Air Stamps–Heavier than Air: Biplanes, Monoplanes, Jets & Helicopters
The vast majority of the aircraft on U.S. stamps are heavier-than-air varieties—airplanes and helicopters.
Three general types of planes are shown on U.S. stamps: biplanes, monoplanes, and jets. In the early days of aviation, airplanes were built with numerous wings. The Wright Brothers’ Flyer and many of the planes that followed were biplanes, with two sets of wings— one above the fuselage and the other below it. As aircraft materials and engineering developed, the monoplane design, with a single set of wings, became more common. The first practical jet aircraft were developed toward the end of World War II.
Years ago, the biplanes on U.S. stamps represented the up-to-date aircraft of the day. On the first U.S. stamp to show an airplane, a 1913 Parcel Post stamp, the biplane was a modern innovation. The caption, reading “Aeroplane Carrying the Mail,” actually predated the regular airmail by six years. The first airmail stamps of 1918, followed by other stamps in the 1920s, showed the biplanes as the most modern aircraft then available.
No biplanes appeared on any U.S. stamps in the 1930s or for most of the 1940s. By the time they reappeared in 1949 (on a Wright Brothers stamp), biplanes had become a nostalgic image, harking back to the earlier age of flight. They have appeared on numerous stamps honoring aviation pioneers and milestones of aviation ever since.
Usually just called “airplanes” today, monoplanes are different from biplanes because they have only one set of wings. A number of the U.S. stamps show monoplanes in the air above a well-known location, such as the Statue of Liberty or Diamond Head in Hawaii. Others illustrate the vast range of aviation, from airmail to Arctic exploration, and from combat to commercial aviation.
First developed for practical use in the last days of World War II, jet airplanes did not come into their own in the United States until some years later. Since then, jets have become increasingly important for both air travel and for military aviation because of their great advantages over the old propeller-driven designs. Jets were the image of modernity in 1958 when the Post Office issued a new sky-blue airmail stamp of a generic jet’s silhouette, reissued in “fire red” in 1960, and they are featured in a number of stamps issued in the 1990s and early 21st century.
Only two U.S. postage stamps had been issued with helicopter designs. The Igor Sikorsky stamp of 1988 honors the immigrant aeronautical engineer who designed the first successful modern helicopter—the Vought-Sikorsky 300 or VS-300, also shown on the stamp. In 1999, another stamp illustrated the vital role of helicopters for American forces in the Vietnam War.