This coming September volunteer private pilots will retrace the 2,560 mile transcontinental air mail route established by the US Post Office in 1920.
Online PR News – 26-August-2020 – Omaha, NE – Above entrance to the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue are chiseled the words “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” They are taken from Herodotus’ “The Persian Wars” written sometime around 425 BC. When the 8th Avenue Post Office opened to the public on Labor Day 1914, few imagined that the phrase would also be applied to air mail pilots just 4 short years later. After all, it’s one thing to deal with snow, rain or gloom with your feet firmly planted on the ground. It’s quite another to deal with it in a primitive mail plane skimming Allegheny mountain ridges shrouded in thick fog. There’s a reason the pilots called it “Hell’s Stretch."
In the near-decade that the United States Post Office operated the world’s largest government-run air mail service (1918-1927), it employed some 200 pilots, 34 of whom gave their lives to honor those engraved words, often in fiery, bone-crushing crashes, usually due to blinding snow and rain, as well as the gloom of night by 1921. But in the process, their sacrifices not only inspired legends but more importantly spurred technological innovation that would thrust the nation into the forefront of aeronautical engineering and leadership in safe, reliable, fast commercial aviation.
This coming September 8-11, 2020 will mark the 100 anniversary of the start of Post Office transcontinental air mail service linking the East and West Coasts. To commemorate that historic event, a group of volunteer private pilots, flying their personal aircraft, will retrace the original 2,560 mile route, which as in 1920 is organized into 15 segments, each some 200 miles long and stretching across the midriff of the country. Along the way, they will be collecting hundreds of commemorative postcards sent by Scout troops from communities that once hosted the 16 airfields set up by the Post Office. While most of those airfields have long since disappeared, the land repurposed for other uses, a few still remain: Iowa City, North Platte, Cheyenne, Salt Lake, Elko, Sacramento.
“The first flight departs at 7AM from Republic Airport on Long Island. Its destination is Bellefonte, PA,” explains AirMail100 event coordinator, Bill Moore, based in Omaha, NE, also site of one of the early air mail fields. “That plane will be met by another that will take over the mailbags and fly them on to Middlefield, OH. Working in relay, adding more postcards and letters along the way, the entire project will, as it was in 1920, take 4 days, with overnight stops in Joliet, Cheyenne and Carson City.”
The plan is to turn over the collected mail to the postmaster in San Francisco on the exact date, time and location as in 1920. A special cancellation stamp has been created for the occasion. A similar one is being prepared in New York.
“In total, we have some 40 pilots who volunteered to fly one or more of the legs,” says Moore. “We are very pleased with the response, especially because the complications COVID-19 has posed to a project of this type. People have been great. I think they see their participation as a way to become a small part of history and to pay their respects to our predecessors. We all have benefited from what they achieved.”
The public can follow the progress of the relay over the entire 4 days on the AirMail100.com website under the ‘Flight Follow’ tab.