Home Arrows & Beacons Time Line Air Mail Routes Contributors/
Photo Credits
Contact Info

"Uncle Sam at Your Service" by Quig Staver

In 1930, Quig Staver created these cartoons to inform the general public about the development of the Federal Airways. There are 12 panels and they were published daily from November 10th to November 22nd except for Sunday. Reading thru these cartoons gives a very good explanation of how the airways were created.
Mon, Nov 10, 1930 – Page 6 · News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida) · Newspapers.com

Before Congress passed the Air Commerce Act of 1926, which charged the Department of Commerce with the duty of fostering and regulating air commerce, the facilities for cross-country airplane travel were very limited. But with the passage of the Act Uncle Sam raised aloft the pennant of the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce, called to the service of that standard many of, his best air-minded citizens, and began the establishment of a system of airways aggregating 30,000 miles, of which about 15,000 miles have already been equipped for night flying. But, is there enough air traffic, to demand such a far-flung system of air lanes? Why, even now, the miles flown on fixed schedules total more than 110,000 miles each 24 hours; 40,000 miles of which are flown at night. Rather than attempt to define an American airway, let us take a flight over one and (see, for ourselves how a pilot flying at night is served by the facilities provided thereon. We will fly by night, because after dark is when the pilot receives the full force and effect of the aids to navigation which have been Installed by the Department of Commerce. We shall find that the air navigation facilities on the airways include beacon lights, radio direction beacons, radio marker beacons, radio communications whereby weather and other information may be communicated to planes in flight; emergency, or intermediate landing fields, boundary lighted for use at night and established every 30 miles along the airways; and automatic telegraph typewriter systems for "dispatching". 

Tue, Nov 11, 1930 – Page 3 · The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York) · Newspapers.com1

The instant our plane disappeared into the night out of the range of the floodlights of the airport (which we shall call "Airville") the many facilities provided by the Department of Commerce which have advanced the practicability and safely of night air service so rapidly in the United States were put in motion for our service. From the airport a message goes over an automatic telegraph typewriter circuit. The message being written by the "teletype" operator, who is employed by Uncle Sam (tells in brief this story:  "Airplane, bearing Department of Commerce License N C 1, Pilot Jack Doe departed from Airville at 11:58 p.m. for Airboro.” As that message, in airways code, is typed on the telegraph typewriter it is automatically reproduced on a paper tape on receiving machines in Airways Division offices of the Department of Commerce at strategic points along the route to be followed by our plane.  The purpose of this operation, known as position reporting, is to enable all points along the airway to check the position and progress of our plane during the journey.  There are at present about 6,000 miles of teletype in operation along the civil airways, and this mileage is constantly being increased.  The system makes use of a leased wire circuit.  Every message put on the wire leaves a written record on all teletype machines on the circuit.  Transmission is at the rate of 40 words a minute.  Teletype is used for the collection of weather information in addition to aircraft position records and keeping track of airplanes flying over the airways.
Tomorrow – Night-Sky Navigation

Wed, Nov 12, 1930 – Page 6 · News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida) · Newspapers.com

As our airplane rises into the air to establish the desired altitude and course for our night flight over the Federal Airways, we are greeted in the distance by a flash of clear white light. To the pilot it is a flash from a Dept. of Commerce beacon light and appears to be but a second's duration. To persons on the ground, that beacon is a revolving searchlight, with a long pencil of light projecting out into the darkness and turning at the rate of six revolutions per minute. But to the pilot in the plane, it remains a flash at regular intervals, and he does not receive the searchlight effect of the beacon until he is close to it. As the clear light turns, a red light, known as a course light, and appearing directly beneath the revolving beam, is seen to flash a dot-dash code signal. The pilot reads the code as, "One" and, therefore, the beacon we are passing is the first of ten which will mark the first 100 miles of our route. Straight ahead another constant flashing beckons us on. Drawing closer to it, we spot another red light signaling, "Two". We have covered 20 miles of the journey. Our pilot explains that if the course light was green instead of red, it would be the sign to let him know that a smooth, clear emergency field lay below. A red course light indicates the absence of, such a harbor of refuge. The clear beacon and the course light are synchronized so that either one or the other always is in view to a pilot flying along his course, These lights are turned on at sundown and turned off at sunrise automatically.

