21st Century Engineering

This Jameco catalog features the simple and practical design of the early Transcontinental Airmail System.

Jameco Catalog 151
Jameco Catalog 151

Engineering design is all about solving problems. Historically, the most practical designs are also the simplest designs. Today radar, GPS and satellite tracking systems manage transcontinental flight, but in the early 1920s as air travel was "taking off" air navigation was facilitated by lights and gigantic concrete arrows that still exist today.

In 1923 the US congress funded the Transcontinental Airway System largely to facilitate mail delivery. They created a series of land based beacons spaced ten miles apart (closer in mountains) with both rotating lights and ground based landmarks to help guide the way. The one million candlepower beacons were visible up to 40 miles away in clear weather. When first designed, the system had about 1500 beacons stretching from New York to San Francisco.

While the Transcontinental Airway System only lived about 10 years before being replaced by better technology, Jameco salutes the concept that the simplest design is often the most practical – at least until something more sophisticated comes along.

To read more about the air system click here.