AIRMAIL CREATES AN INDUSTRY:
NY - Chicago
Armed with lessons learned form past mistakes,
Praeger decided to open the New York – Chicago flyway
in two parts. The relatively easy air route between Cleveland
and Chicago would open first, and the dangerous and unpredictable
New York – Cleveland portion second.
James C. Edgerton, Chief of Flying, set about
to hire the best pilots possible. Lack of flying jobs after
the end of World War I led to an inundation of applications.
Airmail pilots had to have at least 400, preferably 500 hours
of flight experience under their belts. But, that did not
stop just about anyone with any flight experience at all from
The de Havilland airplanes were transformed
from military purpose craft to mail airplanes. Field managers
worked to ensure their fields were useable and kept up. Pilots
practiced landings, takeoffs and familiarized themselves
with the new routes.
On May 15, 1919, Eddie Gardner, who had made
the only moderately successful Chicago – New York trip
during the path-finding tests, took off from Cleveland with
the west-bound mail, landing in Chicago three hours and 50
minutes later. Aided by favorable winds, pilot Trent Fry carried
the mail from Chicago to Cleveland in three hours, 13 minutes.
The fist casualty of the new route was Frank
McCusker. He died after jumping from his airplane on May 25,
1919 when it caught fire in midair.
Earl White had the honor of flying the west-bound
mail out of Belmont Park, New York when the New York –
Cleveland route opened on July 1, 1918. White took off at
5:15 a.m. for Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The mail was carried
from Bellefonte to Cleveland by Max Miller, and from Cleveland
to Chicago by Ira Biffle, who landed there just under nine
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- Chicago Route.