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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 proud.

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 through 134.

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 Park.

Click here to go back to the Short Summary of Eddie Gardner.

Eddie Gardner in a Standard Aircraft manufactured airplane, JN-1B, at the College Park, Maryland airport. Gardner on airplane, Shank to right
Gardner next to Jenny at College Park Telegram from Praeger congratulations on Sept 1918 flight
Click on the photos to view a larger image.

(top left) Eddie Gardner in JN-1B at College Park

(top right) Gardner on airplane, Shank to right - mechanics at College Park

(bottom left) Gardner next to Jenny at College Park

(bottom right) Telegram from Praeger congratulations on Sept 1918 flight
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