Dean Smith

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Dean Smith
- Courtesy of AMP

In 1925, Dean Smith was among the pilots who flew the first regular overnight service between New York and Chicago. Flying at 8,000 feet on his way west to Cleveland, he noticed that his motor suddenly quit. Fortunately, the beacon at an emergency field was visible, and Smith glided his de Havilland airplane toward the rotating light. He dropped one of his flares to light the ground and was able to glide to a safe landing. A replacement aircraft was flown to the field for Smith, and he took off, eager to cover the last 180 miles to Cleveland without adding more fuel to the airplane, thinking he had enough to easily make the trip between the main and emergency tanks.

While in flight, Smith tested the emergency tank. Satisfied that it was fine, he continued his flight using up the fuel in his main tank. But when that ran out and he switched back to the emergency tank, nothing happened. With his engine dead, Smith was faced with his second nighttime gliding landing. Again he lit an emergency flare, seeing only a tiny break in the trees. Smith's second nighttime glided landing was not as successful as his first. This time the airplane turned end over end as the wings collapsed. Smith was still in the airplane when it slammed to the ground on its back, and he was able to get free of it without injury. Smith had landed near a farmhouse and enlisted the farmer's help in getting the mail to the nearest town and back on its way.

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Smith's sense of humor came through on another forced landing. After a crash in an Iowa farm field, Smith summed up the incident in this telegram to Air Mail Service officials: "On Trip 4 westbound. Flying low. Engine quit. Only place to land on cow. Killed cow. Wrecked airplane. Scared me. Smith."

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Telegram about low flights

Fad to Fundamental: Airmail in America