PILOT STORIES: Culver
H. Paul Culver made his historic airmail flight between Philadelphia
and New York on May 18, 1918. Culver waited and waited that
day for Lieutenant Boyle to arrive with the mail from Washington,
D.C., not knowing that Boyle had crashed his airplane in Maryland
and the mail was not coming. Culver finally took off for New
York at 2:15 pm, carrying the 200 letters from Philadelphia.
He landed safely at the Belmont Park race track, which was
being used as a temporary airmail field.
May 30, 1918, Culver had a particularly close call when he
flew out one afternoon after waiting all morning for a fog
to lift. With postal officials impatient for the pilots to
keep to the schedule, Culver finally took off at 1pm in the
fog. He was forced to climb to 4,000 feet to get above the
clouds. He tried to track his progress through breaks in the
cloud cover, having an erratic and unreliable compass. When
he thought he was near Philadelphia, he came down to break
under the clouds, breaking free of them at only 800 feet,
directly over downtown Philadelphia. Culver quickly pulled
back up and continued on as best he could to Bustleton airport.
Although the JN-4 "Jenny" was most often used
by the army airmail pilots, the service did experiment with
another airplane. Lieutenant Webb was asked to fly a Curtiss
R-4 aircraft on June 6, 1918. Webb was to carry the mail from
New York to Boston on a trial run to connect the two cities
by air. Webb carried a passenger, mechanic Robert Heck, with
him on the flight. Lost because of bad weather during the
trip, Lieutenant Webb landed in a pasture to get his bearings,
then continued on to Franklin Park aviation field in Saugus,
Massachusetts. On landing, the airplane hit a mudhole, flipping
over. Fortunately neither Webb nor his mechanic were injured.
The airplane was repaired, and Webb returned to New York five
days later with mail and another passenger, Boston's
postmaster William Murray. Webb noted that weather wasn't
much better on the way back. "Visibility was zero-zero,
and I just skimmed over the telephone poles all the way."
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