Notes from the Past

Early History of the American Air Mail Service - Part VIII

Air Mail Service goes Civilian

Early in June, 1918, Major Fleet, the first officer in charge of military operations of the Air Mail Service, went on to other duties.  He was replaced by Captain Ben Lipsner, his second-in-command.

The Army continued to fly the mail until Saturday, August 10, when it became a civilian operation.  It was during this period that the Jennys were replaced by Curtiss R-4 on the New York to Philadelphia runs.  This plane had a more powerful Liberty 400 hp engine.

A major achievement of the military pilots was their courageous challenge of the weather.  They learned to fly the mail in all kinds of weather.  Had they been less daring, the evolution of the Air Mail Service and commercial aviation would have been slowed considerably.  James Edgerton, for example, forced his way through a violent weather system during which his propellor was damaged by hail.  As a result the cadre of pilots learned more about the capabilities of their aircraft.

The Army compiled an impressive record in the nearly three months which it operated the Air Mail Service.  254 legs were flown over 28,000 route miles.  Only 16 forced landings had to be made (each pilot had at least one) and there was no loss of life or serious injury as a result.  98% of the scheduled trips were completed.

To be Continued.

 Posted April 7, 2000

Editor's Note:  This series will draw on Donald B. Holmes' Air Mail -- an illustrated history 1793-1981 which is an exceptional piece of philatelic literature and The American Air Mail Catalogue Vol. 1 published by the American Air Mail Society.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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