Aviation Fences Past, Present, and Future

By Scott Spangler on July 14th, 2014

On a two-wheeled vagabondage adventure, I reunited with my riding buddy in Seattle, and he’s leading us east toward Oshkosh. For those unfamiliar, vagabondage has a direction of travel, like east, but no route or itinerary. Except for one must-see stop: the concrete arrow that pointed air mail pilots toward Boise. Yes, we’re aviation geeks.

IMG_3400Almost a century ago, these arrows, situated with a lighted beacon, guided pilots along the nation’s network of airmail routes. Then radio navigation made them obsolete, and they started to disappear. There’s no small measure of irony involved here that we found our way to this surviving arrow with GPS. Heading to Boise, Idaho, in I-84, it’s off the Simco exit, which leads to the apex of Desert Wind and Regina roads.

As most of us already inside already know, aviation’s present has a problem with fences. Signs warning of federal penalties and security requirements, not to mention locked gates that require secret pass codes, exist to keep people out. They typically overwhelm the signs that attempt to lead aviation wannabes, newcomers, and the aerially curious through the security maze to the knowledge and answers they seek. I didn’t, however, expect aviation’s past to present similar circumstances.

Fences serve two fundamental purposes: to keep things out, as is the case at airports, and to keep things in, such as the dozen large critters, horses and cattle, munching on the grass that grew up around our goal. Four strands of barb wire separated us. Our situation wasn’t unlike the airport newcomer: should-we or shouldn’t-we try to get through (or, in our case, over) the fence. After scouting the perimeter we didn’t see any No Trespassing signs. On the other hand, we were in the middle of nowhere, a place that most normal visitors would go on purpose, which reminded me of the GA side of most large and middle-size airports.

arrowIn the end we decided to stay outside the fence. Outrunning several large creatures with four legs was one concern. Dealing with a questioning landowner, one of his neighbors—or the sheriff—was another. With little time and no way to quickly seek the landowner’s permission to see the arrow, we left, deeply disappointed.  All that way, and all we got was this lousy Google-eye view of one of last surviving air mail arrows. I wonder what affect fences will have in the future, when the present is, like the concrete arrow, aviation’s past? – Scott Spangler, Editor

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