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Pre-Radar Transcontinental Airway System
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Post# 860662   1/8/2016 at 01:12 (537 days old) by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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Remember Airmail?  An Airmail stamp cost extra because Airmail was faster than railmail.


In order to make Airmail faster, in 1924 the U.S. Post Office and the Department of Commerce initiated the Transcontinental Airway System.  It consisted of beacons and giant concrete arrows 50 to 70 feet long, painted yellow for visibility and spaced about ten miles apart depending on terrain.  They guided open-cockpit biplane pilots across 18,000 miles of the national mail delivery network.


The system was built out between 1924 and 1931.  The first route, between San Francisco and New York City, generally followed what is now I-80, particularly in the West.  Some of these arrows remain, but how many is unknown.


A story that appeared in the paper earlier this week tells of a local pair of arrows and provided locations of some of the 125 arrows that remain in California, along with a brief history of the system.  I found it to be a very interesting read.


Does anyone know of arrows that still survive in their neck of the woods?


Below is a link to the article, which provides its own link to a map of the TAS.

Two large concrete arrows sit atop Acalanes Ridge in Walnut Creek, Calif.




Post# 860664 , Reply# 1   1/8/2016 at 02:16 (537 days old) by ea56 (Sonoma Co.,CA)        
Thanks for sharing this Ralph

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I have always been interested in aviation history and this is something I have never read about before. When you stop and think about it, aviation really progressed rapidly thru the first 50 years of the 20th century. I love to watch any old movie that deals with airplanes, airlines, flying or pilots. Those first airmail pilots were very brave. It was a job that was devleloped as it grew. I live right next to the area where the worlds first airmail flight took place in 1911. The flight took a whole day to fly approx. 20 miles from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, CA. The plane is in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Anyone remember the airmail stamps with the DC-3 on the stamp? I believe that they cost $.08 in 1960, when a regular first class stamp was $.04.

Post# 860706 , Reply# 2   1/8/2016 at 13:39 (537 days old) by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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Oh for sure Eddie!  When I think of Airmail (although I hadn't for many years until reading the TAS article), I visualize one of those red-hued DC-3 stamps!

Airmail.  When it absolutely, positively had to get there . . . faster than a train.

Post# 860708 , Reply# 3   1/8/2016 at 13:47 (537 days old) by joeekaitis (Rialto, California, USA)        

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There's a Travel Channel, Discovery or Science Channel show just begging to be produced.

Post# 860731 , Reply# 4   1/8/2016 at 16:00 (537 days old) by alr2903 (TN)        

Thank You for posting this. I enjoy reading about early aviation. I have never heard of the arrows.

Post# 860733 , Reply# 5   1/8/2016 at 16:34 (537 days old) by moparwash (Pittsburgh,PA -Next Wash-In...June 2018!)        

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Great reading on early aviation..Locally aviation historians point out that the blazing glow of the steel mills of Pittsburgh served as a landmark for east-west aviators as well....though I remember a flight from PIT to Wilkes Barre/Scranton years ago where I swear the pilot followed I-79 to I-80 for the trip

Post# 860736 , Reply# 6   1/8/2016 at 16:49 (537 days old) by ea56 (Sonoma Co.,CA)        

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There is a wonderful movie about early airmail pilots that rarely plays on TCM. The title is "Night Flight" and it was made in 1933 with an all star cast. The story line is about airmail pilots that need to get a shipment of vaccine, that is urgently needed for an epidemic, to Rio de Janerio by flying over the Andes. It was written by Antione de Saint-Euxpery, who wrote beautiful stories about early aviation. It is really worth watching if you are a fan of early aviation. It is beautifully filmed, and even though over 80 years old It holds up. If I remember correctly there is a scene where burning oil barrels are used to mark a runway for a night landing. When I was in high school I discovered Saint-Euxpery by reading a few of his short stories in an English class. They were so vividly written that I felt as If I could have flown one of these early airplanes simply from reading his intricate discriptions of flying. It gave me a lifelong appreciation of early aviaiton.

Post# 860754 , Reply# 7   1/8/2016 at 20:25 (536 days old) by Gansky1 (Omaha, The Home of the TV Dinner!)        

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That's very interesting, thanks for sharing it. I'll have to do some investigating, being right along I-80 we may still have some arrows lurking in fields around.

There is a short stretch of the original Lincoln Highway (Hwy 30) here in Omaha, now closed to traffic but the original cobblestones are still there and serviceable. There used to be mile markers with original emblems from its construction on concrete posts but vandals made off with most of them. I remember driving on it as a teenager and seeing the mile markers.

