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By Carey Bourdier
Theodolites, as you may know, are important optical instruments used by surveyors and other types of engineers. The theodolite is used to measure angles and can do so in both the vertical and horizontal planes. While theodolites have long been known as helpful tools for many types of surveying, they also are used by meteorologists and aerospace engineers.

All theodolites are not the same and there are different kinds designed for different purposes. For instance, when the FAA needs to calibrate navigation aids such as VORTAC, MLS, TACAN or ILS, one of the devices that they will use is a telemetering theodolite. This is just one type of theodolite and obviously, it is primarily used in relation to aircraft.

An observation theodolite can be used to observe and also measure angles of elevation and azimuth of aircraft, pilot or weather balloons, ships and other moving objects. Some can be transported easily, while others are designed to be permanently fixed in a specific location. Many observations theodolites illuminate for night use. Sometimes these are known as pilot balloon observation theodolites or pibal theodolites. Some of these theodolites are used by meteorologists and others might be used on military vessels or perhaps commercial ships.

When you think about meteorology, you probably are thinking about tools such as radar and barometers or thermometers and weather balloons. However, there are theodolites designed specifically for meteorological tasks. These will record both elevation angles as well as azimuth. These can be used to track a weather balloon and then used to determine wind speed and wind direction.

A transit theodolite is probably the type of theodolite most people have seen, as these are used by engineers and surveyors to help design or make improvements to roads. These also can be used at construction sites for buildings, homes and bridges. Aside from surveyors concerned with construction and civil engineering, these theodolites might be used for other types of engineering tasks, such as railway engineering.

The theodolite has been around for centuries in various forms, but in 1971 a new type of theodolite was introduced and called a total station. This helpful device was the first optical instrument that could record angle measurements as well as distance. It includes a transit theodolite as well as an EDM or electronic distance meter. Civil engineers used the devices, and they are one of the most important tools in the arsenal of a mining engineer.

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