Mosquito/Ponce Inlet Lighthouse: A Sentinel for Sea and Air

Mon, Nov 27, 2023 at 3:01PM

Mosquito/Ponce Inlet Lighthouse: A Sentinel for Sea and Air

It really wasn’t all that long after the Wright Brothers’ flights in Kitty Hawk air, that the 1887 Mosquito/Ponce Inlet Lighthouse was recognized as an important navigational landmark, not only for coastal water navigation, but also inevitable connections with aviation.  It’s tall, very red, and has a brightly lit, powerful light on top at night!  In fact, in 1911, the US Post Office Department quickly recognized the airplane as a practical means of transportation of mail, and even passengers!  World War I brought many technology advances, and a large surplus of planes after the war contributed to the acceptance that planes made sense in war and peace.  So did lighthouses as landmarks and skymarks, day and night, become navigational markers for planes.

Serious problems still had to be resolved if planes were to be on reliable schedules.  At that time, pilots possessed little other than compasses and printed road maps.  They frequently used visible landmarks on the ground to guide them.  Night-flight over underpopulated sections of the country was dangerous. Bad weather added to that mix would often kill you.

Of particular concern to the economy at that time was the speedy delivery of mail.  It was critical to establish a transcontinental route which traveled from New York to Chicago to Omaha to San Francisco. Over a distance of some 2700 miles.  With stops along the way, the 1920 route had 15 airfields spaced 200 miles apart.  Early on, pilots flew the route in daylight, and trains carried the mail during the night.

Grim statistics cited one in six airmail pilots could expect to be killed in crashes caused by mechanical failure and or navigational errors or changes in the weather.  The solution to the problem was developed by the ever-resourceful US Lighthouse Service.  Pilots had used lighthouses since the beginnings of flight.  In 1920, the commissioner of lighthouses was asked to develop a series of radio fog signals at some lighthouses and lightships and create a series of lighted beacons that would point skyward to help pilots visually find their way at night in low visibility.  In 1923, pilots began to navigate using rotating bacons cross-country, literally flying from one beacon to the next.  51-foot towers were placed every ten miles along the route.  On the ground, airport terminals were built near cities where regular landings were made, and these terminals were lit with high-intensity arc lighting to simulate daytime lighting.  Some beacons could be seen 100 miles.  Even some lighthouses were painted with large numbers and letters to assist pilots in identifying them at night. Finally, large concrete arrows on the ground pointed the way to the next beacon.
Aviation on the Coast

We all know Daytona’s beach and its connection with automobiles and racing, but not many recognize that for years up to the establishment of the Daytona Beach Airport at its present location, airplanes competed with automobile traffic and sun worshipers for space on the beach.  There is an excellent exhibit on the hard-packed sand of Daytona serving early local aviation, airplanes, and their hangers on the beach in the Principal Keeper’s Residence at the Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse.

Aviation Exhibit

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