OBJECT SHOWCASE: Maps
out from their open cockpits, early airmail pilots sought
visual references on the ground to help guide their way. Rivers
and particularly railroads were helpful guidance tools. When
all else might fail, a pilot who could find the right railroad
to follow could fly directly to his destination. Maps were
another important tool. Before maps were created specifically
for aviators, pilots used ordinary maps to help find their
way over new territory.
Map reading was not a prerequisite
for employment as an airmail pilot, because there were no
flight maps. Instead there were flight directions compiled
by other pilots and station managers. They read something
like this: "From the end of the runway follow the main
road keeping to the left of the small lake and pass straight
over the big tree at the end. Then head for the water tower
in the distance." On a foggy morning that water tower
might as well have been on Mars.
Click here to read the pilots' directions from New York City to San Francisco.