STORIES: Unger, Kenneth Russell
Mail Service Began:
||September 6, 1920
Mail Service Ended:
||May 15, 1925
||November 1, 1920 –
Salt Lake City
Kenneth Russell Unger was born on April 19, 1898 in Newark, New Jersey. He traveled to Canada to join the Royal Flying Corps as a Lieutenant during World War I, and he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in the war. The citation noted that he was "a gallant and skillful officer". On October 30, separated from his patrol owing to engine trouble, he was attacked by seven Fokkers; undaunted by the odds against him, he engaged them without hesitation, and by skilful maneuvering, he shot one down to crash. He has accounted for nine enemy aeroplanes and one kite balloon.
In 1921, Unger was criticized by his superiors
for not taking all of the mail that was to have gone in his
airplane with him on his May 14 trip out of Elko, Nevada. In a response letter, Unger argued that it was the right decision.
"On May 14 I piloted ship 162 from Salt Lake to Elko.
This ship carries two gas tanks. I arrived Elko O.K. but one
wheel collapsed in taxying [sic] up the runway due to the
weight of the airplane and defective spokes.
"[Pilot] Blanchfield, 158, arriving Elko
from the west nosed over on landing due to the very light
air, the short field, and the absence of a sustaining wind.
On account of these prevailing conditions, rather than risk
wrecking the ship on takeoff I decided to remove sufficient
mail to insure a save get-away. The amount removed and dispatched
by train was 118 pounds." Unger's explanation
for the incident was judged to be reasonable, and he was not
disciplined for his actions. Unger, however, had his share
of run-ins with his superiors. He asked for time off to enter
a speed flying contest, only to be told that airmail pilots
were forbidden from entering such contests.
While serving in Salt Lake City, Unger ignored
the admonishments from his superiors about operating a side
business, and worked with a friend to operate a passenger
flying service. On the weekend of May 9-10, 1925, ads appeared
in the Salt Lake Telegram
offering $2.50 for an air ride over the city and lake. The
promoter listed was the "Unger Aircraft Co.,"
a company which consisted of Unger, a friend, and one airplane.
Unfortunately, the airplane crashed during one trip, killing
two young boys.
May 14, 1925, W. B. LaFollette, Superintendent of the Western
Division wrote to Carl F. Egge, General Superintendent of
the Air Mail Service of the incident, recommending Unger's
"I have just returned to Salt Lake from
San Francisco and have had a long talk with Frank [field
manager] regarding Pilot Unger's venture into the
passenger flying business on May 9th and 10th. Frank informs
me that he has forwarded to your office copies of the papers
that carried Unger's announcement of his opening date
as a passenger carrying concern. The airplanes and the pilot
(Nelson) were ready Saturday May 9th, but there were no
passengers that day. Sunday May 10th one trip was made about
noon; two passengers, the second and fatal trip started
about 12:50 p.m. Unger openly solicited business and did
the mechanical work up until the accident occurred. This
in defiance of the Department rulings and several conversations
on this subject and in addition to all this a special letter
sent to him calling his attention to the Department's
ruling regarding employees entering other business.
"At no time has Unger shown a disposition
or desire to conform to the Department's regulations,
but instead has maintained an attitude of defiance and refusal
to comply. Mr. Unger was suspended pending further understanding
with your office.
"I recommend Pilot Unger's separation
from the service and request your advice or approval before
forwarding papers for same."
Unger was dismissed the next day.