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Airmail and Airway Beacons
On July 7, 1924 Frank R. Yager, a pilot with the U.S. Air Mail Service, took off from Cheyenne, Wyoming and headed East to Lincoln, Nebraska. Frank was an experienced pilot but this was no ordinary flight. Six days earlier the U.S. Air Mail Service had begun transcontinental day and night mail service between San Francisco and New York. Frank Yager had volunteered to fly a night time segment of the flight. 
 
Yager left Cheyenne hoping to out run an approaching thunderstorm. But by the time he reached the emergency field at Chappell, Nebraska he was still more than three hundred miles from Lincoln and the weather was closing in fast.   He decided to wait out the storm. Just seconds before landing a gust of wind struck his plane snapping his seatbelt and throwing him from the open cockpit of the plane. Yager suffered no major injuries but the airplane was totally destroyed (see photo). Flying in the early days was difficult enough but for Frank Yager and the other air mail pilots flying at night was going to be a real adventure.
 
In preparation for night flying a lighted airway had been constructed between Chicago and Cheyenne. It was later extended from New York City to Salt Lake City. The airway was illuminated by lighted beacons and floodlights.  The beacons were installed on a 50 foot tower, placed on a large concrete arrow pointing the way to the next beacon. On a clear night the beacons could be seen from 60 to 150 miles away, depending on their size and weather conditions. 
 
The beacons guided air mail pilots safely across the country and signaled a major advancement in flight. The U.S. Air Mail Service was short lived but the network of routes, and the technology and experience of the pilots played a major role in the development of commercial air service in the United States.
 
Bits and pieces of these early airways remain; a beacon tower near a modern airport, or a concrete arrow on Public Lands in the Nevada desert.  These important pieces of our nations past need your protection. Learn more about the U.S. Air Mail Service by visiting Air Mail Pioneers. For tips on protecting these unique pieces of our heritage check out this link.

Air Mail Stamp  Air Way Beacon remains


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Last updated: 10-23-2009