Montana Department of Transportation

Aviation

Airport Services

Airway Beacons / Unicoms

The Montana Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division operates and maintains three night-time lighted airway beacons.

Night-time Lighted Airway Beacons
The night-time lighted airway beacon system is unique to the state of Montana. In the 1920s and 1930s, radio navigation for aircraft was virtually non-existent. Instead, early pilots relied upon a system of federally operated lighted airway beacons. Some of these beacons were quite literally bonfires, lighted and stoked by hardy patrons. Electronic bulbs later replaced the bonfires, lighting airway corridors across mountains and plains for pilots to follow at night and during inclement weather. As technology improved, airway beacons became a thing of the past. The Aeronautics Division continues to maintain the MacDonald Pass, Spokane and Strawberry beacons. These 3 beacons, along with the airport beacons at the Helena, Townsend and Bozeman airports, will provide nostalgic aviators the opportunity to experience a segment of the historic Northern Transcontinental Airway Route and Montana will keep its place in history as the only state in the nation to maintain any navigable segment of the airway beacon system.
UNICOMs
UNICOMs are federally approved radio transmitters that are commonly used at airports for communication between pilots and the airport or ground services. Approximately 70 division-owned UNICOMs are located at various airports across the state. The Aeronautics Division provides ownership, maintenance and support for these radios.