Post# 860759 , Reply# 8   1/8/2016 at 20:46 (536 days old) by ptcruiser51 (Boynton Beach, FL)        
December 16, 1960

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To this day I don't know the answer. This day, during a snowstorm, a TWA Constellation and a United 707 collided in the sky over Staten Island, NY. The TWA plane landed in a field, all killed. The UA flight crashed into Park Slope, Brooklyn killing many on the ground by fire and impact. One young boy survived, only to die the next day from burning jet fuel searing his lungs; pneumonia set in. What's eluded me is the fact that the UA flight was twelve miles off-course!  I realize that radio/radar wasn't as advanced then as now, but twelve miles?  Frightening.

Post# 860764 , Reply# 9   1/8/2016 at 21:50 (536 days old) by washman (Butler, PA)        
You'll like this

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Post# 860766 , Reply# 10   1/8/2016 at 22:02 (536 days old) by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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I remember that for many years, maybe even up to the 1979 DC-10 disaster at O'Hare, that incident with the Constellation was still ranked among the top ten worst in U.S. history.


Here's a story for you:  A friend of mine used to live off of what is essentially California's main drag, a section of El Camino Real which still exists in a 500-mile patchwork of roadways from San Diego up to Sonoma, and passes through town just a block from where he and I grew up and I now live.  This street parallels and is less 1/4 mile west of the runways at SJC.


Late one rather foggy night around 1990, he was outside and heard a large airliner coming in at low altitude -- a few hundred feet -- for a landing.  Nothing unusual about that, except that he could tell that it was following the path of this main artery instead of using the proper approach vectors and passed almost directly over his house.  He sensed impending doom and then relief, as apparently the pilot or the tower realized the plane was off course and power was applied to avert an impending crash.  


That plane wasn't twelve miles off course, but it was heading straight for the campus of a local university, complete with dorm buildings and one of California's historic missions.   Of course, this never made it into the paper or the local news media, but I've never forgotten this story and how it might have turned out.


Post# 860797 , Reply# 11   1/9/2016 at 00:46 (536 days old) by tolivac (greenville nc)        

Liked the video of the B 727 flaps,slats,spoilers.Remember this from many 727 rides!For those who like watching airplane wing equipment videos-go to YouTube and look up "Steve vs the thrust reverser"Does show this equipment is dangerous!but neat to watch.He also "checks" the operation of B737 spoilers,too!

Post# 860894 , Reply# 12   1/9/2016 at 14:31 (536 days old) by whirlcool (Just North Of Houston, Texas)        
What a great thread!

A lot of the left over arrows from the old early aviation navigation systems are way out in the middle of no mans land. I think that's why some of them are left. But there aren't many.

There were many air mail pilots killed while operating their routes back then. It was a very risky job. Open cockpit, flying through rain and storms and icing conditions. But many a pilot and even a few airlines got their start flying air mail routes back then. You had to be brave and bold to get the job done. But as we say today there are no old, bold pilots around. And since aircraft back then weren't as powerful as today's aircraft are they couldn't fly way above the mountains out west, they had to fly through the passes. I imagine doing that at night was quite a hair raising event.

For one of my Aviation Safety courses I took in college, I did it on that UA Staten Island crash. The full report is available online for anyone who may care to read it.

The cause of that crash, like other airline incidents, is a series of errors that culminated in a mid air collision. One problem was radar technology was not what it is today. The ATC controllers back then had to take pilot at his word when he reported his position. Secondly, this was during the era where pilots were transitioning from the DC6 & DC-7 and Constellation aircraft to turbine equipment.

Having flown everything from a DC3 to a 747, I'll say that the old prop planes almost have to be manhandled into a correct course compared to the sensitivity of a jet aircraft. Jets are "slicker", fly faster and take a lot longer to slow down than prop planes do. What happened here was that the crew of that UA DC8 had transitioned from a prop plane to the DC8 the year before. And training back then wasn't anywhere near what it is today. Since things happen a lot faster in a jet, you have to keep your mind ahead of the path of the jet to maintain control of it.
That's obviously what didn't happen in this case. The pilots were slowing down the DC8 and had their minds on the slow down process and weren't really thinking of what and where the aircraft actually was at the time of the collision. They thought they were on course, when they were really 12 miles or so off course. They had flown right through the spot where they were to report their position to ATC but weren't aware of it. Combine all this with crappy low visibility weather and there you are, a crash. Quite a number of airline crashes around the 1958-1963 timeframe were because of similar causes.

