AIRMAIL CREATES AN INDUSTRY:
By the time postal service pilots were making
their first coast-to-coast flights, the Air Mail Service
had already helped develop and refine aviation tools. Because
pilots were required to fly in almost all weather conditions,
compasses were critical to their survival. Unfortunately,
the compasses used on early mail airplanes were dangerously
unreliable. They tested new compasses, working to find one
suitable when flying north, as well as east or west, one
that was not diverted by metal in the airplane.
Pilots and officials worked to ensure better
fire protection systems for the pilots and their cargo.
Mechanics and pilots constantly tinkered with and improved
their flight instrumentation systems. At the same time,
Air Mail Service officials were on the lookout for design
and engineering improvements that would ensure the safety,
speed and reliability of mail airplanes.
Even before the first official flights of
May 15, 1918, Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger
was experimenting with the use of radio to maintain contact
between pilots and the ground. The experiments continued
through fits and starts and budget cuts before finally becoming
part of the service in 1925.
forecasts were critical to pilots plans. Calling farmers or
field managers along the route was a typical way of determining
conditions, one that certainly needed improvement. On December
1, 1918, the U.S. Weather Bureau used ground and weather balloon
data to provide their first forecast to airmail pilots flying
between New York and Chicago.
By far the most critical innovation to the
success of the Air Mail Service was the use of beacons to
open up the transcontinental flyway to night flights. Between
1923 and 1927, the Post Office Department erected 616 airmail
beacons between New York and San Francisco.