We are FLamily!

Clyde Longhart Article

1946 - 1986

by Clyde Longhart
September, 1957

Frontier had a very humble beginning in the month of November, 1946 with about 300 route miles. Service was provided between Denver and Durango, Colorado with four stops in between. Today this route mileage has increased to about 4000 miles with service to 40 cities in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. Within the next few years, the mileage and service area is expected to increase even more.

The growth of the airline has been made possible to a large extent by an airway system installed and maintained by the company. Approximately two-thirds of the original route, Denver to Durango, was off Federal Airways and over rugged mountain terrain. This portion of the route had to be flown under day VFR conditions only. Even a few clouds topping the mountains where the route crossed would stop all operations from that point on. It was soon evident that air service provided under these conditions would prove too unreliable to ever be successful. There was only one answer to this problem, radio navigation facilities had to be provided.

Since Frontier at this time was operating on a temporary certificate, the CAA could offer no help in the way of provided facilities or establishing airways over the routes flown only by Frontier. This left the company with no choice except to install its own facilities. Late in the Summer of 1947, planning was started on the selection of possible sites and radio equipment. For reasons of economy, ease of installation and maintenance, it was decided to utilize the simplest type of navigation aid, the H facility.

The first experimental facility was tried at Durango using the bare minimum for an antenna system. This consisted of a single vertical radiator mounted on a fifty foot wooden pole with very little counterpoise. This proved to be very unsatisfactory as the signal radiated was usable for only about ten to fifteen miles. A usable range of from fifty to sixty miles from each facility was necessary for satisfactory operation. This experiment proved that a more elaborate antenna system was necessary to obtain more radiated power. A “T” type antenna was tried next. The antenna consisted of a 300 foot horizontal section fed in the center. The wire was supported by 55 to 75 foot wooden poles. A counterpoise was also installed covering a rectangular area about 350 by 50 feet. The radio equipment was installed in a small house located at the base of the center pole. The usable range of the facility using this antenna system was vastly improved. This antenna system used at all subsequent facilities with two exceptions which will be discussed later.

After this phase of the program was completed, plans were made to install facilities at five more locations. Meanwhile the problem has been increased by the addition of an additional route between Salt Lake City, Utah and Albuquerque, New Mexico with connections at Durango, Colorado. The problem on this route was the same, no facilities existed except at the terminals, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque and in the middle at Grand Junction, Colorado which was also served by Western Airlines.

The next five facilities were installed in approximately 30 days late in the Fall of 1947. The sites were selected by the Flight Operations Department and plotted on an aeronautical chart of the area to be flown. People living in the vicinity of these sites were contacted by phone to solicit their assistance in obtaining the actual sites. It might be interesting to note that the local contact at La Veta, Colorado was a minister and at Chama, New Mexico the sheriff. These people were very helpful when the actual sites were obtained. This was not an easy task since the requirements for suitable sites were rather tough. In most cases very little deviation form the plotted location could be tolerated. Of course, power had to be available and in a few places this was a problem. The site had to be accessible the year around for maintenance and, last but not least, the site had to be obtained for a dollar a year lease. All of this brought about some very interesting experiences. However, adequate sites were finally obtained and the installations were all completed by November 20, 1947. By necessity, this had practically been a one man job.

The next part of the program was to prove to the CAA that Frontier could operate safely over these routes at night and during IFR weather. After numerous proving runs conducted with the CAA, night and limited on-top operation was granted on the route between Pueblo, Colorado and Farmington, New Mexico. Obviously this left much to be desired. In an attempt to find a solution, all of the transmitters were modified to increase the power output from 50 to 100 watts and one additional facility was installed to provide better coverage. This action produced the desired results and on January 27, 1948 full IFR authority was granted for the route between Denver and Farmington, New Mexico.

However, the job was just beginning, because as mentioned before the company was now operating a route between Salt Lake City and Albuquerque. On top of this, service was also started between Salt Lake City and Billings, Montana and Denver and Billings. About 50 percent of this route was through the center of the State of Wyoming and fortunately no serious problems were encountered. However, four facilities were also installed on the other route between Grand Junction and Salt Lake City and the results were discouraging. The story of the struggle in this area is quite long. Facilities were either added or moved to different locations at least a half a dozen times, but a reasonable IFR route could not be established. An IFR route was finally approved, but it was a long circuitous route and flights operating IFR were inevitably late. This resulted in unsatisfactory operation as far as the company was concerned. The poor radio reception was apparently due to poor ground conductivity in this area. Low frequency reception in this area was very poor as was HF communication.

