Capt. Jepp And The Little Black Book
Authors and program at the Estes Park Museum
On Friday, August 29, at 7:00 p.m. the Estes Park Museum will host a program by Terry Barnhart and Flint Whitlock, co-authors of the first book-length biography of aviation pioneer Elrey B. Jeppesen, for whom the terminal at Denver International Airport is named.
The program will give a look at aviation’s fledgling days in America. It is the rags-to-riches story of the son of Danish immigrants who, almost by accident, invented a system of aerial navigation that is still in use today. In the process, “Capt. Jepp,” as he was known, created Jeppesen-an Englewood-based, multi-million-dollar international corporation owned by Boeing that is the unrivaled leader in its field.
Jepp was among the first pilots hired by United Airlines in the early 1930s. After nearly dying in a 1932 crash, he began keeping a journal-the “little black book”-that eventually saved his life and the lives of countless fellow pilots. The small notebook contained detailed information about every route he flew and every airport at which he landed. In it he would jot down notes and airfield diagrams that warned him of hidden dangers, such as the height and location of smokestacks, barns, silos, telephone poles, and mountains-anything that might cut his flying career short. Other information, such as radio frequencies and farmers’ phone numbers (so he could call ahead and get weather information) was also included.
In time, other pilots asked him for copies of his notes, which he was glad to sell to them for $10 per book. He and his wife Nadine, one of United’s first stewardesses, produced the books in the basement of their rented Salt Lake City home. In 1941, the Jeppesens moved to Denver. Soon the orders for his navigation charts poured in with such frequency (the Army and Navy needed them for World War II) that Jepp was forced to give up flying and spend all his time producing the books; the business made him a millionaire and the simple notebook evolved into the system by which the vast majority of the today’s airlines and pilots navigate.
A private pilot himself, and author of several magazine articles about flying, Terry Barnhart’s Denver advertising agency had the Jeppesen company as a client. Intrigued with the many stories he heard, Barnhart began interviewing everyone he could find who knew Capt. Jepp. The project was put on the shelf until the fall of 2005, when he teamed up with Flint Whitlock. Whitlock had been the first creative director for the Barnhart and Company advertising agency from 1976 to 1982. Since 2003 he has been a fulltime author with five books, two dozen magazines and a Pulitzer nomination to his credit. Using Barnhart’s voluminous files full of interviews, newspaper clippings, and hundreds of photographs, Whitlock was able to finish the project and find a publisher. “Capt. Jepp was a great, unsung aviation pioneer known mainly to pilots,” said Barnhart, “but we hope that this book will finally give his legacy the widespread recognition it deserves.” Whitlock commented “This was such a fun project to work on . . . I learned so much about this great man and the early days of aviation while working on it. I think anyone, whether they fly or not, will get a real kick out of the story.”
The free program begins at 7:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. This is a joint program of the Estes Park Museum and the Estes Park Public Library Foundation. It is funded by a grant from the Xcel Energy Foundation. Signed copies of the book will be available for sale.
Now through October, the Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. The mission of the Estes Park Museum is to collect, interpret and preserve local history, as well as to present exhibits, programs and events for the education and benefit of residents and visitors of all ages. For more information call the Estes Park Museum at 586-6256 or visit the Museum’s website at www.estesnet.com/museum.
Admission is always free.