Leary, 1985, US Air Mail Service, 1918-1927

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William M Leary. 1985. Aerial Pioneers. The U.S. Air Mail Service, 1918-1927. Smithsonian Institution Press. 309pp.

  • This book is described as well-researched and clear in the review by Joseph Corn in the Journal of American History, pages 499-500 (but I don't see which issue). I'm drawing from that review which is concise, clear, and informative.
  • The US Air Mail Service started air mail deliveries with one flight a day between DC and NYC on May 15, 1918. The Post Office Department administered it and provided airfields. The US Army supplies planes, pilot, and mechanics. The effort collapsed within 4 months partly because the person in charge, assistant postmaster general Otto Praeger, wanted to build a reputation for reliability and persuade the public to pay, therefore pushed for the service to operate in bad weather. The military brass didn't want to risk lives to deliver mail. The Post Office itself flew the mail until in 1928 airlines started to be contracted to do it.
  • Uncertainty and danger: pilots faced dangers from fragile planes, unreliable single engines, and many takeoffs and landings because the planes's range was short. Flights at night or in bad weather were dangerous because navigational equipment was limited. The Post Office sponsored research, resulting in compasses in cockpits, radio directional finders, beacons, and airfield lighting.
  • 34 Air Mail Service pilots were killed in 10 years. The book discusses the crashes in detail.
  • The service flew nearly 7 million flight miles, and delivered 224 million letters.
  • Air Mail Service officials had to lobby annually to get a budget
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