Elrey Borge Jeppesen (January 28, 1907 – November 26, 1996) was an American aviation pioneer noted for his contributions in the field of air navigation. He developed manuals and charts that allowed pilots to fly much more safely. He founded the company that bears his name in 1934.
Jeppesen was born on January 28, 1907, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States. His parents were immigrants from Denmark. His father was a cabinetmaker. He grew up in Odell, Oregon, before moving to Portland.
As a child, Jeppesen would spend hours watching eagles fly, and flying became his obsession.
In 1921, then 14-year-old Jeppesen got his first taste of flying when a barnstormer took him up in a Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" for a ten-minute flight for US$4 (equivalent to $57 in 2019).
In 1925, at the age of 18, Jeppesen joined Tex Rankin's Flying Circus "as a ticket taker, a prop turner, a wing walker and an aerial acrobat". He soloed after two hours and 15 minutes of flying lessons and purchased his own Jenny for $500, using money borrowed from customers on his newspaper route. For two years beginning in 1928, he worked for Fairchild Aerial Surveys, flying photographers over Mexico in a De Haviland DH-4. That same year, the United States government issued its first pilot's licenses; Jeppesen had Oregon's 27th license, and it was signed by Orville Wright.
In 1930, Jeppesen joined Boeing Air Transport as an airmail pilot. According to one source, on May 15, 1930, he was the pilot of the flight carrying the first stewardess, Ellen Church. Heinrich Kubis had been the first male flight attendant in 1912.
While airway beacons assisted aerial navigation on specific routes, most pilots at that time depended on dead reckoning, generally using automobile road maps (such as those from oil companies or commercial mapmakers), railroad tracks and landmarks to find their way. Jeppesen purchased a ten-cent notebook and started writing down detailed notes about his routes. He even climbed hills to determine their height and collected telephone numbers of farmers willing to provide weather reports. Word got around about his "Little Black Book", and soon he was giving copies to his fellow pilots.
In 1934 (1934), as demand picked up, Jeppesen founded Jeppesen & Co. in the basement of his Salt Lake City home to sell his information for US$10 (equivalent to $191 in 2019) a copy.
On September 24, 1936, Jeppesen married his flight attendant, Nadine Liscomb. She helped him run his company.
On June 10, 1941, Jeppesen was involved in an accident at Denver Municipal Airport. While landing in a rainstorm, the United DC-3 aircraft overran the landing area, traveling through the airport boundary lights and into a 3-foot (1-metre) ditch where the right landing gear failed. Neither the crew nor any of the 15 passengers were injured, but the aircraft itself sustained major damage.
In the 1940s, with the onset of World War II, the United States Army and Navy kept Jeppesen busy supplying them with his charts. Jeppesen retired from United Airlines (into which Boeing Air Transport had merged) in 1954.
In 1961, Jeppesen sold his company, staying on as chairman.
On November 26, 1996, Jeppesen died at the age of 89.
The Jeppesen company continues to exist today, currently as a subsidiary of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, which acquired the business in October 2000.
There is a 16-foot (4.9 m) statue of Jeppesen, by the artist George Lundeen, in the center of the main terminal at Denver International Airport. Around the base of the statue is the accolade: ″Airmail Pilot - Airline Captain - Wing Walker - Air Navigation Pioneer - Barnstormer - Air Safety Pioneer - Businessman - Instructor". The main terminal is also named in his honor. Jeppesen was the first passenger to disembark from the first flight to arrive at the new airport, United Flight 1474 from Colorado Springs.
The Museum of Flight holds the Elrey B. Jeppesen Collection in its archives. A facsimile of the Little Black Book is also on display in the museum's galleries.
- Tony Jannus Award in 1975
- National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1993
- Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame in 1970
- International Air & Space Hall of Fame in 1995
- Oregon Aviation Hall of Honor
- OX5 Aviation Hall of Fame
- NBAA Meritorious Service Award
- Edward Warner Award, 1995