AIRMAIL CREATES AN INDUSTRY:
Jack Knight's airmail odyssey illustrates the
determination of those early aerial pioneers. Knight was originally
scheduled to fly just one leg of the first day and night-time
transcontinental airmail trip. He left North Platte, Nebraska,
flying the mail eastward to Omaha well after dark. About midnight,
near Kearney, Nebraska, he encountered snow, but kept on course
to his destination.
Landing at Omaha by the light of burning gasoline
drums placed along the runway, Knight found that the relief
pilot refused to continue west to Chicago through the storm.
Knight, his nose broken in a airplane crash the week before,
volunteered to take the flight. He took off for Chicago at
2 a.m. with only a road map to guide him over terrain he had
With deep snow preventing a landing at Des Moines,
Iowa, Knight put down at an emergency landing site at Iowa
City, using the light of railroad flares set out by the field's
night watchman. Knight refueled and took off again, heading
toward Lake Michigan, which would serve as a "landmark"
for him to find Chicago. When the snow stopped, the fog began.
with daybreak, the fog burned off and Lake Michigan was in
sight. When Knight finally landed at Chicago's Checkerboard
Field he was greeted by a throng of people who had gathered
to see if the daring young pilot would finish his remarkable
flight. His mail was relayed onto Cleveland and then New York,
finally arriving 33 hours and 20 minutes after leaving San
Francisco. Jack Knight was a national hero. He saved the first
continuous coast-to-coast airmail flight from certain failure.
On February 24, 1921, the New
York Times ran an article trumpeting Knight's
triumphant flight. Subtitled, "Pilot Tells of Flight
in Dark Through Snow and Fog," the article called Jack
Knight the "hero of the coast-to-coast mail flight."
The article quotes Knight's reaction to the end of the
flight as "I feel fine, except that I need some eats
and some sleep."
Knight then described his historic flight to
the reporter. "I got tangled up in the fog and snow
a little bit. Once or twice I had to go down and mow some
trees to find out where I was, but it did not amount to much,
except for all that stretch between Des Moines and Iowa City.
Say, if you ever want to worry your head, just try to find
Iowa City on a dark night with a good snow and fog hanging
around. Finding Chicago, -- why that was a cinch. I could
see it a hundred miles away by the smoke. But Iowa City –
well, that was tough."
Knight's official report was more specific.
"Left North Platte at 10:44 p.m., cloudy, moon shining
intermittently from behind broken cloud layers, but had no
particular trouble following course through use of compass
and occasional glimpses of ground and river. Arrived Omaha
1:10 a.m., left 1:59 a.m. Delay at Omaha due to studying route
Omaha to Chicago, which I had never flown. Visibility fair
until about Des Moines, where I encountered fog and snow flurries
lasting to Iowa City. Lost ten minutes at Iowa City locating
town and field and remained there until I got weather report
from Chicago, as weather was bad. Between Iowa City and Chicago
the weather was bad until about 2:30 a.m., when it began improving
slowly and was comparatively clear at 5 in the morning."
In another article published that day by the
Times, the postal service was praised for attempting the revolutionary
service. Praeger took the opportunity to bask in the reflected
glory and announced that by May 1, 1921, "night flying
will be regularly established along the New York – San
Francisco route, and mail between San Francisco and New York
will be delivered in approximately 36 hours, covering the
the whole distance across the continent."
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