Today: Apr 08 , 2020

Arizona History: Concrete Arrows Pointed the Way for Mail Delivery Pilots

26 January 2016   Ben Brown | Cronkite News
Remnants of Transcontinental Air Mail Route Beacon Photo courtesy of Dppowell via Wikimedia Commons


The Arrows Were from 50 to 75 Feet and Painted Bright Yellow so Pilots Could See Them From the Sky

MESA – Consumers today expect their deliveries to arrive within a few days – or even hours – through services like Amazon. But delivering mail cross-country wasn’t always so easy.

Ben Brown | Cronkite News

Billy Walker, whose father flew during the 1920s, said delivering the mail required thinking outside the box.

“They had to develop some innovative ways because they didn’t have the fancy navigational systems that developed later with GPS and things we have today,” said Walker, a pilot.

How did pilots find their way? The U.S. government installed concrete arrows they scattered across the country, from New York to San Francisco.

Arizona’s state historian Marshall Trimble said it did the job. “They really reduced the time down to about 30 hours,” he said. “They could get the mail across country, and that was pretty amazing.”

It was simple. “Just follow the arrow,” Trimble said. The arrows were from 50 to 75 feet and painted bright yellow so pilots could see them from the sky.

The government later added beacons alongside the arrows. The beacons “would project light for an extremely long way at night,” Walker said.

Prior to this system, the trips took several days by train.

Read more and see video: Arizona History: Concrete Arrows Pointed the Way for Mail Delivery Pilots