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PILOT STORIES: Reuben Fleet

Major Reuben Fleet faced the enormous challenge in setting up the world's first regularly scheduled airmail service. A difficult enough assignment became even harder when his airplanes were delivered only partially assembled. As Fleet, his pilots and mechanics raced to put the airplanes together, they found even more problems. The pilots used a pencil to temporarily plug a hole in one airplane's gas tank.

Postmaster General Burleson, confident of the service's success, had issued a press release announcing the May 15 start date, and even ordered a 24-cent airmail stamp to be printed and released for those flights.

Did you know?Fleet had been told to pick four pilots. He chose Lieutenants Howard Paul Culver, Torrey H. Webb, Walter Miller and Stephen Bonsal. Postal officials selected two more, Lieutenants James C. Edgerton and George L. Boyle. Although Edgerton and Boyle did not have much flying experience, they did have great connections. Edgerton's father was a purchasing agent for the postal service, and Boyle was engaged to the daughter of an Interstate Commerce commissioner.

Two days before the service was to begin, Fleet and his officers (except Boyle) traveled by train to New York City to pick up their airplanes. The Jenny training airplanes had been modified for postal use and were delivered to the landing field at Hazelhurst in crates. Fleet and his crew managed to assemble two of the modified airplanes and flew one, along with a borrowed Jenny, south in preparation for the May 15 flights. Bad fog slowed Fleet's progress, and in the end he flew the Jenny that was scheduled to leave Washington, D.C. into that city just 25 minutes before its scheduled departure.

Click here to go back to the Short Summary of Reuben Fleet.

Fleet showing Boyle map of flyway President Wilson wishes Fleet Good Luck
  Fleet posed in front of Jenny airplane
Click on the photos to view a larger image.

(top left) Fleet (l) showing Boyle (r) map of flyway
(top right) President Wilson wishes Fleet Good Luck May 15, 1918
(bottom right) Fleet posed in front of Jenny airplane May 15, 1918
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