January 2000 Issue

IAS Station Zero

The airspeed indicator will sometimes roll over and die, but you don’t have to, too

Every pilot in the known universe has heard the term “flying by the seat of your pants.” And until I interviewed the late Captain Elrey B. Jeppesen a few years ago, I thought I understood its meaning.

But Captain Jepp set me straight. During the early years of airmail flying, of which he was a part, instrument flight wasn’t even on the drawing board. Jepp explained that the early mail pilots, tooling along cross continent in open cockpit biplanes, were on their own when they encountered weather. Maps by Rand McNally, no IFR rules or clearances, no radios and, critically, no gyros.

Yet even through horrific winter weather, pilots managed to get the mail delivered. Thus it was thought at...

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