Airmarking

Airmarking has been the noble ambition of Ninety-Nines since the early part of the 20th century.

Next time you go flying, look down at the airport and the surrounding buildings. You may notice markings pointing to the airport and will probably see the airport name painted on the field, or a blue and white compass rose on a taxiway. The rose has been accurately surveyed by an engineering firm and is used by pilots to calibrate their compass.

The airmarking program was started in 1933 to better identify towns and cities from the air. At the time that the program was established, few pilots were flying on established airways or had the benefit of radios. With the aid of markers, even the most inexperienced pilots could determine where they were. By the middle of 1936, 30 states were actively involved in the program, with approvals given for 16,000 markers at a cost of about one million dollars.

But then came the war. After the bombing at Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. Government determined that marked airports along the east and west coasts were obvious targets for enemy identification and attack. Consequently, Blanche Noyes, who had set about the work of marking some 13,000 sites, went about the work of blacking out those very markings that she and her team of women pilots had diligently created.

After World War II, Blanche Noyes was in charge of the air marking division of the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Blanche believed that it was critical to not only replace the airport markings that were removed during the war for security reasons, but also to add even more navigational aids. And thus the work began all over again.

Today, Ninety-Nines carry on the tradition and fulfill the need for airmarkings by volunteering their time to paint the airport names, compass rose symbols and other identifications on airports. Some of the letters in the airport name can be 50 feet tall.

Since The Ninety-Nines is a charitable organization, we normally ask the airport to supply the paint. Some airport businesses will also supply the paint. Normally the chapter will provide rollers and tools and the women and men to do the marking and painting.

So the next time you’re flying, look down and imagine flying your biplane over those small towns in the late 1930s and how comforting it must have been to see that runway with your destination’s name clearly painted on it. For that you could thank early members of The Ninety-Nines for leading the way in the airmarking efforts of the 20th century.

You can see by the pictures that a compass rose is huge and requires coordinated team work.