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Lieutenant Benjamin Foulois’ log of flying the U.S. Army’s first airplane is in the Library of Congress. (Eric Long)

The Book of Hours

A peek into the logbooks of history’s notable pilots.

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Jeppesen started taking notes on the routes. In a small, black, looseleaf notebook, he recorded field lengths, slopes, drainage patterns, and details on lights and obstacles. He also included drawings of terrain and airport layouts and of the location of pastures he could use in an emergency, along with the phone numbers of sheriffs and ranchers who could provide weather reports. Jeppesen’s fellow airmail pilots soon noticed that while they were stuck on the ground waiting out the weather, Jeppesen was somehow getting through. They started asking him if they could get a copy of his notes. After enough requests, Jeppesen recognized a business opportunity,  and in 1934, he started selling copies for $10 apiece, beginning an aviation chart business that now brings in $120 million a year.

“I didn’t really think much about a system or publishing it,” Jeppesen said in a 1992 interview with IFR magazine. “I really did it just to save my own hide.”

Chuck Yeager

For years, the sound barrier had been considered a wall that could not be penetrated. Breaking it, wrote U.S. Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager in his 1986 autobiography Yeager, would be a leap into the “Ughknown.” What would happen when he tried to make that leap in the rocket-powered Bell X-1? Would the aircraft shake so violently it would break apart?

Yeager made a series of flights in which he nudged the X-1 closer and closer to the barrier. On October 14, 1947, he was ready to attempt to push past Mach 1. At more than 20,000 feet, he and the X-1 dropped from a Boeing B-29 mothership. After stabilizing his aircraft, Yeager activated the four-chamber rocket engine and the X-1 shot upward. At 36,000 feet, he cut two of the rocket chambers. Leveling off at 42,000 feet, he fired another chamber and the X-1 surged to .96 Mach, then .965. As the aircraft increased in speed, the ride smoothed out. “Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade,” Yeager wrote in his autobiography. Far below in the desert valley, a sonic boom confirmed that he had indeed broken the sound barrier, and it was later calculated that Yeager had reached Mach 1.06.

After the history-making flight, Yeager updated his logbook with a succinct entry: “ok.”

James Edgerton

On March 1, 1918, prodded in part by the banking industry, which wanted to cut the “float” time for checks sent from one city to another, Congress appropriated $100,000 to start airmail service between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., with U.S. Army pilots and airplanes doing the flying.

Things got off to a rocky start when the pilot flying the inaugural run from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia on May 15 got lost in a fog and crash-landed in a Maryland pasture. The crash delayed the departure of Lieutenant James C. Edgerton, assigned to the first flight of the Philadelphia-Washington, D.C. leg. According to Edgerton’s logbook, he flew a Curtiss Jenny trainer, taking off at 1:14 that afternoon from Bustleton Field and arriving

in Washington, D.C., at 2:50 p.m. The Jenny, he noted in his log, has a “tendency to fly to left and [be] a little nose heavy,” and because “too much oil” had been put into the engine, “during the first hour of flight” oil was flung over both airplane and pilot. Other than that mess, the flight was uneventful.

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