Nevertheless, says Schiff, most pilots do maintain a personal log, often simply as a habit from their student pilot days. The books also become a kind of diary. “Flying has been the centerpiece of my life since I was 14,” says Schiff. “My first logbook begins in 1952, and I wouldn’t [risk taking] it anywhere. It’s a treasure.”
Though most pilots stick with the standard flight log, a few get creative, squeezing in expanded descriptions of a particular flight or even building elaborate scrapbooks to document their flying histories. “I’ve run into some international pilots who pasted into their logbooks stamps or coins from every country they visited,” says Schiff. Whether they detail a single flight, an entire career, or even the history of an individual airplane, logbooks are a part of the history and culture of flying.
Lieutenant Benjamin D. Foulois, a pilot with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, documented his test flights of the U.S. Army’s only airplane in 1909 (a Wright Model B) in a thin, leather-bound notebook labeled “Log—Airplane No. 1.” The March 12, 1910 entry reads:
“Made 5 perfect flights, lasting 8 min 25 sec, 15 [min] 10 sec, 4 min 10 sec, 12 min 10 sec, & 16 min respectively. During the 4th flight Lt. Foulois made a large detour of about 1 mile from the aero field, circling the building at the Lower Post. The machine was under perfect control at all times and landings were excellent.”
The handwritten log covers February 1910 to July 1911, records Foulois’ trials in getting the airplane assembled and ready for flight, and describes the details of his 64 flights, as well as his many frustrations with weather delays, breakdowns, and frequent mishaps. Total time in the air: Nine hours and 10 minutes. Foulois’ tests went a long way in convincing the Signal Corps and Congress of the need to develop an aviation industry. Foulois went on to become a major general and chief of the Army Air Corps from 1931 to 1935.
Immediately after Charles Lindbergh landed outside Paris on May 21, 1927, having made the first nonstop transatlantic solo flight, his airplane was swarmed. “Within seconds my open windows were blocked with faces,” he wrote in his 1953 memoir of the flight, The Spirit of St. Louis. “I could feel the Spirit of St. Louis tremble with the pressure of the crowd.” As Lindbergh was pulled from the cockpit and lifted above the mob at Le Bourget airfield, he “heard the crack of wood...and there was the sound of tearing fabric.” He was afraid—not for himself, but for his airplane.
Carried to safety, Lindbergh later learned that someone had stolen, among other things, his logbook. It was never recovered. “That was a devastating thing for him,” says Erik Lindbergh, Lindbergh’s grandson. To write his memoir, Lindbergh had to re-create the flight from memory. “You know, memory is a funny thing,” says Erik. “After spending 33 hours in a plane, it would be hard just to recall all the parts of the flight.” The loss was a personal one for Lindbergh, and even greater for aviation history.
The year was 1930. Twenty-three-year-old pilot Elrey Jeppesen had just been hired by Boeing Air Transport (later to become United Air Lines) to fly the mail between stops in Nevada, Utah, Nebraska, and Wyoming at a rate of $50 per week plus 14 cents per mile. With only Rand McNally road maps, airmail pilots navigated by flying low enough to follow such landmarks as roads, rivers, and railroad tracks. Pressure to deliver the mail on time, no matter the weather, forced pilots to fly in extremely dangerous conditions. That first winter, four of the 18 pilots flying the mail on Boeing’s western routes were killed (see “Airmail Odyssey: 1918–2008” at www.airspacemag.com).