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The Air Mail Service beacon system became the world's first ground-based civilian navigation system. Each beacon, erected approximately 10 miles apart, was topped with a 1 million candlepower rotating light which was visible to pilots up to 40 miles away. The system was color coded, with green lights marking nearby airfields, and red lights signifying no airfields at that location. On July 1, 1924, pilots took off on the first regularly scheduled night service. By the end of the year, beacons lit the airmail skies from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Cleveland, Ohio. By the next summer, pilots could fly the entire route aided by these flashy navigators.

Thanks to the postal service beacons, transcontinental airmail was able to be flown all day and through the night. Mail could now reach San Francisco from New York City in 34 hours. Aided by favorable winds, east-bound mail made its way across the country in an astoundingly swift 29 hours!

The system was turned over to the Commerce Department on July 1, 1927, as part of the transformation of airmail from postal service to contract-operated service.

Click here to go back to the Short Summary of Beacons.

Field flood light  
  Revolving light beacon
Click on the photos to view a larger image.

(top left) Field flood light

(bottom right) Revolving light beacon
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