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Airport beacon tower gets structural evaluation

A longtime Mitchell landmark -- in the literal sense of the word -- has been getting a closer look. The tower at the Mitchell Municipal Airport, which dates back to the 1940s when the airport was a military airbase, received a structural evaluati...

A longtime Mitchell landmark - in the literal sense of the word - has been getting a closer look.

The tower at the Mitchell Municipal Airport, which dates back to the 1940s when the airport was a military airbase, received a structural evaluation earlier this fall. Formerly, the tower was used for water, but today, it houses a large beacon for incoming planes.

Airport Manager Mike Scherschligt said he thought it was time to make sure the city knew what kind of condition the tower is still in after all of these years.

"Really, it came from a couple of years ago, when you'd hear about on the news with bridges and roads collapsing and giving away," Scherschligt said. "I began to think, 'It's 70 years old and we should probably look at it.'"

Scherschligt said the review has been good from the engineers who have looked at the tower.

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"There's not really anything that we have to be too concerned about. It may look like it's leaning or something like that, but it's not," Scherschligt joked.

In the future, the goal is for the airport to get a new beacon but there's no timeline on that. The airport qualifies for a new beacon to be placed on the center of the airfield, and eventually the old tower will be abandoned.

"We hope to have what's called a midfield beacon, which will be a lot lower beacon and when it's installed, it will do a lot more shining up than it will do shining out," he said.

Scherschligt described the current tower and beacon as being kind of "half-beacon, half-lighthouse" when it was first constructed.

"But with what avionics are today, there's stuff on the field that brings pilots in during weather when you can't see your hand in front of your face," he said.

Today, far more light comes off the neighboring South Dakota National Guard Armory location than from the airport.

"Now that we have that guard base here, they overshadow that 100 times," Scherschligt said. "We hear pilots all the time that say, 'All we have to do is find that light, and we'll be good.'"

The airport was constructed in 1937 and then rebuilt again in 1943 by the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, where heavy bomber training was conducted for B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers. Training ended at the facility in 1944 and it was returned to civil use after the war. Officials believe the tower has been at the airport pretty much that entire time.

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Although he remembers the beacon and the tower from when he was young, Scherschligt admitted he's not real sentimental about the tower.

"I would just as soon see it gone and have a new beacon," he said. "At some point, when we have the money, we'll want to get rid of it and that would be the most sensible thing ... but for now, rather than not looking at it, we decided to at least have a look at it. We can't have something that's overlooked."

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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