and time determine position absolutely.Dead reckoning only supplements pilotage, however; visual navigation begins and ends with pilotage, and only fills in its gaps with dead reckoning.In hazy weather, where slant visibility may be only a mile or two, a ground track must be held with great accuracy or a landmark may slide by unnoticed.The same is true when flying at very low altitude: 1,000 or 2,000 feet above the ground, a pilot can see only a few miles to either side of his course, and landmarks that might be obvious from a higher altitude may not be recognizable.But if the pilot knows ground-speed, flies a heading precisely and keeps up with timing—the sine qua nons of dead reckoning—the chances of the next check-point being visible are best.Direction, speed and time determine position absolutely.Dead reckoning only supplements pilotage, however; visual navigation begins and ends with pilotage, and only fills in its gaps with dead reckoning.In hazy weather, where slant visibility may be only a mile or two, a ground track must be held with great accuracy or a landmark may slide by unnoticed.The same is true when flying at very low altitude: 1,000 or 2,000 feet above the ground, a pilot can see only a few miles to either side of his course, and landmarks that might be obvious from a higher altitude may not be recognizable.But if the pilot knows ground-speed, flies a heading precisely and keeps up with timing—the sine qua nons of dead reckoning—the chances of the next check-point being visible are best.Picking landmarks that fence you in is important in places where there aren’t a lot of strong features on the ground.In Alaska, northern Canada or South America, occasional roads and rivers may be the only recognizable features in the landscape.In order to find a destination, it may be necessary to aim well to one side of the course, fly until reaching a certain river or road, and then turn to follow it.The more you intend to rely on pilotage and the less on radio, the more sense it makes to alter your straight course to take advantage of natural pathways.When you’re planning a cross-country for your private license, you may be encouraged to draw a straight line from origin to destination and to pick landmarks near the line to navigate by.Sometimes, however, it’s better to be humbler, and let the landmarks draw the line themselves.Especially in mountain flying, a detour—even a large detour—to bring you near some unmistakable landmark is preferable to the efficiency of a straight line on which you may get lost.Some aerial pathways serve better than others.Highways and railroad tracks are usually unambiguous; rivers are less so, al-though a large river may be as good as an interstate.Valleys in the mountains can be very poor; the topological coloration on charts implies that a valley will appear very clearly defined when in reality it might be barely discernible.Mountain peaks also make mediocre landmarks, unless they are isolated; among a group of peaks, differences in height may be disguised by differences in distance.Landmarks are even harder to find if you use a chart with too small a scale.Except under the best conditions—such as following a coastline—sectional charts are vastly preferable for pilotage to world and oversee charts. The clock is no less important than the compass in navigation.During long legs, it’s wise to note on the map the time of passage of each landmark, and to look ahead at future landmarks and note the time you expect to pass them.If you lose track of your position, you will then at least have a record of your last definite fix.When you are using landmarks that lie athwart your track, like highways or rivers, it’s surprisingly easy to lose track of your lateral position.I had a striking demonstration of that last fall, during a vacation in South America.On a flight from Lima, Peru to Bogota, Colombia, we crossed the Andes just north of Lima, briefly received a couple of radio beacons in eastern Peru, and then dead reckoned for about three hours over the headwaters of the Amazon.It was extremely hazy, and the slant visibility was three or four miles at best.Visibility hardly mattered, however, because there were few identifiable features below anyway.There was only jungle, broken here and there by rivers that seemed determined to mimic all other rivers.Sometimes dark rainsqualls swung across our path. In this situation there was only one way to proceed: hold heading, keep track of time, and wait for something recognizable to appear.The uncertainty seemed endless, but finally—and this is the common, though not inevitable outcome of navigating through seemingly featureless wastes—an unmistakable landmark appeared, a little town called Putumayo with an airstrip, an island and a hook in the river all its own.We had enough fuel to take us all the way up to the Caribbean, if need be, so no matter how ineptly I had navigated, we eventually would have figured out where we were.When the conditions for pilotage are particularly bad, it’s always essential to have some sure-fire landmark somewhere ahead. In the United States, that sure-fire landmark is almost always available in the form of a radio beam.Visual navigation is one of the basic skills that we allow to rust when technology frees us from dependence on them.But technology is never entirely reliable, and at any rate, a skill is a skill; we should not let something so hard-won slip away.Those skills are the foundations of our training in navigation.Besides, it’s good to renew one’s acquaintance with a landscape that, between air pollution and creeping urbanization, is becoming harder and harder to find.❑