An Aramco pilot in Saudi Arabia and the future UAE

[Aramco] - Machnich, C. G. (compiler). North East Rub Al Khali. B-1583-X.

[Saudi Arabia], Arabian American Oil Company, 1953.

Printed map on canvas, 985 x 655 mm. Scale 1:500,000. Copy no. 1520. Originally published in 1950; revised 1953.


A pilot's personal map of the Empty Quarter across the border of the future United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, marked "Confidential Material" and carefully annotated in pencil by the Aramco pilot R. F. Morris.

Morris had once flown one of Aramco's first transatlantic flights in a DC-3 from Texas on a long route to Saudi Arabia, and later became manager of the Aramco Aviation Department; he was quoted in a 1967 Aramco World article, discussing the difficulties of flying over this very landscape: "Flying in most of Saudi Arabia is like flying anywhere, but when you get down there, there's nothing. You'll fly for hours without seeing a living thing: man, beast or vegetation. No roads or railways, no lakes or streams, no woods, no villages. Just great stretches of sand or gravel between the rolling dunes or occasional limestone hills and escarpments".

Despite the hardship, Morris's pencil notes show an intimate knowledge of the desert landscape, and one which Aramco was particularly eager to map. He notes helpful landmarks (and some dead reckoning), but also the landscape of the oil explorations below: a truck route, a tanker, an "oil line." An X marks where "Equip moves here today" and a particular feature of oil company flying: an "oil strip", or a DIY landing strip marked with oil. Another pilot quoted in Aramco World alongside Murray describes this: "All you need is a bare expanse of gravel floor with a stretch marked out with a streak of oil, four barrels, or four flares at night and presto, there's an airstrip".

The map was made while Aramco was attempting a series of wildcat oil strikes in Rub Al Khali, but the largest discoveries, made along the border with what would become the UAE, would not be made until the 1960s.


Gentle toning along creases. Remarkably well preserved, pencil notes very clear.


Will Tracy, "Fly the Desert Sky", in: Saudi Aramco World, Nov.-Dec. 1967, pp. 1-7.