Temple Lights Guide Pilots?

I’m curious.  I’ve heard these stories before about the lights from the temple guiding pilots in the night so that they can properly align themselves for landing at a nearby airport.  When the lights aren’t there, the pilots complain and the air traffic control calls the temple wondering why the lights are out.

The latest I heard today was about the Los Angeles temple, and about how one night there was a power failure such that the angel Moroni wasn’t lit.  The temple received a call from the LAX airport tower control asking why the light was out.  They were told that pilots use the light and Moroni as a beacon to guide them in their landing.  The temple workers climbed to the top of the temple and lit the angel with a generator.

I’ve heard this story told now about three different temples – the Las Vegas, the Los Angeles, and the Oakland temple.  Each time the details are slightly different, but the substance is the same.  In some of the versions it is the entire temple which is unlit; in some it is just the angel Moroni.

I was wondering if anyone knows where this story came from, and if any of these are true.  I did some quick searches on LDS.org, but didn’t find anything.

32 Comments

  1. Raven
    Posted December 12, 2008 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Welcome to the wonderful world of LDS folklore! Having worked in the BYU folklore archives, I can tell you that this story has been told numerous times about various temples. I’ve read the documented items collected by students and staff. Does this mean it’s not true? Not necessarily. Somewhere back along the telephone line, it’s possible that this actually happened. Because members of the Church tend to be fans of “faith-promoting rumors”, stories like this one get passed around and it develops variants (different temples, etc.). To give these stories the most impact, people might change the particulars of the story. For instance, they might change the location of the temple to their hometown, or, in the case of this particular variant, to a location where the Church is currently dealing with political and social strife. My bet is that is will be almost impossible to find the original source of this story. You’d have to hear it from the person who spoke on the phone themselves with the airport traffic control people. And that’s the interesting thing about folklore. Most people won’t care if you can’t find the “true” version. It’s a compelling story with a nice nod to the notion of the temple as a beacon of truth (alluding more generally to Christ as the ultimate Beacon) and so it will continue to be told.

  2. JimD
    Posted December 12, 2008 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard similar variants about the Oakland Temple serving as a navigational aid to mariners on San Francisco Bay. I doubt that one’s true–the Temple doesn’t show up on any of the region’s navigational charts, and is actually relatively inconspicuous from the harbor.

  3. Posted December 12, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    The geography in Las Vegas is totally wrong for a pilot to use the temple to line up with the airport from any conceivable approach, even ignoring all the other much brighter and very distinctive light-landmarks. I suspect the same is true of LA and Oakland. It has all the earmarks of a hokey urban legend anyway.

  4. bjw
    Posted December 12, 2008 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard this story quite a bit about the Oakland Temple before, but its been about ships at sea using it as a beacon when the fog is real bad.

  5. Posted December 12, 2008 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    A nice story, but I’m with Ardis. Sounds like a faith-promoting rumor.

    The Mesa temple is not in the flight path for Phoenix Sky Harbor.

  6. Phouchg
    Posted December 12, 2008 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    urban legends.

    The only approach into Las Vegas that even comes close to anywhere in the slightest vicinity of the temple is the “LUXOR 2″ approach (http://204.108.4.16/d-tpp/0812/00662LUXOR.PDF) and even that is well northeast of the temple.

    A pilot would use temple lights to guide them in the sense they would use any other landmark – there is no spiritual significance to which landmarks pilots use for navigation.

  7. Brandon
    Posted December 13, 2008 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    This is a legend. As an airline pilot I can definitely say that temple are not used for navigation. And as stated by other posters, none of the temples mentioned are even close to near the airports they are alleged to have affected.

  8. Posted December 13, 2008 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Same story is told of the London Temple, which is on the direct flightpath of London Gatwick.

  9. Posted December 13, 2008 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Not sure if this is what you are after, but Elder Kenneth Johnson at the BYUH Devotional, September 23, 2004, mentioned about the London Temple being on the flight path for Gatwick Airport.

    “In 1992, following the remodeling and refurbishment of the London Temple, there was intense media interest in the impact of the closure and re-opening on the local community. The Temple is located on the flight path to London’s Gatwick Airport and one of the reporters took the initiative to interview some airline pilots who regularly navigated this route. It was remarkable to read their responses. The light on the pinnacle of the spire had not been illuminated for over two years. They had missed this beacon as it provided them with a landmark that could be referred to with certainty on the planes final descent to the runway. Just as the light on the spire of the Temple helped chart the course for temporal travelers, so Temple covenants provide a light by which we can chart our course in the quest for exaltation. ”

    http://w2.byuh.edu/devotionals/data/View.php?ArticleID=145

  10. Howard
    Posted December 13, 2008 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Temple lights would not be used for a commercial airliner, bizjet or small plane making an instrument approach except possibly as reference, but it could be very useful to small plane pilots flying only by visual rules at night. When it is dark you loose your ground reference making it more difficult to navigate. Local landmarks are often discussed by radio.