Thu, Nov 13, 1930 – Page 7 · The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York) · Newspapers.com

The standard type of light beacon used by the Airways Division, Department of Commerce, to mark the Federal Airways is usually mounted on a 51-foot skeleton tower.  They are established along the course about ten miles apart, and at each site caretakers look after the equipment and property.  At a few locations, where commercial electric power is not available, a huge gasoline tank and a motor-generator are essential parts of the beacon equipment.  The lights are turned on by a motor-wound astronomic clock and burn from sunset to sunrise.  The hands of this clock are set for the hour when all lights are to be lighted, and the hour when they are to be extinguished, and thereafter the caretaker need pay no more attention to that important function.  The beacon lamp itself is a 24-inch searchlight of at least 1,000,000 candlepower, visible 20 to 40 miles.  It is rotated six revolutions per minute by an electric motor in its base.  It is equipped with an automatic lamp exchanger, which substitutes a spare lamp in the focus of the reflector should the lamp in service burn out.  The two “course lights” mounted beside the beacon flash definite mileage characteristics along the course, showing to a pilot a light having a combination of short and long flashes and a red or green, color contrast.  In desert or uninhabited regions where commercial electricity is not available, nor gasoline, and attendants to operate electric generators cannot be had, acetylene beacons, similar to the above, which may be charged up for a six-month period of operation with-out attention, are installed in lieu of standard electric equipment.

Fri, Nov 14, 1930 – Page 10 · News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida) · Newspapers.com

The pilot of our airplane flying Uncle Sam’s airways at night looks to more aids to his navigation through the dark than airways lights.  Whether or not the night is clear (and in event it is not, he would be unable to see more than one beacon ahead), the pilot switches on his radio range beacon receiving set.  Wearing earphones, he listens to radiobeacon signals which are designed to keep him on his course at all times.  The Airways Division of the Department of Commerce has about a dozen radio range beacon transmitting stations in operation along the Federal Airways at present, and several dozen more are proposed and under construction. As a pilot flies out of the sending range of one radio beacon, he flies into the sending range of another; radio beacon signals interlocking and marking the same course as the lighted route.  The beacon transmitter at the airport which we have just left is sending out a signal composed of two code letters “A”, represented by dot-dash, and “N”, represented by dash-dot.  If the pilot is a little off his course toward the left, the dot-dash will predominate in signal strength.  If he is a little to the right he will hear the dash-dot more distinctly.  But if he is exactly on his course the two signals will merge into one long dash.  Therefore, with-out even glancing at the beacon lights ahead, or if poor visibility obscures them altogether, he may follow a true course through night, or clouds or fog, by flying so that at all times the long dash predominates in the earphones. 
Tomorrow-The “Marker Beacon” Flashes A Warning

Sat, Nov 15, 1930 – Page 4 · The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York) · Newspapers.com 

We are flying the Federal Airway at night.  About 150 miles from the airport where our plane took off, the pilot who has been flying his course by radio-beacon signals transmitted from the airport, hears, suddenly, a new and distant signal from the ground.  This warning note comes from a Department of Commerce “marker beacon.”  Its signal informs him that the radio beam which he has been following has about reached its range limit.  He should tune in on a higher wave-length station located about 150 miles due ahead.  Alone the marker beacon stands atop some isolated ridge; a 50-foot pole and a single strand antenna dangling down to a squatty little six-by-six shed.  Resting on a shelf within is the marker beacon sending set, no bigger than a traveling bag, and flashing out its signals day after night and night after day without any attention.  Beside it stands a duplicate, ready to start up automatically should the first transmitter burn out.  The pilot of our plane tunes in on the proper frequency of the new radio beam, and we continue on as before.  Later while passing a beacon light where a course light flashes green, the pilot throws on the plane’s landing lights, dips the plane as if saluting the boundary lighted landing field below.  He cuts off his lights, and we wing on through the night.  With that salute our pilot had identified his plane to the men who were keeping a lookout for us from the teletype station on the field.  Instantly they type a message on the telegraph typewriter: “Plane N. C. 1 passed over at 12:30 a. m. and proceeded on a westerly direction.”  That information is received over the teletype simultaneously at the point from which we departed, at the points yet to be flown over, and at the point of our destination, still several hours away.
Monday-An Emergency Landing At Night.