While we were fighting this problem, the company’s routes were extended even further to Phoenix, Arizona and from there to El Paso, Texas. Again the problem was the same, no navigation facilities over the greater portion of the new route. Four more facilities were installed with reasonably good results and IFR authority was obtained over all of the new routes. This part of the system was completed in 1950.

In 1951 a change in the company’s route structure resulted in the establishment of a satisfactory IFR route between Grand Junction and Salt Lake City. Service to two cities in Utah was dropped allowing the company to fly a different route through Vernal, Utah. All of the facilities along the former route were abandoned and removed and two new facilities were installed between Vernal and Salt Lake City. The reception from the facilities along the new route provided adequate ADF operation for IFR authority and this section of the system was finally completed.

At this point we made some experiments with antenna systems in an attempt to determine if improved range could be obtained. A tower 120 feet high was installed at Duchesne, Utah. This was not a standard radio tower for this purpose as such a tower was too costly. The tower was made of triangular aluminum sections six feet in length. The complete tower was assembled lying on the ground. A complete tower lighting system was also installed with double lights at the 40, 80 and 120 foot levels. This entire assembly was raised in one piece and mounted on a base insulator. The first attempt to raise the tower failed and several sections had to be replaced. The second attempt was successful and the facility was switched from the standard “T” antenna to the tower. It is not known definitely whether the reception from this tower is better or not. However, the pilots claimed that it was, so the tower is still being used. Another tower, at Spanish Fork, Utah, only 100 feet in height was later installed and produced similar pilot reaction.

In the Fall of 1954 another route was established between Billings, Montana and Bismarck, North Dakota. Again the same problem, so four more facilities were installed. This time the results were far different from those obtained on any other segment. The problem here was the possibility of long range interference because the range of the facilities was so great. It was later found that the ground conductivity in this area was the best in the North American Continent. Needless to say no problems were encountered in establishing IFR authority. Some changes in frequencies were necessary to eliminate interference, but this was a minor problem compared to the others we had faced.

One or two facilities have been added or moved since that time to improve enroute coverage or for let-down purposes. With that, the company’s airway system was complete. It has been determined that Frontier is flying about 75 percent of the time on its own airways and the remaining 25 percent on Federal Airways. Some relief is now being obtained from the CAA’s new 5 year program. Some of the new VOR facilities being installed are being located where Frontier can make use of them. It now appears that Frontier will be able to discontinue several of the 25 facilities it now operates. This does not mean that we will be out of the navigation facility business in the foreseeable future. There are new routes pending which will require facilities and many will be retained on the present system for enroute navigation or for let-down procedures. For many years to come we will be operating facilities in order to provide reliable, safe air service to numerous small communities. One of the reasons for this is that the CAA still has no program to install facilities for Frontier. The facilities now being installed are to transcontinental airways and any use we get from them is more or less coincidental.

The maintenance of this system has been quite a task. This was especially true in the early years when no standby facilities were provided. A serious problem arose when one of the facilities failed. Naturally all night and IFR operation was stopped. Many times some one was required to drive distances of 100 to 300 miles to the facility so that it could be repaired as soon as possible. Later the company was able to install standby equipment and, at some sites, auxiliary power supplies. This helped considerably to relive the pressure and provided much more reliable service.

At the present time, three men are assigned for maintaining ground radio facilities. This includes the station communication equipment as well as the navigation facilities. Two trucks are provided for transportation for these men since half of the navigation facilities are installed at remote locations. Each facility is given a routine maintenance inspection at least once every 60 days.

Numerous itinerant aircraft operators flying in Frontier’s area have made arrangements with the company for use of these facilities. They are required to be equipped to talk to Frontier’s communication stations on the company’s VHF frequency and to give Frontier’s Flight Control a copy of their flight plan. In this way we are able to coordinate flight operations for the safety of all concerned.

And the FLamily
to the four winds!
We are getting back together!
Jake Lamkins