Navigation Adventure, Exploration, Innovation

posted in: Uncategorized | 0
History and Artifacts

Navigation, Adventure, Exploration, Innovation

We all take navigation for granted; we do it every day and do not think about it. These days during social distancing and lock downs we navigate from the kitchen to the living room. We navigate to the market, or to the pharmacy. We generally use our own experience or of those around us.  For journeys to parts unknown and much farther than our social connections, we must use other means, say GPS. In today’s technology, navigation is at our fingertips. But before our modern Global Positioning, how did early explorers navigate the unknown?


The first known map was uncovered in Pavlov, Czech Republic and dates back to about 25,000 BC. The carved Mammoth tusk depicts mountains, rivers and routes, recording possible good hunting grounds, fresh water or another tribe. Maps are our way of recording where places are in reference to other places or ourselves. The study of history has shown that each generation adds to this knowledge and maps become a living breathing thing.

Phoenician sailors were able to circumnavigate the coast of Africa in 610 BC because of accumulated information and maps from earlier explorers. Their voyage added information improving existing maps and ultimately aiding sailors and explorers to explore farther and deeper, constantly adding new knowledge. By 150 AD, Claudius Ptolemy would fill an eight volume book, titled Geographia, discussing the geography of the known world of the Roman Empire.

Did trade inspire exploration or explorations inspire trade; it is probably a bit of both. Trade and exploration both generated experience and knowledge, which in turn had been recorded and passed to others; and luckily written down. With the help of Marinus of Tyre, in 100 AD and his assignment of latitude and longitude lines and nautical maps, sailors could explore the open oceans and document courses along the route. With the invention of the printing press in 1440 and its rapid spread, navigational maps and volumes of narratives, the Age of Exploration was soon beginning.

Such explorers as Amerigo Vespucci, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and many other made great strides inexpanding and connecting their world with the wider experience that is our world. All explorers also added to the experience and understanding of navigation each and every time they ventured out.

In 1860 Wallace Black and Prof. Sam King flew in a balloon 1,200 feet above Boston and took a photograph not only demonstrating how topography plays a great role in navigation but also the opportunity of aerial reconnaissance. The thought of flying mail started well before the airplane but the first official American air mail service began in 1911 with Earle Ovington under the authority of the US Postal Service. The pioneers of this service navigated by line of sight, following rail lines, roads, rivers and navigating to the next town or large landmark. First using existing maps and compass, pilots often found themselves lost and low on fuel. Unable to use line of sight in bad weather and at night, towers were constructed to hold caldrons of burning fuel oil as beacon for pilots.

By the 1920s radio equipped air stations were added along established routes to provide weather updates and navigational directions. In September, 1929, then LT Jimmy Doolittle made the first all instrument flight; taking off, flying a course and landing using a radio range and radio marker beacons, an altimeter and gyroscope. During World War II the advance of radio technology allowed the Civil Aeronautics Association to test static-free very high frequency (VFR) omnidirectional radio range (VOR) allowing pilots to watch a dial on their instrument panel rather than listen to a radio signal. By 1952 there were 45,000 miles of VFR and VOR airways (Victor airways). As time passed and technology advanced radio frequency flight paths increased, improved and expanded. By 1973 the flight beacon towers installed in the 1920s had all been removed from service.


The advent of Global Positioning System (GPS) would further change how the military, commercial and private pilots(as well as all other modes of travel) would navigate. Between 1978 and 1985 the first 11 of the GPS satellites were launched and managed by the Department of Defense. Over the next 10 years, 13 more satellites would be launched to supplement the existing and GPS would open for public use. Today many of us use this technology to find everything from the next great taco place to tracking through the wilderness or across the sea.

Navigation has been both a tool and a product of exploration and adventure. The human spirit has always wondered what is around the next bend, over the next rise, across the water, and beyond the sky. How we navigate has changed yet remained the same, looking to the sky, finding a direction and plotting a map still occurs, the tools you use may change, but the adventure continues.



Brian York • Curator, Exhibits & Collections
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum

Brian started his career at the Museum in 1998 as an intern. A year later he was promoted to Associate Curator with a focus on managing the artifact and archive collection. In January of 2000, following a search for a new Curator, the Museum named Brian York as Curator of Exhibits and Collections. For more than 20 years, Brian has overseen the creation and/or installation of more than 120 exhibits and displays that have covered more than 300,000 square feet. He has also overseen the addition of 15,000 artifacts to the Museum’s collection and has provided in-depth research for numerous books, articles, and video/film productions.

Currently Brian oversees all historical exhibits, archives, library, and oral history projects as well as provides support for restoration, education and public relations. Brian earned a BA in History as well as Graduate Studies in History from the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Prior to joining the Museum, Brian gained valuable experience through his work with the General Dodge Home, National Park Service and Western Heritage Museum (now the Durham Museum).

In 2002, Brian joined the U S Navy Reserve with whom he has completed several assignments in the United States and abroad. He currently serves as Battalion Supply Senior Chief Petty Officer and BRAVO CO. Lead Chief Petty Officer for Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 22 and with Operational Support Unit 1362, Navy Operational Support Center Omaha.

Brian lives in Lincoln, NE with his wonderful wife Amber and their two amazing daughters, Cayleigh and Shannyn.