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In the basement of his Salt Lake City home, United Airlines Capt. Elrey Jeppesen produced sketches of airports, runways and the surrounding terrain in a little black book.
It was 1934 and pilots didn't have proper air navigation maps. They used landmarks and roads to navigate. Jeppesen, a former barnstormer, documented the routes he flew as an airmail pilot for United and produced instrument flying charts.
Once word spread of Jeppesen's charts and sketches, pilots began asking for copies.
"I didn't do all of this to make money," Jeppesen used to say when reflecting on his early charts. "I did it to stay alive."
Seventy-five years later, the company Jeppesen founded is the leading provider of navigation services. The Boeing subsidiary also offers pilot training, crew scheduling and trip planning. In late 2009, Jeppesen released an updated version of its electronic fishing maps featuring more than 8,900 new lakes across the United States.
"The passion and commitment to safety that drove Captain Jepp defines our mission today," said Jeppesen President and CEO Mark Van Tine. "Everything we do is geared toward helping our customers fulfill their journeys in the most optimal manner possible."
To stay at the forefront of the industry, Jeppesen has had to navigate the changing landscape of aircraft technology.
When pilots began using ground-based, low-frequency radio, for example, Jeppesen provided the world's first instrument-based navigation charts.
But one of the company's biggest changes had more to do with advances in computing than aviation.
"When I started in 1973, we were updating 100 to 150 charts a week by hand," said Ted Thompson, who joined Jeppesen as a draftsman. Back then, Thompson and his coworkers used strip film, film transparencies and pen and ink overlays.
BOEING PHOTO BY ED TURNER
In the early 1980s, the Denver-based company entered a new frontier by introducing digital navigation charts. Not only did the change improve accuracy and make maintenance easier, Jeppesen laid the foundation for new products such as JeppView electronic charts and the Electronic Flight Bag, which replaces heavy, hand-carried bags containing paper charts and other printed materials
"Today, we revise 1,000 to 1,500 charts a week using computer graphics and a variety of other electronic production tools," said Thompson who now serves as technical leader for chart and display standards. "And we deliver this information to our customers more and more electronically."
Some things, however, haven't changed since the company's founding. Chief Strategy Officer Greg Bowlin said the principles that inspired Capt. Jeppesen 75 years ago will continue to guide the company as it charts a course for the next 75 years.
"While we have certainly come a long way in how we support travelers around the globe, we look forward to continuing the innovation of products and services that transform the way the world moves in the air, on the water and over land."