  11. Connie
    Posted December 13, 2008 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I found this article that briefly mentions pilots needing the lights on the Oakland Temple to be able to land. Don’t know how accurate it is or if it’s verifiable, but it might be worth looking at.
    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/51040/Oaklands-Temple-Hill–A-beacon-for-members.html

  12. Sporgsmal
    Posted December 13, 2008 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Here is a mention for the Boise Temple filling the role of navigation aide.

    http://www.mormonwiki.com/Boise_Idaho_Temple

    I have read that the Jordan River Temple is a marker on landing pattern maps for the SLC airport.

  13. Posted December 13, 2008 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Thank you all for your comments. It appears there might be some truth to this story, at least in the case of the Oakland and London temples, and maybe some others. Interesting. I suppose any landmark that is well-lit at night might be used as a landmark for pilots to reference.

  14. Phouchg
    Posted December 14, 2008 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    “I have read that the Jordan River Temple is a marker on landing pattern maps for the SLC airport.”

    I checked all the approach routes and runway maps for SLC at airnav.com and it is not listed there.

    It is listed as a landmark on the TAC map, but it is listed as a landmark like Hogle Zoo, KSL towers, and U of U events center are listed – in other words, nothing special.

  15. Posted December 14, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    At the end of our Sunday School class today, our teacher — a man who should know better, for crying out loud, if for no other reason than his position with the church itself, apart from his Sunday callings — told us he wanted to share something very special with us. “Last Tuesday evening, the recorder at the Los Angeles Temple got a call from LA International Airport …” At that point I just about lost it, but made do by crumping the class handout — I can’t trust anything the teacher hands out, after some of the stuff, like this, that he dishes out.

    According to him, not only can airplanes not land in Los Angeles without the aid of the Angel Moroni (which was his “gospel point” — “the world is still looking to the Angel Moroni for guidance”), but also that “ships at sea cannot find the entrance to the harbor at Los Angeles” without the landmark of the temple.

    I have to figure out a way to approach him about this and the other urban legends he so willingly and constantly propagates without his dismissing me as a little girl who needs to rely more on the priesthood, the way he usually dismisses me.

  16. Posted December 14, 2008 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Elder Cordoba is the recorder at the Los Angelos temple and he stated this at our Saratoga stake conference (San Jose, CA) that the airport did indeed call him….and workers did go and light it up with a generator.
    And as far as SanFrancisco goes- they delay flights all the time because of weather- I wouldn’t be surprised if the temple light is useful in some way.

  17. Posted December 15, 2008 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    If you know what you’re looking for you can see the London temple on certain approaches into London’s Gatwick. I always look for it and am pleased to see it when flying into Gatwick.

    They’re putting a new angel Moroni on the London temple sometime this week — it might even be today. We’ll see what the media says about that.

    Bryce, speaking of temples and shining lights — not sure if you picked up on the recent article in November’s National Geographic that used the Bountiful temple as a prime example of . . . light pollution. Looks like not everyone thinks that having brightly lit temples is such a “bright” idea.

  18. Posted December 16, 2008 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Yep, the London temple got a new angel Moroni yesterday. May it guide future pilots for generations to come.

  19. CE
    Posted December 19, 2008 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I just read the Church News article that Connie linked to above. It’s an article on the Oakland temple, with stories from an old-timer from the area. The old-timer said that many years ago, air traffic control once frantically called asking the temple to turn its lights back on. But to me, this sounds like the Church News is merely reporting on someone telling an urban legend.

  20. Posted December 22, 2008 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    There is a similar discussion going on over in the Snopes forums:
    http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?p=832552

  21. JR
    Posted December 30, 2008 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    In the mid fifties when I was nine or ten years old, living in S. California, I heard the story about our newest Los Angeles temple being an aid to Ships at sea. This story is quite plausible considering the fog and low visibility of the coast. However, the beacon to help aircraft land at LAX is questionable.

  22. Arno Copley
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    My mother Gunnel worked at the Oakland temple from 1974 to 1986. During the energy crunch of 1977-78 a decsision was made to turn the lights off at the Oakland temple at night to conserve energy, (just like during droughts the water in the fountains was turned off to avoid the perception of wasting water). From what my mother related fhe Oakland Port Authority which oversees the airport and port of Oakland which is the 3rd busiest port on the west coast, contacted the temple pesidency asking if the lights were turned off because the church could not pay the power bills and offered to pay to keep the lights on at night because airline pilots and ship pilots used the temple on the hill as a becon and a navigation point.

  23. Bradley
    Posted February 5, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Different locations and building codes sometimes require tall structures to have a light on top for a safety measure at night. It may depend on location and nearby structures. The Community of Christ temple in Independence, MO has a light that blinks and there isn’t any taller buildings nearby.

