Revised: 11/09/2006

GATHERING DATA - THE HOW'S AND WAYS

 

Copyrighted 2005 - 2012

David W Brooks

 

So just how do you go about finding airfields?  There are several means you can use.  There are aeronautical charts and maps, directories, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS) topographic maps, commercially produced maps, historical data (books, Internet websites) and old road maps (those produced in the late 1920s and early 1930s often were used by pilots so the map makers would have "air trails" printed on them).  Another is simply word of mouth.  Someone tells you of an airfield.

Next begins the process of gathering information.  I have used a spreadsheet to accumulate the data I research.  Data bases can be used or simply write them down. 

What are your sources and options?  People interested in this subject acquire lots of maps, aeronautical charts, directories, books, etc., to learn about airfields.  The Internet is also a good source for information using various search engines.  Aeronautical charts produced by the USCGS and later National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and military charts (produced by the DMA and its successor) are the most heavily used.  I have estimated that more than 17,000 different charts have been produced since 1930 just covering the continental USA by the USCGS and NOAA.  The "types" is limited to standard Sectional, World, Regional (no longer made), Local/Terminal and some "odd ball types".  There are many others produced as standard products.  Click on this link and I will try and explain what I know about the aeronautical charts produced by the USCGS/NOAA  USCGS-NOAA charts .  USCGS and NOAA are part of the U. S. Department of Commerce.

Gathering of information requires various sources.  These sources are discussed in separate pages.  Click on the buttons to take you to each item.

Directories   Maps & Charts   Aerial Pictures   Current Data Sources

Other sources can range from old telephone directories, land survey maps maintained by a county, newspapers and public libraries which may have other data kept about airfields.  Looking for old photographs is one of the hardest things to find.  Many photographs have been taken by individuals and there is no easy way to locate these individuals with these old photographs.  Newspapers, magazines and other aviation publications (including books), can help in providing information.  There have been a number of books written as a history to a specific location or area which can provide data.  Takes a lot of research in the key.  Old telephone directories can provide name, address, and telephone number(s) and if listed in the yellow pages, maybe contain additional information about the airfield.

SO WHAT DO YOU USE?

So what is best?  I use directories and charts principally.  I prefer charts with the best resolution and that means the prime source is the Sectional Aeronautical Charts (SACs) with the 1:500,000 scale factor.  The RACs are also useful as they are 1:1,000,000 scale factor.  WACs (1:1,000,000) and other charts are used to help fill in gaps.  Local/Terminal charts with 1:250,000 are good, but the area coverage is much more limited.  Topographic maps are also good sources of those small airports that no longer exist but are still depicted on topographic maps.  Directories give more information about an airfield than a chart does so they are very useful too.  Especially in the 1930s where charts are very hard to get.  It is easier to get directories (even though they may cost you a good bit of money).  I use the AirNav and "5010" to determine if the field is still active.  (I have found a few errors in the AirNav data base too!)

A word of warning.  Nothing is without errors.  Charts, directories, maps, etc., all can have errors on them.  That is why I like to have several sources to verify an airfield.  However, there are times that is just not possible.  So I would treat a single entry with a bit of skepticism.  Does not mean it is not real, just lacks enough data points to confirm it solidly.  Coordinates are especially useful but they have problems too.  Click on the Coordinates button below to review possible errors in coordinates.

Coordinates

GATHERING HISTORY

Gathering information that can provide a historical picture of an airfield can take a lot of work.  It is interesting to document the history of old airfields.  Early airfields generally started off just being a field that could have been sod or turf but could also have just been dirt.  From those humble beginnings, some of our major airports grew up from.  Often it is relatively easy to develop the history for major airports.  For the smaller airfields that are closed and often forgotten are more challenging in learning about them.

Some of the facts that I attempt to gather are:

  1. When it started

  2. When it closed (if closed)

  3. Type of airfield (commercial, civil, auxiliary, military, private, joint, etc.)

  4. Exact location (latitude, longitude and elevation)

  5. Name(s) - many airfields have changed there name, sometimes four or more times.

  6. Type, number and length of runways

  7. Usage

  8. Chart(s) showing the field (topographic map if it shows the airfield)

  9. Photographs including aerial photographs

  10. Layout charts (if possible)

  11. Interesting facts and trivia

Getting first hand information for people with personal connections to an airfield adds the human dimension to the history.

I store the information gathered into a data base (using excel spreadsheet) and a file directory for storing pictures, scans of charts and maps and other data gathered.

Paul Freeman's excellent website "Abandoned and Little Known Airfields" has over 1,300 airfields where he has documented with historical and antidotal data about them.  I highly recommend you visit Paul's website if you have an interest in historical information about airfields.

Finding information about old airfields can be a challenge.  Charts, maps, directories, etc., are good for getting the basic information.  You can do searches on the Internet to try and find information.  Old books and magazines can contain useful information.  Word of mouth from individuals.

PRESERVATION OF MATERIALS

I would like to say a few words about preserving old information.  I am begun, in my own humble way, to try and preserve old information.  By that, I mean to scan old documents and store them electronically.  Many of these old documents were produced on low grade paper and, with age, are yellowing and becoming brittle.  Soon, they will deteriorate.  I feel we have an obligation to preserve this information for future generations.  Items that can be scanned in on conventional PC scanners are easy enough for one to do.  The problem is the large size charts.  It would be a big hassle to try and scan a large sectional chart in, part by part on small scanner and try to make it match up to a complete map in a computer.  I have tried and it just does not work.  Most scanner  you can buy for your on PC run from $100 to $800 depending upon resolution, quality but the scanner generally do not exceed 11x17 inches.  Most scanners you can find cheaply today for your PC are generally limited to 11 x 14.   These are OK for general documents, but impractical for large map/chart scanning.  I am interested in anyone who might be able to help scan large charts/maps.  This is a private venture with no money and is being done to help preserve information.  My initial goal is to scan the early Dept. of Commerce "Descriptions of Airports and Landing Fields in the United States, Bulletin No. 2".  I have four of them, 1931, 1934, 1936 and 1938.  I have completed all four directories.  I am scanning them at 300dpi.  I am not breaking the spines of the bulletins thus they are not absolutely flat scans.  However, everything is very readable, which is the main goal.

As I learn more and get more information, I will update this section.  I will endeavor to improve the overall readability (English) in this write up!

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