PILOT STORIES: Eddie Gardner
Gardner survived countless airplane crashes,
including a narrow escape in Cleveland, Ohio on September
15, 1918. Headed for Chicago with the mail, Gardner was unable
to gain altitude on takeoff, and while trying to make an
emergency landing in a vacant field near a cluster of homes, he crashed his airplane into two of the houses. No one, including
Gardner, was injured in the accident.
On November 18, 1918, Eddie Gardner drew the
wrath of Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger when
he refused to carry the mail in severely limited visibility.
Gardner had already gone up that morning at the New York end
of the route to evaluate the weather at 10:30. He managed
with "careful flying and good luck" to land safely
about five miles away. When he got out of the airplane, he heard
the news that a test pilot from a nearby field had been killed
taking off in that fog. The field manager agreed with Gardner's
assessment that flying that day was impossible and so telegrammed
his Washington superiors.
Praeger's response to the concerns coming
down from Belmont Park field was, "Start the Mail Ship
Without a Minute's Delay." Against his better
judgment, Gardner did attempt a trip that afternoon, but the
weather was impossible. When Gardner and Robert Shank, the
only other pilot available at the time, refused to fly, they
were both fired. Both men were rehired early the next year
when James C. Edgerton, the former Army airmail pilot, was
named Praeger's Chief of Flying. Edgerton recognized
the pair's abilities and knew they would do the service
Gardner received his civilian flying license
on August 9, 1918, just before he was to begin flying the
mail for the U.S. government. Garder was authorized "to
use any one of the machines listed on the reverse side of
this license in carrying out the duties assigned to him by
the Post Office Department." The airplanes listed were
all of the army's Curtiss JN-4H Jennies, Curtiss R-4L
aircraft and the Standard JR-1 airplanes ordered, but not yet
received, by the postal service. The airplanes were numbered 120
On September 5, 1918, pilots Max Miller and
Eddie Gardner began their landmark pathfinding flight between
New York City and Chicago, Illinois. Miller flew in a Standard
airmail airplane with a 150-horsepower Hispano-Suiza engine.
Gardner followed in a Curtiss R-4 with a 400-horsepower Liberty
engine and was accompanied by Eddie Radel, a mechanic.
As each pilot landed to refuel or make repairs,
he eagerly called Lipsner in Chicago to find out where the
other one was. A set of telegrams tracked their progress.
Miller landed in Chicago first, at 6:55 p.m. on September
6. Gardner arrived the next morning, landing at 8:17 at Grant
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