No Old, Bold, Pilots
Don't be a show-off.
Never be too proud to turn back. There are old pilots and
bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.
E. Hamilton Lee, 1949
To keep to the all-powerful schedule, airmail
pilots had to fly in the face of challenges that other pilots
could refuse. Airmail pilots were expected to keep to the
schedule, regardless of inconveniences such as bad weather,
from fog to blizzards. It was more than the love of flying
that drew a special type of person into the Air Mail Service.
Airmail pilots could be showboats, but for most, flying the
mail was risky enough without pushing one's luck.
Added to the uncertainty of the service was
its newness. The routes were new, and landing fields newly
built. Instruments were often unreliable, and the airplanes themselves
often not up to the rigorous demands of continuous landings
carried themselves with certainty and a sense of bravado.
More than one pilot climbed out of a crash with a broken nose,
bruised ribs, or cuts and bruises, only to climb back into the next airplane available, heading back out to finish a trip or returning the next day to do it all over again.
With such odds against them, it might be considered
remarkable that more pilots did not die in the service. Of over
200 pilots hired between
1918 and 1926 thirty-five died flying the mail. The service gained an ominous nickname among the
nation's aviators as a "suicide club" for