Flying an airliner today has a lot of built in automation to it, but this only came around in the past 20 years or so. Flying an approach in bad weather is the ultimate in multi-tasking. You have to fly the aircraft, make sure you are on course, run the checklists for the phase of flight you are in, listen to and advise ATC as needed and make cabin announcements as needed while appearing to be perfectly calm! It seems like for about the last 20 minutes of flight your attention needs to be directed somewhere else continuously over and over again.
It can be very hectic.

Post# 860903 , Reply# 13   1/9/2016 at 16:22 (536 days old) by washman (Butler, PA)        
Losing the plot

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and "getheritis" are factors that persist today.

Eastern 401...too much focus on a 10 cent indicator bulb
United 173....not enough CRM to prod captain to land NOW.
AA 965...gethereitis, erasing the pre-planned flight plan to hit runway 19 straight in rather than do the usual ILS approach. Loss of situational awareness
AF 447.....night, almost in doze mode when a plethora of warnings interrupts what should have been a normal flight. No one grasped the gravity of the situation until it was too late.

The automation is nice to be sure but the consensus now is that it tends to lull the flightcrew into a "relaxed" mode of sorts, unable to rapidly process information when an emergency arises. Or sometimes there is too much fixation on why the plane is doing something the crew did not anticipate it to do. Or as in the case of Air Inter, a tragic but easily done mistake on the FPA vs the V/S descent.

What has become of basic flying skills? Ya know, stick and rudder?

Post# 860912 , Reply# 14   1/9/2016 at 17:13 (536 days old) by whirlcool (Just North Of Houston, Texas)        

Basic flying skills must still be demonstrated in the simulator. Every pilot goes through a proficiency check every six months to make sure they still have their skills, and how to handle various emergency situations. If you can't pass one of these you get once chance in a retraining class. One more fail and out the door you go.

General Aviation pilots must go through a Bi-Annual flight Review process with a FAA inspector in order to continue flying. It's like taking the test for your license all over again each time.

Post# 860918 , Reply# 15   1/9/2016 at 17:37 (536 days old) by Marky_mark (Sitges, Barcelona)        

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If you enjoy reminiscing about the golden era of aviation, you'll like this retro-style ad by British Airways shown on tv in the UK.

Post# 860951 , Reply# 16   1/9/2016 at 20:30 (535 days old) by washman (Butler, PA)        
Here's one to long for

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Notice the lack of pjs and flip flops.

Look at all that swell food!

The professionalism of the flight crew!


Was this real? It certainly was before my time.


Post# 860986 , Reply# 17   1/10/2016 at 02:41 (535 days old) by whirlcool (Just North Of Houston, Texas)        

Yes, it was all real. From about 1958-1978 or so. Back then airline airfares were tightly regulated by the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board). Everyone charged the same thing between any given cities. The only way airlines could distinguish themselves was by the service they offered. So thinks like steak and lobster and Prime Rib were common First Class entrees in First Class cabins all over the place. Even in coach you'd most likely see a steak and baked potato. Or a wine and cheese tasting setup.

When I was flying for North Central, on our DEN-MSP flights during ski season we'd have specialty drinks like Hot Buttered Rum and our own drink, The Northern Light. Smirnoff & Apple Juice with a twist of lemon. Fresh bread baskets, wine & cheese tastings, etc. It was a lot of fun for passengers.

But in 1978 came the airline deregulation act, and airlines could set their own airfares. And all the passengers wanted cheap. You can't have cheap and luxury at the same time so a lot of amenities went away so the airlines could charge less for the basic fare to be competitive.

And then it became a lot more affordable for people to fly. Not everyone thought they needed to dress up to fly on an airplane. Hence,the shorts and flip flops, etc. But people who wear these outfits aren't aware of the safety issues of such leisurely clothing. In t he unlikely event of an emergency evacuation sliding down an escape slide would not be a lot of fun. Those slides have a high nylon content in their make up and have the consistency of burlap. Try sliding down one of those in a pair of shorts and see how much skin you leave behind! Also clothing offers protection against fire and flame, so what you wear could determine if you get off the aircraft at all! What is the safest clothing to wear while flying? Cotton or other natural material. Maybe a nice pair of jeans and a Polo style shirt. Looks nice and won't start to burn quickly. Plus is appropriate for all cabins on the aircraft.

