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Beacon Stations For Night Flying

Beacon stations were developed for night and poor visibility flying conditions.  They are sites along an airway that consisted of a rotating navigational beacon. Most were placed on a skeleton tower approximately 50 feet in height and powered by a generator, gas or local power and used by air mail pilots for night flying. 

In December of 1926 a day mark consisting of a directional arrow was added to the sites.  This directional arrow pointed to the next higher numbered beacon station site. The first concrete arrows were whitewashed. The control shed roof was painted white on the right side of the gabled ridge and red on the left.  Black beacon numbers were painted on the white side of the shed roof, and white route numbers were painted on the red side of the shed roof.

From 1926 to 1932 most of the directional arrows were 57 feet in length, made from concrete and placed under the beacon.  A control shed was placed on the feather end of the arrow and the site number was painted on the roof of the shed to let the pilot know where they were.  If the site was powered by local power, the site number was painted directly on the shaft end of the arrow.

About 1932 they started making raised metal arrows on each end of the skeleton tower pointing to the next higher beacon number.

3 types of beacons used on the Transcontinental Airway between 1923 and 1926.

When were the Concrete arrows placed across America and what was their purpose? 

Different sources attribute them to the Post Office, but it was the Airways Division of the Lighthouse Bureau under the direction of the Post Office that created the beacon stations with the concrete arrows at the base of the towers.

The following article in the April 1927 Aero Digest shows a diagram of the arrow and explains that they were being place on Contract Air Mail Routes 1, 2, and 3.

Contract Air Mail Route #1 is the New York-Boston airway.

Contract made 7th day of October 1925 to Colonial Air Lines (Inc.); Route: Boston, Mass., via Hartford, Conn., to New York, N.Y. and return.

Service was inaugurated on this route July 1, 1926, by Colonial Air Transport, Inc.

Airway Bulletin No. 25, May 1, 1927, described the New York-Boston Airway (NY-B)-220 miles

Contract Air Mail Route # 2 is the St. Louis-Chicago airway.

Contract made 7th day of October 1925 to Robertson Aircraft Corporation; Route: Chicago, Illinois, by Springfield, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri and Return.

Night Air Mail flights began on January 14, 1927.

Airway Bulletin No. 154, August 16, 1927, described the St. Louis-Chicago Airway (SL-C)-277 miles

Contract Air Mail Route #3 is the Dallas-Chicago airway.

Contract made May 12, 1926: National Air Transport Inc. Route: Chicago IL, Moline IL, Saint Joseph MO, Kansas City MO, Wichita KS, Oklahoma City OK, Fort Worth TX, Dallas TX and Return.

Night Air Mail flights began on February 1, 1928

On February 1, 1928 the National Air Transport started operation on their straight night schedule leaving Chicago at 8:00 P. M. and arriving at Dallas at 8:33 the following morning.  Planes now leave Dallas at 6:57 P.M. and arrive at Chicago at 7:30 A.M.  This revised schedule allows mail to be delivered the following morning which is approximately the same service which can be secured from mail posted in the same city.  
Domestic Air News Vol. 2, No.3, Serial No. 23, page 24, February 15, 1928, Stanford University Green Library, basement stack W-158; C23.9:6-32

Dallas-Kansas City Airway (D-KC) 995 miles, in 3 airway bulletins

Airway Bulletin No. 158, August 16, 1927 described the Dallas-Oklahoma City section, 210 miles

Airway Bulletin No. 159, August 16, 1927 described the Oklahoma City-Wichita section, 159 miles

Airway Bulletin No. 163, August 16, 1927 described the Wichita-Kansas City section, 173 Miles


Link to pdf download that contains this aritcle from: Aero Digest Vol. , page 322, April 1927



Diagram of a Concrete Arrow

Click on this link to see the diagram design

Great Arrow Chosen As Best Air Marker

A 50-foot arrow four feet in width, painted chrome yellow and illuminated at night by elecric flood lights was adjudged the best airways marker submitted in a contest held in connection with the National Airways Marking conference, which closed here last night.  The arrow was demonstrated by Aerial Guide, Inc., of New York.

J.M. Knight of Severy, Kansas, was second in the contest; A. C. Blonger, bureau of highways, Idaho and H. Don Snodgrass of Jenks, Oklahoma, led for third.

The winning designs and those submitted by F. W. (Woody) Hockaday of Wichita, whose system of highway markers made him nationally known, will be sent to Washington for consideration by the Aeronautical Division of the Department of Commerce.

William P. MacCracken, Jr. assistant secretary of commerce for aeronautics told the conference his department would assume responsibility for working out signals to be used on the airways of the nation.

 Clipped from The Hutchinson News12 May 1928, SatPage 5


Airway Beacon Station Components

Air Navigation by P. V. H. Weems 1938

How Were Beacons Powered

There were 4 methods of powering beacon stations (many sites had batteries as a backup in case of power failure).

1. Commercial Power (example from Salt Lake-Great Falls airway, site No. 24, Department of Commerce Intermediate Landing Field, Dubois Airport).

2. Generator Plants (examples are from the Cibola County Historical Society air history museum and interpretive site at the Grants-Milan Airport.)

1929 Westinghouse generating equipment is from page 559 in the 1929 issue of The Aircraft Handbook.

3. Acetylene Gas with Sun Valve

This gas type beacon was used starting in 1924 and placed 3 miles apart along the Cheyenne-Chicago portion of the Transcontinental Airway. from the Medicine Bow Museum.

This is an example of a gas acetylene beacon station located on the San Francisco-Salt Lake Airway, site No. 50A Hardy Creek. The gas tubing as been removed and only a little evidence of it remains inside the shed.

Polkinghorne Spring beacon is a fine example of an Acetylene Gas Beacon

4. Windmills

1927 photo from: "Airports and Airways-Cost Operation and Maintenance" by Donald Duke

Beacon Stations That Still Exist

The following have an arrow, beacon, and generator shed:

18_15 SF-SL Donner
39.321803, -120.336218

26_24 SL-GF Dubois DOCILF
GPS: 44.168858, -112.224350
34_02 C-P Newark DOCILF
GPS: 40.022605, -82.464253

The following have an arrow and generator shed:

33_11 ELP-FTW Delaware Springs / Guadalupe DOCILF
GPS: 31.853277, -104.549017

04_17 LA-SL Solomons Knob
GPS: 35.399638, -115.831278

The following have an arrow, beacon, and radio station

18_32 SL-O Medicine Bow DOCILF
GPS: 41.887107, -106.189908

The following are recreations at Museums:

Oregon Aviation Historical Society
arrow & beacon 2/3 original size
08_44B SF-S Cottage Grove
GPS: 43.802052, -123.038914

Grants-Milan Historical Museum
concrete arrow, metal arrow, complete generator shed, beacon, radio station
34_62 LA-A Grants-Milan Historical Museum
GPS: 35.166517, -107.898270

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