  24. Posted February 6, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that the Bountiful Temple was singled out by National Geographic highlighting light pollution. One of my first posts – over a year ago (http://greenmormonarchitect.blogspot.com/2008/01/light-to-world.html) used the Bountiful Temple as an example of light pollution. Too random to be a coincidence I think…I finally saw a copy of the magazine today and they had a full two-page spread of the temple in the print edition only – not online. In fact there were a surprisingly high number of Utah images and references in the article.

  25. Ken D
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    I have been on several night flights into both San Francisco and Oakland where the pilot came on the overhead speakers and pointed out the lights of the Oakland Temple. I don’t know if they use it to navigate, but some do make note of it being a landmark.

  26. Sterling Siler
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Love your sight! Thanks! We have a question for which we’ve been unable to find an answer; perhaps you’ll help? Which temples remain lit 24 hours? Thanks!

  27. Matt
    Posted February 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I contacted the control tower at the Oakland International Airport and they confirmed that the Oakland Temple is used as a navigational landmark for pilots.

  28. Gerard Cattin
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Flying Victor airway V484 from Twin Falls to SLC2 airport on a VFR flight following, I was asked to descent down from 16,000 feet to 6000 feet and hug the mountain by the Garfield smoke stack South of the Antelope Island, until in sight of the South Valley Regional airport. As I was not seeing the runway, center told me to turn left base when I saw the temple. I did recognize the temple landmark but did not know it was the new Riverton temple.

    I also noted on the SLC sectional that the Jordan River temple is flagged as a valid ground reference point for VFR flights.

    Regarding another flight I did returning from Idaho to Renton airport in Washington state, I ended up flying over the cascade into the night, and with clouds descending, I was finding it more and more difficult to find safe passage across the mountains, when I recognized the familiar steeple of the Seattle temple in the distance. From that point, I established my position and altitude needed. 20 minutes later I landed safely. That incident prompted me to complete my IFR, which turned such incidents into routine, safe flights. So, yes, during night flying for VFR flights, those landmarks can make a big difference as it once did for me.

    The Seattle temple however is not shown on the Seattle sectional. There used to be a Bellevue general aviation airport right next to the temple. This Bellevue airport was unfortunately subsequently sold to a mall/car dealership. While the small airport was in operation, the temple was required to keep a red light at the top of the Angel Moroni steeple to indicate the highest point to arriving and departing aircrafts to that airport. I don’t have a sectional of that time to be able to tell if the temple in those days was a flagged landmark, nor if that airport had an IFR approach which would be affected by the temple steeple being so close.

  29. Posted May 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    We lived in the greater San Francisco bay area in the 1970s, and my my mother told me it was announced from the pulpit during Sacrament Meeting that there was a request for the lights to be left on at the Oakland Temple. This was during the energy crisis and the lights had been turned off in the effort to save electricity. The lights were left on at night following a request from the airport to please turn them back on. …Here’s the story that continues to be published on the Church’s website. So it DOES appear to be true.
    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/51040/Oaklands-Temple-Hill–A-beacon-for-members.html
    I lived in Las Vegas for years, and never heard a similar story about the Vegas temple–to be honest–the temple is not the most highly illuminated landmark in the valley in terms of physical brightness, and common sense might dissipate the probable “urban legend” version of the Vegas temple story, but who knows? It IS the brightest beacon physically and otherwise on the Eastern side of the Vegas valley.

  30. Posted May 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/2002/09/for-each-season-of-my-life?lang=eng
    Read this folks….it’s a legitimate story, and is not BYU folklore. “In response to the energy crisis of the late 1970s, the Oakland California Temple turned many of its outside lights off. Almost immediately the San Francisco Port Authority requested they be relit. The temple is located on a hillside across from the Golden Gate Bridge, which enables its lights to serve as an important reference point for ships navigating into the harbor.”

  31. PMark
    Posted January 2, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I used to fly in and out of San Fransisco Bay area airports all the time. I lived and worked in San Jose, and my job involved a great deal of travel. Often I would have my earphones tuned to the air-traffic channel, and I would listen to the air-traffic chatter. Many are the times I heard a control tower instruct some aircraft to do something (turn left, turn right, level off, whatever) “…at Mormon Temple”. So, yes, I can definitely state from personal experience that the air traffic over the Bay Area does use the Oakland temple as a visual beacon at night. As for any other temple, or the maritime traffic in and out of San Fransisco, I cannot say.

  32. PMark
    Posted January 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I just checked the on-line navigation charts. The Oakland temple is indeed labeled. In fact, it even has its own designation of VPMOR. Google that and you will see plenty of aviation references to it as a fixed navigation point.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By By Common Consent » Zeitcast 2.9 on December 19, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    [...] Zeitcast before we take a mid-season break. This time Amri and Ronan discuss temples as airport beacons, brother-husbands, and the identity of those who inherit the second degree in the celestial [...]

  2. By Zeitcast 2.9 « By Common Consent, a Mormon Blog on February 17, 2009 at 8:40 am

    [...] Zeitcast before we take a mid-season break. This time Amri and Ronan discuss temples as airport beacons, brother-husbands, and the identity of those who inherit the second degree in the celestial [...]

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