National Geographic : 2015 Apr
Us EXPLORE PHOTO: JOHN TEAS, ST. GEORGE NEWS. MAP: JAMIE HAWK SOURCE: NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM LIBRARY 0mi 200 0km 200 Miami West Palm Beach Jacksonville Charleston Florence Charlotte Savannah Amarillo Tulsa Oklahoma City Dallas Fort Worth Big Spring Houston Austin Waco San Antonio New Orleans Memphis Little Rock Nashville Louisville St. Louis Springfield Kansas City Wichita Atlanta Birmingham Montgomery Selma Mobile Jackson Monroe Brownsville Phoenix Kingman Douglas Tucson Las Vegas Albuquerque El Paso San Diego Los Angeles St. George Medford Portland Seattle Spokane Pasco Boise Helena Butte Great Falls La Crosse Madison Milwaukee Fond du Lac Pittsburgh Columbus Cincinnati Indianapolis Denver Pueblo Fresno San Jose Richmond Norfolk Washington, D.C. Buffalo Albany Boston Detroit Bay City Minneapolis Reno Elko Salt Lake City Rock Springs North Platte Omaha Lincoln Cleveland Chicago Cheyenne San Francisco New York Des Moines Toledo Newark CIBOLA COUNTY N.H . CALIF. NEV. UTAH COLO. WYO. MONT. WASH. OREG. IDAHO S. DAK. N. DAK. MINN. IOWA MICH. N.Y. VT. ME. PA. VA. W. VA. KY. N.C . S.C. GA. FLA. ALA. TENN. MISS. LA. ARK. MO. ILL. IND. OHIO KANS. NEBR. OKLA. TEXAS N. MEX. ARIZ. WIS. MD. MASS. R.I. N.J. CONN. DEL. Flying was still in its intrepid, barnstorming days in the mid-1920s when the U.S. Department of Commerce began establishing airways, prescribed routes in the sky, to promote air commerce. How did pilots navigate their way cross-country in planes—some of them left over from World War I— that had only rudimentary instruments? Often by peering down from the cockpit to look for the big concrete arrows pointing the way. It may have been either a slightly crazy or brilliantly simple scheme, or both. More than a thousand concrete arrows were installed along the fed- eral airway system, says Phil Edwards, a technical information specialist at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Library. Up to 70 feet long and painted yellow or other highly visible colors, arrows were placed 10 to 15 miles apart and at night were illuminated by beacons. Pilots flying at low altitudes, typically under 3,000 feet, could see from one to the next. Metal arrows also were installed on some routes—but by the 1940s, the system was largely superseded by radio aids to navigation. Today history buffs have preserved or restored a few beacon sites, including one in Cibola County in western New Mexico. Many abandoned arrows are overgrown or crumbling. But dozens—like the one shown here—survive, especially in re- mote areas along the transcontinental airway that ran from New York to San Francisco. They remain to befuddle hikers and others who stumble upon them, mysterious remnants of a more romantic era of flight. —Reed Karaim Pointing the Way St. George, Utah U.S. federal air routes, Nov. 1931 Transcontinental Other Before pilots had radio navigation aids to guide them along U.S. air routes, they found their way by looking for the beacons and the concrete and metal arrows that marked many of the routes.