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Historic Airway Beacon on West Rock

The airway beacon at West Rock, adjacent to the Regicides Trail.
On the Regicides Trail, just north of the West Rock Tunnel is a historic airway beacon, one of thousands that once created a chain of light across the country by which planes could navigate. The West Rock beacon is located at the edge of a gravel road that connects Baldwin Drive to a tall antenna on the ridge. The beacon is mentioned, but not discussed in the Connecticut Walk Book.
I am in the process of researching the topic and still have many questions that are yet to answered. There are many online links to the airway system, but I have found no specific information about this particular beacon, including when it was constructed and put into service, and when it was removed from service. I would also like to know the location of the two nearest beacons, as they were constructed 10 miles apart from each other. The standard tower height was 51 feet tall and it seems a reasonable guess that this is the height of the West Rock beacon.
Published articles indicated that in 1923 the U.S. Post Office began constructing these beacons, consisting of a tower with a light on the top (to guide pilots at night), and a concrete arrow at the base (to guide pilots during the day), so that planes could be safely guided across the country while flying airmail.
The first set of beacons was constructed between San Francisco and New York between 1923 and 1925. The Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce took over in 1926. There were 1,550 beacons in place by 1933.
The Federal Aviation Administration began removing these beacons from service in the mid-1960s, and many have since been dismantled, increasing the historical importance of this remaining beacon. The state of Montana values these beacons enough that it took over the service of the beacons in the western part of that state when the FAA was no longer interested in operating them.
There is no arrow visible at the West Rock site. A concrete arrow still remains on the Bethany Airport property on Rt. 63. One website indicates former locations of beacons were in Ansonia and Durham.

The links on this page contain a great deal of information about the beacon system, which is an interesting historical story.
This is a full view of the airway beacon, located along the Regicides Trail
near a gravel road that accesses a larger antenna, January 2016.
Another perspective on the airway beacon,
with a view from the gravel road, January 2016.
Airway Links
  • "The History of Flight Inspection," another overview of the airway beacons and later navigational aids, is published on the website of Aviation Online magazine:
  • "Lighting as an Aid to Safety" by F.C. Hingsburg, chief engineer, Airways Division, U.S. Department of Commerce, was published on pages 54, 56-60, and 93 in the Feb. 1929 issue of Popular Aviation magazine. The article gives a status report on how many beacons has been constructed by that time and give technical details regarding their operation, including a schematic drawings of the lights. Website: 
  • Bonfires to Beacons: Federal Civil Aviation Policy Under the Air Commerce Act, 1926-1938 by Nick A. Komons, agency historian for the Federal Aviation Administration, was published in 1978 by Smithsonian Institution Press. Chapter 5, found on pages 125-145, is called "Lighting the Airway". The book is available in some college libraries and may be read online at or purchased from Amazon.
  • "Airway Beacons List — Eastern U.S." lists beacons in Connecticut, but not at West Rock. It lists one for Ansonia, but the coordinates show Spoke Drive in Shelton. The website also incorrectly places Ansonia in Fairfield County, when, of course it is in New Haven County. The nearest one to the north is Reed Gap in Durham. Website:
  • "Airway Beacons, an Integral Part of Montana's Night VFR Navigational System: Past History, Present Service, and Present Value" by Brenda J. Spivey, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, is published here: This article gives a brief overview of the airway beacon system, but focuses on the system in Montana.
  • The airway system even rates a mention on Snopes, in the article "Mysterious Arrows" which confirms as true the rumor that concrete arrows guided early airmail pilots across the United States:
Antennas sprout from the top of the former airway beacon at West Rock with the original beacon seemingly removed. A camera at right points west, January 2016.

1 comment:

  1. I am a professional pilot from Bethany. Would be happy to help