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Chris Olson / The Sun The rotating beacon at the Jamestown Regional Airport will be replaced later this week. This light has been working at the airport since it first opened in 1942.

JRA to add new rotating beacon

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When airplanes land at Jamestown Regional Airport in the coming weeks, the pilots may notice a change in the rotating beacon.

For the first time since the airport opened in 1942, there will be a new rotating beacon, said Matt Leitner, Jamestown Regional Airport Manager.

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"This light has been functioning since FDR," Leitner said, referring to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Earlier this year the Jamestown Regional Airport Authority approved a bid for $94,000 from Strata Construction, Fargo, to replace the rotating beacon and four precision approach path indicator (PAPI) lights for the crosswinds runway.

Workers with Strata were at the airport Wednesday to begin pouring concrete for the new light which will stand at the same height as the old light. The new light is about half the size of the 71-year-old beacon, but will shine brighter and be easier to maintain.

"The old beacon will go to the Bismarck Air Museum, sometime next week," Leitner said.

Based on documents Leitner found in the airport's file cabinets, plans for the airport were made in 1938. It didn't officially open until 1942 and was used as a training base for U.S. Army Air Corps pilots. After World War II, it became a regular commercial airport. Northwest Orient Airlines began offering service at Jamestown in 1954.

"To think that light has been here since World War II and is still functioning, that is amazing," Leitner said.

While Leitner said he has a sentimental attachment to the light, the tower that it sits on is in need of repair. He said the tower leans slightly to the north as the ground underneath it has shifted over the years due to the annual freeze-thaw cycle.

"The light still works, it's functional," Leitner said. "But, its level of functionality has decreased."

Another challenge in maintaining the light is finding replacement parts. Leitner said the light is similar to a beacon light found in a lighthouse on the shore of a body of water. The bulbs for the light are large, about the size of a basketball.

"The challenge is getting up the ladder to the light, then having to take the light apart to replace the bulb, all while on top of this tall tower," Leitner said.

With the new light and tower, the tower is built so that a person can pull a bolt from the tower base, and the light is lowered to the ground for easy access.

"The bulbs for the new light are about 8 inches long, a few inches wide. The light itself looks like a large coffee can," he said. The PAPI lights help pilots determine if they are on the proper glide path coming in for a landing. Leitner said the lights are multicolored. If a plane is coming in on a proper glide path, the PAPI will show two red and two white lights.

"If you're too high, you get all white lights," he said. "Too low, all red."

The Federal Aviation Administration will have to inspect the new PAPI lights before they can be put into use. Given the current federal government shutdown, that inspection may be weeks away. Leitner said no one should worry as the crosswinds runway won't be used for landings until the new PAPI lights are certified.

Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at colson@jamestownsun.com

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