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Old 07-16-2013, 05:43 AM   #1
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Giant Concrete Arrows

This Really Exists: Giant Concrete Arrows That Point a Way Across America



Courtesy of Aviation Archaeological Investigation & Research

Every so often, usually in the vast deserts of the American Southwest, a hiker or a backpacker will run across something puzzling: a ginormous concrete arrow, as much as seventy feet in length, just sitting in the middle of scrub-covered nowhere. What are these giant arrows? Some kind of surveying mark? Landing beacons for flying saucers? Earth’s turn signals? No, it's…


The Transcontinental Air Mail Route


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A re-creation of a 1920s map showing the route of airmail planes; the dots are intermediate stops along the course.



  • On August 20, 1920, the United States opened its first coast-to-coast airmail delivery route, just 60 years after the Pony Express closed up shop. There were no good aviation charts in those days, so pilots had to eyeball their way across the country using landmarks. This meant that flying in bad weather was difficult, and night flying was just about impossible.
  • The Postal Service solved the problem with the world’s first ground-based civilian navigation system: a series of lit beacons that would extend from New York to San Francisco. Every ten miles, pilots would pass a bright yellow concrete arrow. Each arrow would be surmounted by a 51-foot steel tower and lit by a million-candlepower rotating beacon. (A generator shed at the tail of each arrow powered the beacon). Now mail could get from the Atlantic to the Pacific not in a matter of weeks, but in just 30 hours or so.
  • Even the dumbest of air mail pilots, it seems, could follow a series of bright yellow arrows straight out of a Tex Avery cartoon. By 1924, just a year after Congress funded it, the line of giant concrete markers stretched from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Cleveland, Ohio. The next summer, it reached all the way to New York, and by 1929 it spanned the continent uninterrupted, the envy of postal systems worldwide.
  • Radio and radar are, of course, infinitely less cool than a concrete Yellow Brick Road from sea to shining sea, but I think we all know how this story ends. New advances in communication and navigation technology made the big arrows obsolete, and the Commerce Department decommissioned the beacons in the 1940s. The steel towers were torn down and went to the war effort. But the hundreds of arrows remain. Their yellow paint is gone, their concrete cracks a little more with every winter frost, and no one crosses their path much, except for coyotes and tumbleweeds. But they’re still out there.
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Old 07-16-2013, 08:24 AM   #2
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I propose a scavenger hunt:

Who can be first to post a link to a Google Maps satellite image of an arrow?
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Old 07-16-2013, 08:57 AM   #3
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37.06503,-113.595366
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Old 07-16-2013, 09:00 AM   #4
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https://maps.google.com/maps?q=rock+...&ved=0COsBELYD 37.11745,-113.487641
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Old 07-16-2013, 11:43 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BaltimoreLurker View Post
the Commerce Department decommissioned the beacons in the 1940s. The steel towers were torn down and went to the war effort. But the hundreds of arrows remain. Their yellow paint is gone, their concrete cracks a little more with every winter frost, and no one crosses their path much, except for coyotes and tumbleweeds. But they’re still out there.

I have flown most of those routes at low altitudes in severe clear over the years but never saw any arrows. Lots of long abandoned airfields from WW2 will be visible from the air for centuries, however.

When I was flying freight and mail in Montana, a clear night transported my thoughts back to the not-so-good-old days of mountain flying. There is a string of lighted beacons still in existence and in VMC on a dark night over the mountains they were great for navigation and appreciation of those who came before. It was easy to imagine a guy shivering in an open cockpit boring west against an 80 knot Winter headwind waiting for the next beacon to slowly pass beneath his unmoving wings.
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Old 07-16-2013, 12:05 PM   #6
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If you zoom in/out the google maps satellite image at 37.180589, -113.400439
+37° 10' 50.12", -113° 24' 1.58"
https://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sou...5&z=20&iwloc=A
until you can see the buildings in the area you'll see the concrete arrow is much smaller and harder to see than buildings in the vicinity. I doubt anyone on a commercial flight at 30 to 40 kft would ever see it unless they knew where it was and were trying to find it.
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Old 07-16-2013, 12:42 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by portager View Post
If you zoom in/out the google maps satellite image at 37.180589, -113.400439
+37° 10' 50.12", -113° 24' 1.58"
https://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sou...5&z=20&iwloc=A
until you can see the buildings in the area you'll see the concrete arrow is much smaller and harder to see than buildings in the vicinity. I doubt anyone on a commercial flight at 30 to 40 kft would ever see it unless they knew where it was and were trying to find it.
We have a winner! That's cool!
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Old 07-16-2013, 02:23 PM   #8
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Very cool post. I bet that's a part of our nation's history that very few are aware of.

Thanks for posting this.
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Old 07-16-2013, 05:52 PM   #9
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I suppose it would be easier to spot if it was still painted yellow and had a beacon flashing on top of it.

Marty.......................:-)
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Old 07-17-2013, 01:36 PM   #10
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The lights were called airway beacons. A few still exist, including this one that is preserved in St. Paul, MN in Indian Mounds Park.

Along the same lines as the arrows on the ground, there are also ancient geoglyphs in the SW, including these in the desert near Blythe, CA. These are only discernible from the air and some claim they were constructed by the ancients to call to the gods or aliens from other lands.

I heard about these and saw some photographs when flying in the Yuma area. When I had a job including repetitive runs near Blythe, I looked for them initially from 10,000 ft MSL, but couldn't find them. When I descended to 2500, they were easy to see These are surrounded by fences that are sometimes shaped like coffins to protect the intaglios from the off-road vehicles.

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Old 07-17-2013, 02:58 PM   #11
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The lights were called airway beacons. A few still exist, including this one that is preserved in St. Paul, MN in Indian Mounds Park.

Not all of them are museum displays ... Montana still maintains 10 or 11 as functional and charted navaids. They are great visual beacons for low altitude VFR night flights across the mountains.
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