| Home |

| Aircraft Support |

| Documents |

| People |

| Photos |

| Videos |

| NatMap |


| NatMap in PNG |

| NatMap in Antarctica |

The Aerodist Years :
Recollections of the Division of National Mapping's
Airborne Distance Measuring Program 1963-1974
by Laurie McLean

XNatMap logo

    Image details : (Upper) Aerodist measuring aircraft from 1966 to 1974, a Rockwell Grand Commander 680FL VH-EXZ; date and location of this Nat Map image is uncertain. (Lower) Aerodist remote party camp at a geodetic survey station in Western Australia in 1972; an image kindly provided by Ted Graham.

    This paper provides a detailed account of the Division of National Mapping's airborne distance measuring (Aerodist) program that operated from 1963 to 1974. The program intensified horizontal survey ground control for the 1:100,000 scale national topographic mapping program that was carried out under the auspices of the National Mapping Council. As indicated below, many available published references were researched during the preparation of the paper. However, as implied in the title, much of the paper relies solely on the recollections of Nat Mappers and others involved in the Aerodist program over the years it was undertaken. Of course, recollections may not be infallible especially when coming from over half a century or more ago; as is often the case in this paper. While considerable effort was taken to verify what has been written here, readers are asked to keep in mind the potential fallibility aspect of much of the underlying source material. Throughout the article both imperial and metric measurements are used, as was the case in Aerodist days depending on the context. Imperial values have not been converted to metric in this article.

    Continue to the Contents page and article proper.


    This article could not have been written without the invaluable information contributed by numerous Nat Mappers who drew unstintingly on their recollections of their Aerodist days or provided extracts from their personal diaries. I am particularly grateful to Dave Abreu, Ed Burke, Kevin Burke, Simon Cowling, Terry Douglas, John Ely, Oz Ertok, Ted Graham, Frank Johnston, Syd Kirkby, Peter Langhorne, Graeme Lawrence, Frank Leahy, Michael Lloyd, John Manning, Carl McMaster, Lawrie O'Connor, Ian Ogilvie, Murray Porteous, Brian Shaddick, Bill Stuchbery, Andrew Turk, Rom Vassil, and Con Veenstra.

    Syd Kirkby generously gave of his time and recollections and even proof read an early draft of the paper. Syd also kindly wrote the foreword to this article. John Manning and Carl McMaster provided valuable comments on early drafts of the paper. Paul Wise was a tower of strength and a constant source of inspiration throughout the preparation process from December 2014 to October 2015. He kindly provided much resource material, helped to resolve numerous technical queries and willingly prepared or enhanced the diagrams and most of the lists used in the article.

    Invaluable information was also kindly provided by people outside the immediate Nat Map community; in particular, from Harvey Else who flew helicopters in support of Aerodist operations in 1968 and in 1971. Bob Skitch kindly provided information on his involvement with Royal Australian Survey Corps Aerodist operations. Kaye Nardella and Bill Kitson from Queensland's Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying provided valuable assistance on clarifying some Queensland-related historical matters.

    The generous assistance provided by all of these contributors is gratefully acknowledged.


    The reference list can be found here.

    About the Author

    Laurie McLean was born and grew up in Melbourne. He joined the Division of National Mapping's Melbourne office within the then Commonwealth government Department of National Development as a field assistant in early 1969. Nat Map commencement was shortly after he had completed national service training with the Royal Australian Army Service Corps; including a tour of duty in Vietnam during 1967-1968. He worked with the Aerodist ground marking field party in 1969 and with Aerodist measuring field parties from 1970 to 1974. After undertaking a bachelor of economics degree course at Monash University, he took up a principal research officer position in Nat Map's Canberra office in late 1984. He moved to Brisbane in the late 1980s where he held principal advisor positions in several state government departments prior to retiring in 2006.

    The initial version of this article was completed in October 2015 and last updated September 2020.