Letting Go Of Those Glorious Jeppesen Binders

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I was doing one of my periodic office de-clutters this week and up on the far northwest corner of one shelf, I found some interesting artifacts. Like an archeologist dusting off pottery shards, there was the last of my Jeppesen binders and a stack of paper charts, some dating to 1997.

I can’t remember when I bought the last one, but it can’t have been after 2005, since none are newer than that. I’m not normally given to flights of nostalgia, but I felt a twinge of missing it. Without getting too gauzily romantic about it, charts and maps really are a form of art and if you doubt this, I would point out that in the bumpy transition to digital chart products, they look exactly the same as they do in paper. They just don’t work as well.

By that, I mean this: When displayed on a tablet, either an approach plate or an enroute chart, the tablet forces a conformance to the limitations of the technology. For an enroute, you have to scroll around and then finger scale to see what you need. On a plate, you have to do the same. Tablets work better for plates than for enroutes.

I was flying some approaches Friday morning using WingX Pro and even though I’m not completely current on it, I had no problem at all pulling up the plates and scrolling to the data. On a paper plate, you can scan the entire thing at a glance, while the digital version requires—count them—five or six individual actions, including the scrolling and scaling. Time wise, it’s faster to find a plate on the tablet, but busier. Paper enroutes were always a nuisance for having to fold them to the area of interest. On the tablet, you exchange that hassle for the scrolling/pinching chore. Big-screen panel mounts, like the Garmin G3000, have finally nailed this chart thing down, but it has taken the better part of decade to do it. Since I'll never own an airplane with point something in the price, all I can do is gawk at those systems.

I’d never go back to paper because of the convenience of not carrying around all that stuff. I feel like I'm fighting a constant rear guard action against clutter in general and in exchange for cables, chargers and mounts, tablets help with that. A little. On the other hand, in the cockpit, at least for plates, I can’t discern that I have a preference for either paper or digitial in the same way I have no preference for steam gauges or glass. By now, they look functionally similar to my eye. 

What I miss about paper, though, is the tactile qualities; the smell of fresh ink on a new chart and the peculiar odor of the leather Jeppesen used in its binders. It’s a pungent, musty, earthy smell redolent of flying in clouds and sailing down to ILS minimums in a way that never happens to me in Florida. iPads have no such qualities and no smell at all, just sterile pixels and Siri’s brain-dead excuse for a digital helper.

What I don’t miss is carting all that crap around in a big bag and the dreary process of leafing all the revisions into the binders for airports I would never visit. Remember how we used to do that? And we did it because there was a nagging worry that if every chart wasn’t up to date, we were somehow unprepared, sinning against the sanctity of FAR 91.103. The more I learned about how charts were made, the less I thought that.

I was arguing with myself about whether to keep some of this old paper for nostalgia’s sake. Or maybe a binder. In the end, I tossed it all to make room for a box of the GoPro accessories that now make an ascetic life nothing but a mirage.

Progress comes in all shapes and sizes, but it does not, apparently, offer provisions for preserving ancient leather binders. Pity.

Comments (13)

I have pangs, as if I'd were to commit a sacrilege, when considering getting rid of all those binders I've stored in the hangar. So I've now decided to keep them for the next 300 hundred years.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | December 14, 2016 7:02 AM    Report this comment

It's been said that those Jepp binders got that earthy leather smell from the well-used cockpit of the Boeing 40 mail plane Elrey Jeppesen used to fly across the Rockies at night in the early 30s....some things have to be earned and he did it the hard way.

Posted by: A Richie | December 14, 2016 4:11 PM    Report this comment

Well, as a VFR pilot, I don't miss the charts in the cockpit in the least. The tablet doesn't just replace the chart, it also replaces the plotter and the E6B and the watch and a writing instrument and another form of paper to make notes on, all by putting that cute little emoji of an airplane right there on the pretty picture to tell me exactly where I'm at right this second.
Kinda wish I'd framed a couple of the old charts for the hanger wall instead of letting my wife use them to cover the countertop when she touches up the color in her hair, but what are you gonna do? She's never going to use the tablet for that.

Posted by: Richard Persons | December 14, 2016 5:22 PM    Report this comment

Among the dams, intaglios, wild mustangs and canyons, sometimes I also try to find and fly over a large concrete arrow - (I'm really easy to please, don't ya know) a remnant of the surface navigation from the old mail routes of the 20's and 30's. Az and Nevada have quite a few, but I've only seen one beacon light tower still hanging on, rising up from the center of an arrow.

