June 20, 2012

Only in Arkansas

Take a close look at the picture to the left.  Notice anything odd?  No?  It’s there…keep reading.

I was the Captain of an EMB-120 Brasilia in November 1998, the month KXNA, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport opened to the public.  Piloting a flight from Dallas, Ft. Worth scheduled to arrive well after dark, I noticed a NOTAM (Notice to Airman) that indicated the airport beacon would not be visible when approaching the airport from the southwest.  A lighted, land (as opposed to water) airport beacon is supposed to flash a constant white then green pattern at night or when the airport is experiencing poor weather conditions.  When flying at night in visual flight conditions, the beacon is most commonly used by pilots to identify the location of an airport.

Now familiar with the NOTAM, I was aware that the beacon would not be visible to me as I approached this unfamiliar airport at night for the first time.  Finding the airport…quite literally located out in the middle of nowhere…turned out to be a simple task, but the reason behind the NOTAM made me laugh back then and as I taxied past the XNA control tower earlier this week, I couldn’t help but laugh as I noticed the condition still exists today.

I queried the tower controller about this and got the same answer I got back in 1998, so I can only assume it to be true.  The airport beacon is often located on top of the control tower at small airports or at a significant distance from the control tower at some larger airports.  At KXNA, the beacon is located on a pole…wait for it…right next to the control tower and at the exact same height as the tower controllers.  So at night, or anytime the beacon is in use, the light from the beacon shines directly into the control tower, blinding the controllers as they attempt to perform their duties.  

“Only in Arkansas” the tower controller explained.  His words, not mine.

Clearly this was an unacceptable situation, so let me pose the same question to you that must have been asked of those in charge back then.  What should be done to rectify this design defect?  Move the beacon to another location on the airport.  Put the beacon on top of the control tower.  Put the beacon on a taller pole.  All sound like reasonable solutions to me.  Their solution?  Put a shroud around the beacon to keep it from shining into the control tower.  In their defense, this solution did indeed solve the problem at hand, but it also created the issue that remains today.  The beacon is not visible to pilots arriving from the southwest. 

“Only in Arkansas” the tower controller explained.  His words, not mine.


  1. Ah Arkansas the land of the Duggars, buy used and save the difference.

  2. That's hysterical! Why they didn't put it on the roof per standard procedure is beyond me, lol!

  3. The three posts, 'Only in Arkansas', 'The Strange and Difficult to Find MD80 Standby Compass' and 'Where Am I? An Explanation of today’s twitter post' are terrific.
    Pranesh, India