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 Post subject: O/T—March 3, 1919: U.S. Starts International Airmail Service
PostPosted: Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:40 am 
Victor IV
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I saw this on Wired and thought it might be of interest to some of our membership and guests that might not otherwise read that site.


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March 3, 1919: U.S. Starts International Airmail Service

By Randy Alfred, posted 4 hours ago in Science : Discoveries


On March 3, 1919, William Boeing (right) and pilot Eddie Hubbard flew the first letters for U.S. international airmail delivery in this Boeing Model C.
Photo: Boeing

1919: The United States starts international airmail delivery by flying 60 letters from Vancouver, British Columbia to Seattle. In the cockpit: Bill Boeing.

In one sense, the earliest airmail was flown on balloons. The very first balloon flight in the United States is said to have carried a letter from tech-positive President George Washington to the owner of whatever property the balloon might land on.

Italy began experimenting with heavier-than-air planes carrying airmail in 1908 and issued air mail postage officially in May 1917. In the meantime, in 1911 the British Indian Empire flew 6,500 letters and cards the underwhelming distance of 6 miles.

Regular international airmail service in Europe took off in 1918, with a regular London-Paris link connecting World War I allies Britain and France, and a Vienna-Kiev route serving Austria and Russia.

Back in the U.S.A., the took over airmail delivery from the U.S. Army Air Service (forerunner of the Army Air Corps and eventually the U.S. Air Force) in August 1918. The first Post Office pilots were paid $4,000 a year (about $49,000 in today's money).

The following March 3, pilot Eddie Hubbard and airplane-builder Bill Boeing carried 60 letters over the border from Vancouver to Seattle in a Boeing Model C. Hubbard was soon piloting a Boeing B-1 flying boat for regular delivery between Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia. He eventually put in 350,000 miles flying that route for eight years.

Flying was dangerous. Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger wasn't a pilot, but insisted his pilots stick to the schedule. More than half the first 40 postal pilots died in air crashes, mostly because of bad weather.

When pilots Leon Smith and and Ham Lee refused direct orders from Praeger to take off during some nasty weather in July 1919, both were fired. All the other pilots went out on strike.

After three days of talks, new rules specified that postal field managers had to fly a brief inspection flight to check the weather. If they didn't know how to pilot a plane, they had to sit in the mailbox in front of the pilot. The managers learned how to be reasonable about balancing the weather and the schedule.

Postal planes started flying transcontinental relays in 1920. Pilots flew by day, using visible landmarks to guide them. They'd land at dusk and transfer their bags of mail to overnight trains. The following morning, the mail was re-transferred back to another plane for another day's worth of flight. The system cut transcontinental mail-delivery time from 4½ days by rail to 33 hours by the air-and-rail relay.

Night flights became practical in 1924, with a transcontinental airway of rotating beacon lights and well-illuminated emergency airstrips. Airmail cost 8 cents (about a buck in today's cash) to travel one of the three zones, or 24 cents for a cross-country trip.

Source: Centennial of Flight Commission

(Quoted from Wired.)
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