AIRMAIL CREATES AN INDUSTRY:
The Army Takes Command
On February 7, 1934, Postmaster General Farley
publically announced the airmail investigation was underway
and he and President Roosevelt were committed to ensuring
that public interests were protected in the end. The action
President Roosevelt took was the cancellation of all domestic
On February 9, 1934, Major General Benjamin
D. Foulois, Chief of the Army Air Corps, was asked to meet
with representatives of the Post Office Department and Commerce
Department. Foulois was asked if the army could handle the
U.S. airmail service. Foulois replied that yes, he believed
they could. Army brass saw an opportunity to promote the Army
Air Corps at a time it was in a peacetime lull.
Roosevelt announced that the contracts would be suspended
effective midnight February 19, 1934. he followed that with
issuance of Executive Order 6591 that ordered the Postmaster
General, Secretary of War and Secretary of Commerce to cooperate
on a replacement airmail service. The War Department was ordered
to place at the Postmaster General's disposal "such
air airplanes, landing fields, pilots and other employees and
equipment of the Army of the United States needed or required
for the transportation of mail during the present emergency,
by air over routes and schedules prescribed by the Postmaster
Air transport companies privately complained
that without the 70 percent revenues they received from airmail
contracts, they would be finished. Some even filed legal action
against the government, to no effect. The Army hurried to
meet its deadline, readying pilots and airplanes across the U.S.
According to testimony given by General Foulois
on February 14 before the House Post Office Committee, he
took several steps to prepare the Army Air Corps for this
"My first move was to get full control
of every aircraft unit of the Army in the United States. I
organized in my office as complete an air-division unit as
possible. I designated three zones in the United States after
conference with the Post Office officials as to the particular
lines they wished to put into operation immediately. . . .
I divided the country into the eastern zone, central zone,
and the western zone. Headquarters of the eastern zone is
at Newark, headquarters of the central zone is at Chicago,
and headquarters of the western zone is at Salt Lake City.
Three officers were immediately designated to take charge
of those zones. They were immediately notified of the unit
stations established within these zones that came under their
complete control. Having determined from the Post Office Department
the initial lines they wished to start operating as of February
19, we immediately made a distribution of aircraft available
in each zone, and moved aircraft from one zone to another
in order to have uniform type of aircraft with uniform speed
in each zone, so that we could maintain as near as practicable
the schedules now biding maintained by commercial lines. All
of the Air Corps is being utilized at the present time to
put this project into effect by February 19. Personnel and
airplanes have been moving into positions since February 10.
They should all be in position today. Commencing today and
up to the first schedule run on February 10, each of these
zone commanders will run trial flights over the lines that
are to go into effect on the 19th.
We have assigned to this work the most experienced
pilots in the Army Air Service. We have had a great deal of
experience in flying at night, and in flying in fogs and bad
weather, in blind flying, and in flying under all other conditions.
We have not had the actual experience of flying over these
scheduled routes, but we feel that after three or four days
of preliminary flying over those routes, we shall experience
no difficulty in maintaining the regular schedules.
My thought is that this operation is going to
be a great benefit to our pilots and personnel. It is a wonderful
opportunity to build a really good organization for an emergency."
The U.S. Army Air Corps' take over was
anything but the success General Foulois had predicted. Their
unfamiliarity with the postal operations and procedures, the
lack of funds, and extremely bad weather conditions combined
to set the attempt up for failure.
Sixty Air Corps pilots swore oaths as postal
employees in preparation for the service. Almost immediately
tragedy struck. Three army pilots were killed on test flights.
Three more pilots were killed in following days. World War
I aviation legend Eddie Rickenbacker referred to the service
now as "legalized murder."
The Army lost ten men flying the mail in less
than one million miles. On March 10, President Roosevelt called
a halt to the Army's attempt, asking them only to fly
under completely safe conditions. The Army argued that to
ensure complete safety they would have to end all flights.
The President decided to call a halt to the service on March
The Army began flying the mail again on March
19, 1934. They maintained curtailed schedules through May
8, 1934, at which time temporary contracts with private companies
were put into effect. Two more Army pilots died before the
service's last official flight on June 6, 1934.
In their short time of flying the mail, the
Army Air Corps service had logged 12 fatalities in 57 accidents.
They had carried 777,389 pieces of mail over 1,590,155 miles.
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The Army Takes