History of Rock Springs Flight Service

Last updated 01/29/11

Submitted by Casper AFSS, Wyoming. 
Marilyn Maines (retired 2001) is author of the following history.  She spent many hours researching data at the local Casper library.  Marilyn,  thank you for caring.

Rock Springs FSS (RKS), Wyoming

History 
Page

Facility Photos

Rock Springs FSS opened in 1920 and operated continuously for 70 years.  Originally established by the Post Office Department as one of the first beacon stations on the transcontinental air mail route, Rock Springs later was commissioned by the Civil Aeronautics Authority as one of the first five FSS's in the U.S. Air Mail Radio Stations, also called Beacon Stations, along the Central Division of the Air Mail Service route from Cheyenne to Salt Lake City were located at Cheyenne, Laramie, Medicine Bow, Cherokee (about 20 miles west of Rawlins), Rock Springs, Bitter Creek, and Knight (near Evanston).  The beacon stations provided current weather information and local field condition reports to air mail pilots operating open cockpit aircraft which were challenged by the high terrain and treacherous weather associated with the Rock Mountains.

Rock Springs was a terminal landing field with non-glare electric boundary lights placed 150 feet apart around the landing area.  Eight thousand feet of cable was trenched in to connect the lights.  The station also maintained a 36-inch arc light (searchlight) of 500,000,000 candle power to illuminate the landing field.  At 25 mile intervals, 500,000 candle power rotating airway beacons were operated by attendants on duty every night to ensure safety for the air mail pilots in case of emergency landings.  The beacon at Rock Springs was 1,000 ft. above the landing field on White Mountain.

The Air Mail Service used excess aircraft and aircraft parts available after the war.  Daring pilots had to traverse the east-west terrain of southern Wyoming without supplemental oxygen.  Personnel at the beacon stations were on duty to monitor the comings and going of aircraft landing at Rock Springs to transfer mail from one "air ship" to another.  Almost from the beginning, air mail delivery was a success.  On Sunday, October 12, 1924, 1,130 pounds of mail cleared east and west from the Rock Springs field.  Coast-to-coast air mail service took between 55 and 60 hours while rail time on the transcontinental run was 90 hours if there were no delays.

In 1921 the Rock Springs airport was located near White Mountain.  In November 1930 a new $45,000.00 hangar was dedicated at the new out-of-town location.  The new hangar would accommodate two 18-passenger airplanes and had a "modernly equipped" waiting room.  The airport and beacon station were busy immediately due to their location on the lowest topographical east-west route through the Rocky Mountains.  Early aviators needed this lower terrain route due to their physical limitations in an open cockpit aircraft.

In 1965 the current airport terminal was built, the runway was lengthened to 10,000 feet, and the new brick building that housed the FSS and Airway Facilities was finished.  Scheduled airline service was provided to meet air travel demands during the oil boom.  By the late 1970's air traffic services had increased so much that Rock Springs FSS was upgraded to a Level II FSS with the journeyman grade of GS-10.  Rock Springs FSS had nine Wyoming airports and one Utah airport in its flight plan area.  This large number of public-use airports and the four radio navigation aids were good indicators of the complexity of the airway structure of immediate concern to Rock Springs FSS.  They had the responsibility to monitor the navigation aids, advise maintenance crews of malfunctions, and disseminate information on abnormal operations to pilots.

Rock Springs, Rawlins, and Laramie have always been major stops for cross-country flights between the west coast and Oshkosh, WI, as homebuilt and experimental aircraft make the annual trip to the Experimental Aircraft Associations world-class aviation event.  Rock Springs is also a turning or stopping point in the Jackpot Air Race from Lander, WY, to Reno, NV, which has been held each April since 1969.

Special events and people are numerous in Rock Springs FSS's history.  During the early 1940's the military put Spitfires on skis and made training flights between Rock Springs and Fort Bridger, WY, because of the ample snow for ski landings.  The Spitfires were to be used in Norway during the war.  June 1, 1930 Amelia Earhart Putman in her "horizontal-windmill flying machine dropped almost vertically from the sky above Airport Rock Springs".  During an interview, she declared her autogiro was a practical, scientific, and safe means of air transportation.  Military mustangs, civilian tri-motors, and foreign military jets have all landed at Rock Springs for weather briefings or to wait-out adverse weather.

For many flight service specialists, Rock Springs was their first assignment.  Some people arrived as trainees, checked-out as specialists and remained for 33 years, but most moved on the other facilities.  Early Operational personnel arriving at "the Rock" were required to send and receive International Morse Code at a rate of 30 wpm, operate the teletypewriter at 50 wpm, and read Baudot tape at 10 wpm.  Some additional duties involved climbing 130 foot tall radio towers to change burned out light bulbs, maintaining radio transmitters and receivers, cleaning and oiling teletype equipment, and in the early days, lighting smudge pots that lined the runway.  Over its 70-year history, from the first Field Manager, Mr. C.V. Krebs, to the last Manger, Mr. Joe Kruljac, Rock Springs operated 24-hours a day.  Rock Springs was the switching station between Salt Lake City and Denver Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC) in the 1930-1940's.  ARTCC's did not have air-ground capabilities then so clearances and flight plan changes were handled by communication stations like Rock Springs.

Air-ground radio communications were added to the duties of the specialists long after Rock Springs opened.  When Rock Springs FSS closed five specialists were providing hourly weather observations, airport advisories, inflight radio communications, preflight pilot weather briefings, and search-and-rescue assistance.  Few specialist who endured the -80 degree wind chill factor they experienced while outside taking a weather observation for the FAA or one of its predecessors have forgotten their time at Rock Springs FSS.

Rock Springs Flight Service closed on September 31, 1991.


Can you help?  We want to build a Flight Service historical page.  Do you have access to any old photos related to Flight Service buildings, equipment, personnel, history, or other related historical data?

 

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