Post# 861000 , Reply# 18   1/10/2016 at 05:04 (535 days old) by whirlcool (Just North Of Houston, Texas)        
Luxury Ten Years Earlier

Now here is a video you all will enjoy! U.S. mainland to Hawaii, 1950 on a Boeing Stratocruiser! You could even have your own compartment complete with sleeping berths. Of course the flight took 11 hours.


Post# 861002 , Reply# 19   1/10/2016 at 05:09 (535 days old) by washer111 ()        
Very Interesting!

Its interesting an actual system of visual navigation aids were used to aid the early pioneering pilots. I didn't realise radio navigation came so much later.

OBTW, Ben: That 727 flap sequence was filmed from the ramp of Perth airport - the disaster that happens to be the regional centre of this corner of Australia. If you look around their channel some more - you should find videos of Perth's "Glory Days" where QANTAS 747's, Thai A300's, Singaporean A310's, Ansett F-28's and the like were common visitors.

Nowadays, the most interesting visitor Perth gets is an A380 from the Middle-East - its otherwise a mix of Boeing's and Airbii with about 1/4 of the world's Fokker 100 fleet thrown in for some superb measure.

The other day, Perth got a REAL 747 rarity: a QANTAS 747 with the "5th-pod," which had to make a technical stop due to the limitations imposed by the extra (non-operating) engine on its way to Jo'burg, South Africa to save another QANTAS jumbo.

Post# 861019 , Reply# 20   1/10/2016 at 09:30 (535 days old) by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        
Pillar of Fire Church, Dec. 16, 1960

I was home sick from school that morning and remember when this news came on the TV. I recall some news person remarking on the "aptly named Pillar of Fire Church" which was hit by the crashing plane and was engulfed in flames. A lady who worked in a florist shop told a reporter that when she heard the huge explosion, she thought that the subway had exploded and I wondered how the subway could explode.

I Googled Pillar of Fire Church NY 1960 and there were the stories, one of which I linked.

Another event I remember was the fire at Our Lady of Angels Catholic School in Chicago on December 1, 1958. In the Yearbook we received with our World Book, there was a photograph of the school where so many children lost their lives in something like the disasters of the year section. It made me glad that my schools were single story buildings.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO Tomturbomatic's LINK

Post# 861327 , Reply# 21   1/12/2016 at 04:02 (533 days old) by tolivac (greenville nc)        

Love those old airline videos---back in the days when flying was really FUN!!!And the airline took care of you and did everything to make your trip pleasent.Now they do everything to make it UNPLEASENT and a drudgery!The Quantas video of "deadheading" the RR engine was very interesting!!

Post# 861344 , Reply# 22   1/12/2016 at 06:17 (533 days old) by whirlcool (Just North Of Houston, Texas)        

I've also seen airlines "deadheading" engines on 747's by hanging them off a wing too. But I imagine that Qantas has to fly their engines much further out than most airlines and a speed pack would offer much less drag than an extra engine hanging out there on the wing. And less drag equals less fuel used.

Post# 861547 , Reply# 23   1/13/2016 at 03:04 (532 days old) by tolivac (greenville nc)        

And all along thought those engines were shipped by truck or rail.Learn something new all the time.But for Quantas-guess the engine shop is outside of their country.So shipping by rail or truck-long wet trip????So the motor has to go by air.

Post# 861646 , Reply# 24   1/13/2016 at 15:32 (532 days old) by washer111 ()        

Problem here had more to do with the fact QF has downsized their 747 fleet dramatically the past 5 years from 20+ frames to about 12 or less IIRC.

This perhaps leaves them quite "short" in spares department if something goes very wrong - since you can't really substitute another 747 if they're all deployed on the network (and remember QF also have the 747-400-ER, which isn't fitted with the 5th pod option from what I've read: The GE engine can be split in two and carried as cargo FWIW).

What happened here was Qantas waited for the flight going to Africa the next day and put the passengers up in a hotel for the meantime. The next plane arrived, the spare engine installed and both flights left to Sydney eventually.

As for the dead engine, per Qantas, there is no need to transport it back in the same manner (no urgency: They've got plenty of spares), and it will be sent via freighting service, e.g. FedEx or UPS.

The repaired plane then carried out a regularly scheduled flight to Los Angeles not long after its arrival into Sydney (with several hrs delay).

Post# 861741 , Reply# 25   1/14/2016 at 03:15 (531 days old) by tolivac (greenville nc)        

Washer111-thanks for the further info!

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