Airmarking - a 99s tradition!

Before electronic beacons and GPS, pilots used railroads to navigate from place to place: IFR.  I Follow Railroads. Pilots flew low and slow, and when there were large interchanges with tracks going out in multiple directions, it was easy to get lost. So to help pilots figure out what city they were near and where the airport was, the government decided something else was needed.

The first airmarkings were like this



but later on  they had beacons and

lights and identifiers.

But it was still difficult for pilots to know what town they were flying over.


So in 1933, Phoebe Omlie,  a 99,  pioneering aviator and Special Assistant for Air Intelligence for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics – the forerunner of NASA -- persuaded the chief of the Airport Marking and Mapping Section of the Bureau of Air Commerce to start a program to get each state to improve identification of towns and cities from the air. The idea was to paint the name of the nearest town on the roof of the most prominent buildings 15 miles apart.




Markings like this.

But then came World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the government decided that marked airports could be targets for the enemy. So the vast majority of those 13,000 airmarkings, especially along the coasts were destroyed.

After the war, another 99, Blanche Noyes began the hard work of not only replacing airmarkings that had been removed during the war for security but added more navigational aids as well. Of course, war also brought about innovations in navigation beacon technology ...That made concrete arrows on the ground obsolete.



But as every pilot knows, including some pilots of some very large jets who have landed at some pretty small airports instead of at the air force bases where they meant to land, it can still be very difficult to tell one airport from another, even with lots of sophisticated navigation equipment in the cockpit




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.

Funding for the airmarking program no longer comes from the national government.

The 99s continue the tradition of airmarking as a way to share their love of aviation, provide fellowship among the aviation community, and continue the passion for flying while preserving the history of women in aviation. 99s members volunteer their time to paint compass roses, airport names and CTAFs, tetrahedrons, and other identifications on and off airports--even rocks marking backcountry airstrips--based on the needs of the airport community.

As we are a charitable organization, we  ask the airport management to supply the paint.. The 99s and other volunteers  do the marking and painting.


Today,  airmarkings generally take one of two forms:

Taxiway airmarking, with the name of the field,

the identifier and sometimes the common

frequency painted on the taxiway.

Compass Rose. For a compass rose, the airport authority must survey the area to establish magnetic north because the Earth’s magnetic field shifts over time. You can see how dramatic the difference was between where South had been on the old compass rose and where the new survey placed it. In these cases, the runways will be renamed to more closely match the magnetic North.




Then we measure the radii and mark the circumference of the circle.

This compass rose was replacing an older one that was out of date.






















We  lay down chalk lines…

…and  put down masking tape.


















And then we paint.















And we paint.











And then we take a 

nice flight over the field 

to appreciate our handiwork!

We completed this compass

rose at the Lakehurst Naval Air


New Jersey 99s ... Women Pilots Guiding the Way!