Microsoft Flight Simulator has opened the gates for the recreation of countless historic aviation moments with unprecedented detail. From high-fidelity, photorealistic aircraft and airports to the opportunity to enjoy all of this in a sandbox that genuinely resembles the real world, the possibilities are endless for creators to replicate in the virtual realm all of the great inventions and events that have marked history since the dawn of flight.
Today, we’re sharing with you one of the most interesting projects that fully leverages what MSFS has to offer. “Arrows Across America” is a remarkable freeware add-on that revives a unique and nearly forgotten aspect of aviation history: the visual navigation system developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce between 1926 and 1934. These concrete arrows and beacons, once crucial for guiding early air mail pilots, are meticulously recreated to provide an immersive historical experience for MSFS users.
“Arrows Across America” resurrects a nearly lost chapter of American aviation history. In the late 1920s, the United States Department of Commerce embarked on an ambitious project to support the burgeoning Contract Air Mail (CAM) system. Their solution was both simple and ingenious: a network of 51-foot concrete arrows, accompanied by 50-foot masts bearing flashing beacons, placed approximately every ten miles along various air mail routes. This rudimentary yet effective system spanned across the United States, marking 34 CAM routes that crisscrossed the nation.
These arrows and beacons played a pivotal role in the development of aerial navigation during an era when flight instruments were rudimentary, and pilots largely relied on visual cues for navigation. By day, the arrows guided pilots across the vast and varied American landscapes; by night, the beacons’ flashing lights provided vital waypoints.
This system significantly enhanced safety and efficiency for air mail pilots, who often faced challenging weather and navigation conditions. The historical significance of this navigation system lies not just in its role in the development of air mail services, but also in its contribution to the broader field of aviation navigation, setting the stage for the sophisticated systems we rely on today.
Development for MSFS
“Arrows Across America” started in early 2022, and since then, the development team has been dedicated to accurately recreating these historical air mail routes and their unique navigation aids, with a keen eye for detail and authenticity. The current version (v3) includes over 3,800 miles of air mail routes:
- Version 1: The maiden release of the addon focused on the CAM5 route, stretching from Salt Lake City to Pasco, covering a distance of 543 miles.
- Version 2: Added the CAM32 route, a 333-mile stretch connecting Portland to Spokane.
- Version 3: The latest iteration, version 3, marks a significant expansion in the addon’s scope and features. It introduces four new routes:
- CAM4: Los Angeles to Salt Lake City (630 miles)
- CAM8: San Diego to Seattle (1,166 miles)
- The western leg of CAM18: San Francisco to Chicago, extending to Salt Lake City (618 miles)
- CAM26: Great Falls to Salt Lake City (516 miles)
In addition to these new routes, version 3 brings to life new hubs at Salt Lake City and Reno, introduces new animated hangar designs with route-specific CAM contractor branding, period vehicles, and adds several new arrow types. The addon now features a total of 47 Intermediate Landing Fields.
Besides all of the above, the package now includes an updated 57-page manual complete with route maps and historical weather overviews for the new states. Use of METAR data and weather radars is forbidden… after all, there was no such thing in the 1930s!
Download and Installation
“Arrows Across America” is as easy to get and install as most other MSFS addons. The latest version is available through flightsim.to.
If you’d like to make the whole experience even more realistic, a period-appropriate aircraft like the Boeing Stearman is recommended, especially when painted with a Varney Air Mail livery. This one is available for the DC Designs PT-17 Stearman.
The team behind “Arrows Across America” is committed to continuous improvement and expansion, promising an evolving and enriched experience for users. The developer disclosed to us that there are a number of enhancements already planned for the next phase, namely:
- Extension of CAM18 Route further eastward, from Salt Lake City to Omaha
- Additional Intermediate Landing Fields along the routes
- New hangar designs and scenery objects, with a focus on adding clutter objects appropriate to the era.
- Improvements to v3 vehicles and the addition of new ones
- Enhanced beacon models, including more sophisticated light effects and Morse Code identification lights for each site
A Big American Adventure Awaits You!
If you’re planning your next big adventure in Microsoft Flight Simulator, “Arrows Across America” may be the perfect opportunity to discover the United States while learning more about the impact of aviation in its Golden Age and the challenges pilots faced at the time to traverse large spans of terrain. Besides, it’s a fantastic project that continues to grow and offer new routes to explore with each new update. Definitely worth a look!