Now, (thank you, Richie) I have an added, wonderful thought to couple with that experience - pilots breaking in leather binders while scanning for the beacon and arrow in the dark, dangerous night to get the mail delivered. Better than a $100 hamburger any day.

Posted by: Dave Miller | December 14, 2016 7:43 PM    Report this comment

I had four Jepp binders along with their brown Jepp carrying case in pristine condition sitting in my FL hangar for close to 15 years. They smelled mighty musty. I did the same ... finally decided I can't become the Smithsonian south so I found a deserving (and starving ... really) young commuter pilot and donated the stuff to him. Hopefully, he'll realize what he has and keep them for another 20 years or so in HIS museum. I can only hope.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | December 15, 2016 12:03 AM    Report this comment

There is one elegant reason that paper charts, approach plates, and assorted stuff we carry as pilots has gone the way of the dinosaur...they can't be blown out of the cockpit.

Let me explain....

A number of years ago, yes more than 20, I flew a VFR/IFR cross-country from KORL-KLAL-KISM-KORL. I had all the charts, plates and my Zulu knee board ready. So off I go from KORL, VFR, and heard to KLAL. The one thing I forgot to do was hit the head. So about half-way there flying a steam gauge C172 nature starts to call in a big way.

By the time I started the approach to KLAL I was having a really tough time keeping my legs from crossing. Finally I am on the ground and taxing to the terminal and realize I cannot hold it anymore!

I call ground and let them know I am stopping and shutting down on the taxi way to the terminal. Of course they want to know the who, what, where and why. Keep in mind I am in a bad way by this time and say, "I gotta take a leak!" Can you hear the laughing on the ground freq?

I shut down open the door and and start to exit the cockpit but in my hasty exit guess what I forget to do? Are you getting the picture?

All my charts fly out of the cockpit and because I can't hold it anymore I can' run after them. By the time I finish and take my deep breath because I feel so good the charts are not anywhere that I can see them and I am still stopped on the taxi way.

I just shrug and get back in the cockpit, start the engine, turn on the radio, call ground and before I can say anything they say, "did everything come out all right and your charts are now in Sanford.

Posted by: Joseph F. Marszal | December 15, 2016 7:23 AM    Report this comment

"...the peculiar odor of the leather Jeppesen used in its binders..."

That's one thing I never knew. I was too poor (still too poor?) to afford the Jeppesen charts, so I only had the NACO charts. I did have the spiral-bound ones with a cheap plastic cover, though, so I did have to go through the 21-day cycle of opening and rebinding the new charts. I definitely don't miss doing that.

There is one big advantage to digital charts than paper charts that hasn't been mentioned: it has its own backlight at night and is much easier to read than trying to shine a red light on the paper chart. Of course, sometimes it can be a little too bright, so I suppose there's no real way of winning.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | December 15, 2016 7:40 AM    Report this comment

Great story, Joseph! Thanks for sharing that!

Reminds me of an old friend that was traveling XC with his brother in his Tri-Pacer. They had been sipping some Coca-Colas in flight and tossing the empties in the back seat. Well, you can only drink so many, and the brother got impatient to go, but they were at cruise altitude and there was nowhere convenient to land. So in the tight cockpit, the brother clambered over the seat backwards (that itself ain't easy in flight) into the backseat where there was more "room" to unfold one's body and go, but first he had to unfold and open up an empty crushed Coke can to get something to use.

After some rather urgent handiwork with the can and doing contortions in the back seat, he finally finished his business, but now there was nowhere stable to set down a completely full and rather mangled Coke can full of warm liquid. What to do? In a stroke of genius, he cracked open the rear door (you can easily do this in a Tri-Pacer), stuck the can out into the slipstream and proceeded to pour it out. As fate would have it, the entire contents of the Coke can was blown back into the cabin by the slipstream, spraying both brothers and the airplane's interior. Needless to say, they did not have a fun day after that!

He told me this story some 15+ years ago, and I STILL haven't stopped laughing out loud every time I recall it. Paul and Eric, if you're out there, you know exactly who I'm talking about!

Posted by: A Richie | December 15, 2016 9:51 AM    Report this comment

Yeah but at least it wasn't the ashes of some dearly departed that came back to "haunt" 'em in flight, Richie.

