National Postal Museum logo
Top Image
Pilot StoriesHistoric PlanesAirmail Creates an IndustryObject ShowcaseHistory TimelineActivity ZoneFlight School
The Army Pilots
No Old, Bold, Pilots
>> The First Four
>> They Died Flying the Mail
>> Rest of the Best
Tales from 5000 ft.
Contract Pilots
Mail by Female
Pilot's Gear

PILOT STORIES: O'Donnell, Edward C.

Air Mail Service Began: September 15, 1920
Air Mail Service Ends: August 8, 1921
Assignments: College Park, Maryland
  October 4, 1920 – Chicago, Illinois

Edward O'Donnell was born on September 29, 1896 in Detroit, Michigan to Michael and Agnes O'Donnell. He joined the service on September 15, 1920. After a series of crashes and mishaps, O'Donnell was taken off pilot rotation. On January 10, 1921 he was reclassified as a clerk for the service, his salary reduced from $2,000 a year to $1,400.

O'Donnell requested to be reinstated as a pilot, and secured some other pilots to lobby on his behalf. William "Wild Bill" Hopson wrote that "O'Donnell was the victim of a string of bad luck. In the first place he didn't get a chance to fly often enough to get his hand in at landings. Then he had a bunch of mechanical troubles and rotten weather when he did get a trip. He got away safely on most of his forced landings."

Like Hopson, E. Hamilton Lee was a well respected pilot in the service. Lee also wrote to Superintendent D. B. Colyer in support of O'Donnell. In a letter sent on June 15, 1921, Lee notes that "there seems to be no doubt that O'Donnell is an especially good pilot."

A few days later, O'Donnell himself wrote to Colyer asking for his pilot ranking to be returned. At this time, O'Donnell seemed to have given up any hope of being reinstated as a full time pilot, but wanted to be allowed to leave the service as a pilot, not a clerk.

Since being assigned as a clerk, O'Donnell had been working at the Chicago airmail field at Maywood. He asked one last time to be moved back on, possibly as a test pilot. Even if he could not stay with the service, at least leaving as a pilot would help his career. "It is practically impossible for me to fly elsewhere before redeeming my reputation with the mail service," he admitted to Colyer.

On June 27, O'Donnell received Colyer's final decision. Despite support from two of Colyer's best and favorite pilots, the answer was no. If O'Donnell was to remain in the service, it would be at the rank of clerk, not pilot. O'Donnell left the service shortly thereafter.

Postal Museum | Smithsonian | Privacy | Terms of Use | Site MapBottom Navigation
Top of page link to homepage