Homestake Airway Beacon

Standing at the intersection of the north-south National Parks Airway and the east-west Northern Transcontinental Airway, the Homestake airway beacon guided nighttime pilots for more than eighty years. Before the advent of radio navigation, airway beacons served as a critical nighttime navigational aid, guiding pilots along routes 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 the routes for night flying. The bureau installed both the National Parks and the Northern Transcontinental lighted airmail routes in Montana between 1934 and 1935. The Homestake beacon, completed in December 1935, was originally part of the National Parks Airway between Salt Lake City and Helena. In 1937, the bureau established an alternate route between Three Forks and Gold Creek on the Northern Transcontinental and made the Homestake beacon part of both routes. The tower originally held a revolving, one-million-candle-power beacon 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 housed in the nearby shed powered the beacon until the mid-1900s 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.