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The Buzzard has chosen for the Man-of-the-Month Mr. Thoburn C. Lyon, Assistant Chief of the Aeronautical Chart Branch. Mr. Lyon is one of those rare persons in the City of Washington today, having been born in Washington, D.C., on July 3, 1896. Although a native Washingtonian, he has not spent his entire life and efforts here. He has been employed by other agencies and commercial concerns such as the Forest Service and Rand McNally.

Mr. Lyon was first appointed in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1916. Shortly afterwards he was employed in the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture for a short time, after which he returned to the Coast Survey for another period of about five years. He then spent about two and one-half years as a computer in the District of Columbia Engineering Department. Again he returned to the Coast and Geodetic Survey. In January 1926 Rand McNally induced Mr. Lyon to leave the Coast Survey to take charge of their air maps, astronomical and other special work. Unable to resist the appeal of his home town and the desire to work again for the good old C&GS, he returned to Washington in November 1931. He was assigned to the Aeronautical Chart Section as a cartographic engineer and has been employed in that capacity until the present time.

In 1935 it became evident that the pilots were in great need of a publication that would instruct them in the use of aeronautical charts. “The Professor,” as Mr. Lyon is sometimes called, was assigned the task of preparing this publication. The first edition known as “Special Publication No. 197” was completed and first used in 1935. The publication rapidly developed into a book called “Practical Air Navigation,” and was extensively used by flying instructors who found it an invaluable aid in training new pilots. The success and value of this publication is indicated by the fact that there has been 350,000 copies distributed up to this time.

In 1938 the Civil Aeronautics Administration was faced with a giant civilian training program. The success of Mr. Lyon’s book on practical air navigation led to its adoption by the C.A.A. as a manual necessary in the instruction of all civilian pilots. This manual became known as “C.A.A. 24 – Practical Air Navigation.”

Not only has he developed himself to a point where he can prepare a satisfactory publication, but he has become one of the outstanding men in the field of cartography and an authority on practically all of the related subjects. His research and experience has made him one of the most valuable men now employed in the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey. His knowledge of projections, celestial navigation, astronomy, methods of air navigation, cartographic practices and policies is one which is probably unsurpassed by anyone.

There has been one source of amazement to all those connected with aviation today. Mr. Lyon has never flown an airplane. It is recalled that one time a pilot asked him how it was possible that he able to write and prepare such a wonderful book on air navigation without having had some practical experience in flying and replied, “ I don’t believe that it would be necessary for me to remove my appendix in order that I may know how to remove yours.”

Many of you will be surprised to know that Mr. Lyon is an ordained minister. In fact, he used to have a church of his own out in Ohio. There is an incident which happened at that time which he has to a selected few.

It seems that one of the congregation passed the word around that the pastor and his family liked hog livers. You can imagine what happened at hog-killing time. There was no place to keep all that was brought and it was impossible for them to eat all of the livers, so in order to avoid hurting the feelings of anyone of his well-meaning congregation, as the dear old pastor received a liver at the front door, his wife buried one in the back yard.

His responsibilities at the present time as a senior cartographic engineer and Assistant Chief of the Aeronautical Chart Branch are varied and great. He has not only established the cartographic policies and practices for most of the aeronautical chart work, but he has set down general instructions for all types of charts which are being used by over a thousand people employed on this work.

Mr. Lyon is truthfully a “self-made” man. He is not a college graduate, but there are not many technical text books that he has not mastered. He is constantly studying new methods and ideas that will improve the quantity and the quality of our aeronautical charts.

In: “The Buzzard,” Vol. X, No. 33, p. 1-2. August 19, 1943.


Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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