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AIRMAIL CREATES AN INDUSTRY: Creating a Nocturnal Flyway

To prove the usefulness of airmail service to Congress and the public, Otto Praeger decided to fly airmail day and night along the transcontinental flyway. Night flying had long been considered dangerous, even impossible. Early pilots expressed concerns that they would not be able to find their way without relying on landmarks. Many believed that flying at night would be akin to flying "blind" and a pilot would not be able to tell up from down.

In preparation for the service, the Post Office Department set out to use a series of beacons and field lights over part of the route. The plan called for two airplanes to leave from each coast and for the mail to make the across country trip in 36 hours. The trips had to be undertaken quickly, in order to get the financial support from Congress needed to keep airmail service viable. Praeger set the trips up for February 22-23, 1921.

Wretched weather halted the west-bound mail airplanes at Dubois, Pennsylvania and Chicago. The east-bound mail had an even more troubling start. The pilot of one airplane, William Lewis, was killed when his airplane stalled after takeoff from Elko, Nevada. The second east-bound airplane continued with its mail, and mail from Lewis' airplane was forwarded as well. The mailbags made it as far as Omaha, Nebraska early in the morning of February 23. By the time the mail reached that city, it was cold, the middle of a dark night, and pilots knew from weather reports that the weather east was so bad it had trapped at least one west-bound pilot in Chicago. The Air Mail Service desperately needed a hero. It found one in those early morning hours in pilot James "Jack" Night.

Click here to go back to the Short Summary of Creating a Nocturnal Flyway.

An airplane on Hadley Field at night Employee working with a floodlight
  Night airmail service airplane
Click on the photos to view a larger image.

(top left) DH-4 at night

(top right) Mobile field flood light

(bottom right) Night airmail service August 2, 1925
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