WASP airport beacon saved from dumpster

Rotating airport beacons have to be large so they can be seen from the air at a distance. “But you don’t realize how large they are until you get right up close to them. They are HUGE!” said Rich Davidson, co-owner of Lee Bottom Flying Field (64I) in Hanover, Ind.

Davidson learned this when he saw a vintage rotating beacon loaded on a flatbed trailer for transport to his airport, where it will be placed in the airport museum, run by Davidson and his wife, Ginger.

“We preserve artifacts from airports like lights, signs, windsocks and the like,” he said, noting that the whole airport has a vintage feel to it since it specializes in taildragger airplanes from the Golden Age of aviation. The motto of Lee Bottom Flying Field is “where old airplanes come to fly.”

The beacon comes from Avenger Field (SWW) in Sweetwater, Texas, which was the base for the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. Some might argue that because of this, the beacon is an historic artifact and should be preserved. This was apparently not the view of county officials, who had the beacon removed and were intent on throwing it away, according to Davidson.

“The county was redoing the airport and by that I mean putting in new lights and beacons,” he explained.

Airport Manager John Howard learned about Davidson’s museum from a story in a magazine and called to ask if they’d be interested in taking the beacon as a donation.

“I also donated some runway lights and two PAPIs,” Howard said.

The trouble was the Davidsons couldn’t make the trek to Texas.

“Then a friend of ours offered to get it for us,” Davidson continued. “When he got there it was lying in a pile of junk, face down on the glass on concrete. He put it on a trailer and took it home and he is keeping it for us until we can arrange to get it back to Indiana.”

The size of the beacon was a surprise to everyone involved, said Davidson. “They are so much larger than they appear from the ground! This one measures 4 or 5 feet tall and about 3 or 4 feet wide. It takes a crane to get these things on and off the towers they rest on because they are built with old school technology of heavy metal parts and thick glass.”

There is a possibility that the beacon could be hooked up to work again. In the meantime it will join a growing collection of runway lights, windsocks and other trappings of an airport.

“You look at these things, but you don’t usually think about them too much,” Davidson said, “but they are special to someone.”

He cites as an example what happened at a small airport that had some lights that were square shaped.

“A lot of people were interested in them,” he said. “There were extremely rare — rectangular and very old. One day they were there and the next they weren’t because the owners of the airport went out one night and cut the lights off at the base and threw them into a dumpster,” he said. “So when we see things like that we try to save them.”

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