Smith, Leon D.
Mail Service Began:
||December 2, 1918
Mail Service Ended:
||July 21, 1919
||Elizabeth, New Jersey
||December 14, 1918 –
Belmont Park, New York
||January 1, 1919 –
Leon D. Smith was born in Millerton, New York
and learned to fly at Hammondsport. He served as a flight
instructor during World War I. Smith served as a flight instructor during World War I and was one of the pilots who
took part in the Air Mail Service's abortive New York
– Chicago flights in December 1918. Smith, Assigned to fly the mail on December 18, 1918 from Belmont Park, left
at 6:20 a.m. He returned to the field shortly after takeoff,
his de Havilland Liberty engine overheating. He was given
a second airplane and took off the second time an hour later.
Smith's refusal to fly in heavy fog on
June 22, 1919 led to the pilot's strike of that summer.
While other pilots complained privately or to reporters, Smith
took on Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger head
to head, writing to his boss, "It is mighty easy Mr.
Praeger for you to sit in your swivel chair in Washington
and tell the flyers when they can fly. . . . Pilots have been
killed and only last week one of the best flyers in the United
Lamborn lost his life when he tried to obey your orders
and come through with the mail. . . . I think Mr. Praeger
that it is long past the time that a man with as little knowledge
as you have of the flying game . . . should be at the head
of as large a proposition. It is not fair to the pilots, or
to the public in general, and you may rest assured that I
for one shall give you all the publicity I can."
Praeger could hold a grudge. Smith was the only one of the pilots fired by Praeger during the strike who was not rehired in later years. After being fired, Smith started up the "Windy Smith's Air Circus," which toured the country for a short time. During World War II, Smith helped train a new generation of flyers.
Although Praeger prevented Smith from returning
to work as an airmail pilot, he could not, in the end, keep
him away from the service, at least in part. On May 16, 1958,
Leon "Windy" Smith took off from National Airport
in a 1918 J-1 Standard bi-airplane. Smith was headed north to
Philadelphia to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first
regularly scheduled airmail service. Although he had intended
to continue flying onto New York City, Smith was grounded
at Philadelphia by engine trouble and bad weather. When interviewed
during the celebration activities, Smith recounted his time on Washington - New York route noting, "It's
the worst route in the country." He spoke of the fog
and mist drifting in off of the ocean and acknowledged that
"I was darned near lost on it half a dozen times." Smith kept flying long after leaving the service and for several
years operated a private airport in Pine City, New York.
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