STORIES: Stevens, Walter H. S.
Mail Service Began:
||June 16, 1919
Mail Service Ended:
||September 14, 1920
||Belmont Park, New York
||December 15, 1919 –
Newark, New Jersey
||March 24, 1920 – Cleveland,
Walter Stevens was one of the reserve pilots
whose refusal to fly in horrible fog on July 22, 1919 helped
lead to the Air Mail pilots' strike. Unlike the first
two pilots who refused to fly, Stevens was not fired, and when the strike ended, he continued to fly the mail.
Like most of his fellow pilots, Stevens hated
Heller Field in Newark, New Jersey. It was located next to
the Tiffany silver factory. The 80 feet height factory chimneys
would prove instrumental in the death of airmail pilot Harry
C. Sherlock on March 30, 1920. But the towers were not the
only obstacles on that field, which was also framed by a canal and the Erie railroad tracks.
On December 13, 1919, Stevens flew the new Martin
twin-engine biplane in for a landing at Heller Field. As he
taxied on the field, a group of children ran into his path.
Martin, like other aircraft of the period, had no brakes,
relying only on a tail skid to slow down and stop the craft.
Stevens swerved to avoid the group, his airplane heading to the
railroad embankment where some of the kids had run to escape.
One young boy in the embankment was hit by the Martin propeller
and Gustav Reierson were killed.
As bad as the Martin airplanes proved to be, the
Junkers-Larsen JL-6 aircraft were even worse. On September
1, 1920, pilot Max Miller and mechanic Gustav Reierson had
been killed when the JL-6 they were in burst into flames while
in the air.
Two weeks after Miller's accident, Stevens
was flying Junkers-Larsen JL-6 #308 from Cleveland, Ohio to
Chicago, Illinois. He carried flying mechanic Russell Thomas
with him on the trip. Near Pemberville, Ohio, the airplane
was sighted at about 1000 feet in the air, its engine coughing.
According to the witness reports, the airplane burst into flames
and dove into the ground, exploding on impact. Both Stevens
and Thomas were killed.
Airmail officials reexamined the Junkers-Larsen airplanes, and they found and corrected (so they thought) problems
in the fuel lines. The craft were sent back into service.
On February 9, 1921, a third Junkers-Larsen crash killed airmail
pilot Hiram Rowe and his passengers. The Post Office Department then removed the airplanes from active service.