Washington-New York

Airmail schedule dispatch board
A status board designed by Lipsner. It was designed to keep track of the weather, pilots, and airplanes on the Washington-New York airmail route. The pilots, planes and weather conditions had indicator pegs, (like the ones visible on the board) and would be plugged into the applicable location.

Washington, being home to the United States’ Congress, the Post Office Department’s source of funds, was the obvious starting point for the United States’ opening foray into airmail, as rapid movement of post out of the capital was important for the purposes of governing. New York was a natural terminus as it was the largest city in the United States. Philadelphia, being basically in the middle, was a natural relay point. This was the reasoning behind the establishment of the Washington-New York airmail route. The short distance and relatively unimposing terrain made it an excellent test bed.

As previously mentioned, Philadelphia was a relay point. The way the delivery system worked; there would be one of the four original pilots stationed in Washington and one in New York. The other two were based in Philadelphia. The post would be flown from Washington and New York to Philadelphia, by the pilots in the aforementioned cities, and, in Philadelphia, it would be handed off to the pilots already in the city. They would then carry the mail to the city for which it it was destined.

Logical as the system was, it had a number of problems. The foremost was the weather. Flying in hazardous weather conditions had never been done before, much less on a schedule. In the era of cloth fuselages and open cockpits, flying in precipitation was difficult, and, before radio or even landing lights, flying in fog was impossible. Compounding the problem was the unreliability of equipment. The concept of regular mechanical maintenance was new at the time, procedures were still being developed, and recurring troubles were still being learned. Combine this with pre-self cleaning sparkplugs and twelve-cylinder water-cooled engines, and the reliability of the technology is questionable at best.

The final problem that the Washington-New York route had was its competition. The trains, though slower, could run more mail at lower cost, and travel at night. The reality of airmail just could not compete with the railroad over such a short distance. Unfortunately for Praeger, Congress noted this. As a result, the Airmail Service was constantly under a microscope and on the verge of losing its funding.