Mon, Nov 17, 1930 – Page 3 · The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York) · Newspapers.com

We are flying through a beclouded night sky, over the Federal Airways, guided by radiobeacon signals. Suddenly the radiobeacon signals cease; to be followed by a voice which brings a message announcing a broadcasting station of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and a report of extremely bad flying weather just ahead of our course.  Our plane, like many passenger planes, is equipped for two-way radio communication, and the pilot, speaking into his microphone, informs the manager of the air line that he will make a landing at a nearby emergency or intermediate landing field.  On approaching, we see an area of ground whose perimeter is marked by a succession of boundary lights about 300 feet apart.  This is a lighted intermediate field, leased and maintained by the Department of Commerce for use of any plane in event it becomes necessary to make landings between airports.  These fields are located at 20 to 30 mile intervals, depending upon the condition of the terrain.  The course light beneath the revolving beacon, here flashes green, and below it the wind lighted direction cone stands out in a luminous glow, being internally, the light showing through the fabric.  Around the field red lights burning, fixed, mark all dangerous obstructions, and here and there among the white boundary lights which outline the pattern of the field, green lights are mounted to show the best approaches for making a landing.  When our pilot switches on the plane’s landing lights, there is revealed below a level field, free from ditches, rocks or any irregularities which would be hazardous to aircraft in landing.

Tue, Nov 18, 1930 – Page 3 · The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York) · Newspapers.com 

The Airways Division of the Department of Commerce collects weather reports by its teletype system from Weather Bureau stations along the airway and at points 200 miles left and right of the course.  The reports from all stations are assembled at the Airways Divisions radio broadcasting stations, edited, and placed on the air at regular intervals, to be picked up by the radio receiving sets of airplanes cruising across the skies.  The radio-voice tells the pilot about rains, snows, visibility, wind velocity, temperature, the “ceiling” above nearby landing fields, and other information of value.  The ceiling, or height of clouds above the ground is very important to a pilot, for it advises him how low he must fly and whether a landing is feasible.  The weathermen often use balloons to measure ceiling heights.  A balloon is slowly inflated with hydrogen.  The combined weight of the inflation tube and nozzle is 40 grams, and when the expanding balloon just lifts both from the table it is properly inflated to ascend at the rate of eight feet per second.  The balloon is then released in the open field and a stop watch is started at the same time.  The instant the balloon disappears into the clouds, the watch is stopped; and multiplying eight feet by the number of elapsed seconds, the height of the ceiling is determined.  At night, ceiling lights may be used, the height of the ceiling being determined by triangulation.  Sites on the movable arm of an alidade are used for sighting the light spot on the clouds, and the pointer shows the height of the ceiling in feet on the quadrant.

Tomorrow-Day Markings On our Airways

Wed, Nov. 19, 1930 – Page 6· News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida) · Newspapers.com

From the gallery of a beacon light on one of the 325 emergency, or intermediate, landing fields already established and maintained, by the U. S. Department of Commerce along the Federal Airways, we view some of the markers which aid airplane pilots in day navigation. For day flying, a directional arrow, of concrete, is placed at the base of the tower, and points the direction of the route. Boundary markers are placed along the sides and at the corners so as to outline the intermediate field from the air and show the landing area. While a circle with runway, indicators is placed at the intersection of the center lines of the runways, indicating the general shape of the landing strip. These various day markers are painted chrome yellow to provide maximum visibility, and black borders set them off still more brightly. The pilot of the plane which just landed turns out to be an official of the Airways Division on a survey, and from his conversation with the caretaker of the field while they examine a map of a new field just built atop, a Rocky Mountain Ridge, we learn a few facts about these fields which are established for forced-landings only, and not for airport purposes. Air navigation facilities on civil airways, according to Uncle Sam's practice, require landing fields every 30 miles along the route. Where airports are not available, the Federal Government establishes and maintains intermediate fields. They, are available for the free use of the aeronautical public, but the regular use of them for embarkation or landing of passengers, handling of mail or cargo, or any other commercial operation, is prohibited.