I have a similar in flight story about a guy who gained the pilot nickname of "Bonus Bill." Bonus Bill has long since passed away so it's OK to tell HIS funny -- but, actually, NOT so funny -- story.

Bonus BIll worked for a major aeronautical company at BUF and often air commuted from his own private airstrip just off Lake Ontario to work in whatever airplane he had at the time ... he claimed to have owned over 100 over the years. Bill had lived there SO long and was an AgCat duster such that he knew every house along the route so if it was IFR ... so what ... he went 'VFR' anyways because the rules didn't apply to him.

So one particular day he's close to BUF -- in the clouds -- when an airliner passes him SO close that the wake turbulence causes him to lose control of the C150 he was in, the window flies open and all of his stuff gets sucked out. His glasses somehow got smashed but he found them. When he shows up to work somewhat shaken and discheveled wearing glasses with only one earpiece, he has the guts to tell the story. Well, the test pilots where he works get hold of it and nickname him ... Bonus Bill ... because any day that he was still alive was a "Bonus."

I don't know what this has to do with Jepp charts except -- maybe -- he lost some of them in the transaction, too :-) Coulda been a major crash but the aviation gods smiled on everyone that day.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | December 15, 2016 3:25 PM    Report this comment

I still have many of my old charts and am glad that I did not discard them. After finishing our hangar a couple of years ago my wife found the first chart that I used while getting my private pilot back in 1968. It has all the XC lines, tick marks and notes I made on that old SFO sectional and it brought back wonderful memories of flying in the Bay area many years ago. Years later I would still be flying into that region but now it would be piloting some version of the Boeing product.

We laminated that old chart and it now is on display proudly, hanging on a wall along with some other memorabilia collected throughout my flying years.

Posted by: Hans M | December 16, 2016 10:00 AM    Report this comment

You could recycle your Jeppesen leather into a nice leather iPad folio. Maybe Jeppesen has already started doing that.

Posted by: Rob Norris | December 16, 2016 10:36 AM    Report this comment

I have shelves of Jepp binders--many from the 78 countries all over the world we've flown to It's sometimes fun to look at NDB approaches, "Red" airways (predicated on ADF navigation (but I still have some enroute charts depicting 4-course ranges in Canada). It's fun to look at the old airport diagrams--nearly all of which have been drastically outdated--or the airport no longer in existence.

At the risk of hijacking the thread (OK, I'll do it anyway)--Max Conrad--famed long-distance pilot--often told the story on himself.

"I was flying a Comanche to Manila. I like to drink milk, so I brought along half a dozen small cartons. Half way to Hawaii, I drank the first one--but for some reason, only an hour later I had to go. I knew it would more than fill up the carton I had just emptied, so I drank another one. It began a vicious circle--but to compound the problem, the milk was going sour in the tropical heat. I had no choice but to down the sour milk in order to obtain another carton, which not put in more liquid, but was starting a diarrhea problem. I landed in Hawaii--feeling sick, and only 15 minutes from needing a bathroom."

Posted by: jim hanson | December 16, 2016 11:45 AM    Report this comment

Probably 20 (?) years ago the large regional airline where I was a captain/check airman decided to send me to Denver to figure out why they were paying over $100,000 annually for Jeppesen paper charts. The tour of the facility was incredible, especially the warehouse sized space where actual humans HAND-PICKED the custom charts for the airlines, one by one. I was stunned. The enormity of job was incomprehensible to me and I asked if there wasn't an automated system that could do the same job. The answer was yes, but the cost was high and Jepp planned to get out of the paper chart business. They then gave me a presentation of the "electronic flight bag" concept, something that I had never heard of. I was impressed until they outlined the anticipated costs. My question now was how are you going to get airlines to pay for this? Answer? "We are going to gradually raise the cost of paper until it becomes prohibitive". I didn't keep track of the paper vs. electronic pricing to determine if they followed through on the pricing strategy, but I hauled those heavy binders around (with the associated occasional back problem) until the end of my airline career. Now I happily fly a corporate Citation with three !!! iPads onboard and could not be happier. Still have my 30-years-of-flying leather binders at home. They are beautiful, and don't smell TOO funky.

Posted by: Nicholas Pellegrino | January 2, 2017 10:46 AM    Report this comment

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