Whitetail Airway Beacon

The Whitetail airway beacon guided nighttime pilots flying along the National Parks Airway’s north-south airmail route. The route, designated in 1930, was Montana’s first such pathway, eventually connecting Great Falls to Salt Lake City, via Monida Pass, Dillon, Butte, and Helena. Before the advent of radio navigation, airway beacons served as a critical nighttime navigational aid, guiding pilots safely between airports. From 1926 to 1938, the U.S. Bureau of Air Commerce created 18,000 miles of airway corridors and installed 1,550 airway beacons to mark them for night flying. The bureau completed a lighted route from Salt Lake City to Monida Pass by late 1934. By December 1935, workers installed ten more beacons between Dell and Helena. Just before Christmas 1935, the Montana Standard reported that Whitehall was “surrounded by beacons. From one place can be observed the Whitetail beacon on the north, the Homestake beacon on the west, and to the south, the landing field beacon.” Whitetail’s twenty-five-foot-tall, steel structure held a revolving, one-million-candle-power beacon originally encased in a glass dome. Red and green directional lights on the tower indicated the route, while flashing red course lights identified the beacon in Morse code. Gas-powered generators, once housed in a nearby shed, powered the beacon until the mid-1940s when it was connected to electrical lines. Though most of the country’s beacons were replaced with ground-based radio stations by the mid-1970s, Montana’s private pilots successfully lobbied to keep seventeen beacons lit through 2017. As of 2021, several adopted beacons still light the night sky, recalling Montana’s aviation heritage.

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Approx 16 miles north of Whitehall ~ Public