Thu, Nov 20, 1930 – Page 3 · The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York) · Newspapers.com
Where airports are non-existent along the Federal Airways, and where safety demands the establishment of emergency landing facilities, the Government builds and maintains intermediate fields.  During our visit to one such field, a motor truck, with insignia of the Aeronautic Branch (Department of Commerce) turns in from the nearby highway.  The driver is a member of the only uniformed staff of the Federal airways system, the airway mechanicians, who make periodic inspections and repairs to keep all lights and radios and other aids to air travelers in perfect working order.  While he checks the lights, which mark the boundary of the field at night, we observe that the corners and side markers for day flying consist of wooden planks on posts, the planks be sloped so as to shed snow.  Like the concrete directional arrows, they are painted chrome yellow to provide maximum visibility.  The ground beneath the planks is oiled with road oil, a black contrast to the yellow, the oil also preventing the growth of vegetation.  We find the lights encircled with a metal cone, also chrome yellow against an oil background of black.  The official of the Airways Division who arrived here yesterday hops off to make an aerial survey for a new airway over a wilderness of the West, and luck’s with us, we are invited to accompany him.  We circle for altitude.  Below the emergency field and the facilities, it provides for safety are revealed.  The clearing in the forest.  The red lights on telegraph poles and other obstructions.  The light beacon.  The radio aerials.  The field boundary markers.  And, the on-course directional arrow.
Tomorrow-Blazing An Aerial Trail

Fri, Nov 21, 1930 – Page 8 · News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida) · Newspapers.com

The American people have come to regard scheduled air service as an economic necessity and the demands on the Department of Commerce to extend the continent-wide net work to Federal Airways north, east, south and west, increase steadily.  Before scheduled air transportation of passengers, mail, or cargo between two, widely separated cities is feasible, either by day or by night, Federal Airways, with all the safety and reliability features which the name and the service encompass, must be established.  An aerial survey of a proposed new route is the first step in the building of an airway.  Aboard an official survey plane, pioneering over a broad expanse of an “uncharted badlands of the Northwest, we come to a full realization of why directional arrows, radiobeacon signals, beacon lights, and emergency landing fields must be built before scheduled air service is practical.  From the air we spot the few likely sites along the route where landing fields and beacons might be located.  Then our survey party must turn to those older modes of locomotion, horse and foot, and relocate those selected sites and study their possibilities for airways use from close range.  With sufficient supplies to last for days strapped on the backs of pack animals, Department of Commerce survey parties penetrate canyon and gorge, always working upward toward the bald, wind-swept peaks; searching until a plateau wide enough to land a plane is found, and a bold knob broad enough to support a beacon is reached.  Then comes the still more arduous task of getting construction materials in to the locations.

 Sat, Nov 22, 1930 – Page 3 · The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York) · Newspapers.com
Not only must the survey parties of the Airways Division of the Aeronautics’ Branch, Department of Commerce overcome extreme difficulties to locate many of the sites on which to rear the beacons which flash the safe trail for air pilots flying at night over the Federal Airways; but the erecting crews, too, must master extreme handicaps to get construction materials to the sites.  Several crews now engaged in lighting the airways over mountainous regions use caterpillar tractors, respectfully dubbed, “the cats”, as the one and only means of transportation and power.  The reason is obvious:  We find out here on Lonesome Knob where beacon No. 13 is going up.  The steel for the tower, the lamps, the motor generator, the lumbers for the caretaker’s shelter, everything is lifted up the mountain side by hitching a few pieces at a time to the sturdy little cat which drags them to the ridge top.  The fabricated steel is then assembled on the ground, and once again the cat displays its powers.  A cable rigging is fastened to the prone skeleton.  The cat grasps the loose cable end and lumbers off down the mountain.  Slowly the steel tower rises, to its feet, and rears its head above the neighboring granite peaks.  The tower is anchored, against breeze and blizzard; the searchlights are mounted; the generator motor is cranked; the caretaker moves in; and there stands another guidepost at the service of the flying public.  Our brief flight over America’s airways has shown how our present nationwide system of air transportation is built almost entirely around facilities provided by the Government.


You can also make comments and share photos on our Facebook Page at:

Arrows Across America


AlabamaArizonaArkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | IdahoIllinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas
Kentucky | Louisiana | MaineMaryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | NebraskaNevada 
  New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania
Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming