PILOT STORIES: Max Miller
In October 1918, Flying Magazine featured an
article by Miller describing life as an airmail pilot, including
this description of a foggy flight between New York and Chicago
in early September 1918:
I climbed up through the fog again and
went on over the mountains. I sailed on my compass course
for an hour, 283 degrees, and I figured I was about 100
miles further on. Then I came down to see where I was and
get my bearings, and the first thing I knew I hit the top
of a tree. That sure gave me a good scare. I hustled back
up again into the fog, determined to get plenty of altitude
and keep on going as long as my gas held out.
Later that year, Miller stood by the man who
had originally hired him for the service when Lispner resigned
from the service. Lipsner and Otto Praeger, who was in charge
of service, were equally exasperated with each other, and
in December 1918, Lipsner publicly and loudly resigned from
the service. On December 6, 1918, Miller wrote to Praeger
of his support for Lipsner, noting that "it is obvious
that I use my best judgment and take the stand of handing
herewith my resignation." Praeger jotted a note on the
letter that the resignation was accepted on that date. Both
Miller and Praeger reconsidered their decisions, and Miller
returned to the service.
April 21, 1919, Miller reported a forced landing he had made
at Unionville, Pennsylvania in de Havilland DH-4 airmail airplane,
number 64. "The motor was working perfectly when tested
on the ground and also during flight, until it went to pieces,
without any warning or indication of trouble. I had an altitude
of about 8,000 ft. The oil pressure was between 35 and 40
and temperature out of the hood and I immediately put the
ship in a nose dive intending to land in the river near Unionville.
"I could not see anything for smoke, but
cut the switches and turned off the gas while coming down.
After diving about 5,000 ft. the smoke began to clear away
and I could see better.
"The smoke was mostly from the oil, but
the carburetor had evidently been burning and was extinguished
by the dive." Miller managed to land safely, and although
the engine and one side of the fuselage were damaged, the
rest of the airplane was unharmed.
Miller experienced a few other forced landings,
but for the most part he continued flying the mail without
incident until his fatal crash on September 1, 1920. This
time, he was unable to put out a fire in the airplane.
A pilot sent to Hazelhurst, New York, to investigate
Miller's crash telegrammed his findings to Praeger the
next day. "Visited wreck of 305 yesterday. Arrived one
o'clock. Found Scanlon and Whitebeck [two airmail managers]
with trucks. Accident was on farm two miles southwest of Morristown,
New Jersey From farmers who were spectators. airplane was in trouble
two miles from crash, about 600 feet up. Farmer noticed trouble.
Ship backfiring. Pilot seemed to correct trouble and kept
on. When near crash another farmer saw fire in front. Ship
then just over trees. Suddenly ship pointed straight 60 feet
down and crashed. Fuselage telescoped and tanks burst. Mail
collected sent to New York Post Office by postmaster Morristown.
Bodies removed to undertakers. Remains of ship placed in trucks
from warehouse and everything removed by 3 o'clock.
Stanton went to Morristown last night for Miller's body."
Another friend and pilot, Harold "Slim"
Lewis, telegraphed Praeger about Miller's estate and
wishes. "Miller claimed Bellefonte as his residence.
His estate should be settled in this county. Car could not
be moved without the transfer tax being paid to the state.
I advise having an administrator appointed here to close up
all affairs of the estate. Have wired Cleveland Trust Co.
to find out what balance is. No letters or valuables among
his personal effect here, only few clothes. . . Am doing as
requested while in Washington regarding his personal affairs."
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