de Havilland DH-4B airplane
- On long-term loan from the National Air and Space Museum, the de Havilland DH-4B on view at the National Postal Museum is the airplane most commonly associated with the early U.S. airmail service. Geoffrey de Havilland, a British aircraft designer, created the airplane for England and the U.S. to use during World War I.
- In 1918 the Post Office Department requested 100 de Havilland airplanes from the U.S. Army. Although the airplanes' range (350 miles) and load capacity (500 pounds) were good, de Havillands were not suited for the rigors and demands of airmail service, having been built for high-altitude military observation use. The most precarious design flaw was the placement of the cockpit. Pilots were too easily trapped between the engine and the mail compartment in accidents where minor crashes turned deadly, burning entangled pilots alive. The airplanes quickly gained a macabre nickname—flaming coffins.
- The planes underwent an extensive renovation in January 1919. Designers moved the cockpit to the rear and rimmed it with padded leather for cushion in rough landings. They extended the exhaust stacks beyond the cockpit, so pilots would no longer be blinded by exhaust fumes. To make the airplanes more durable, designers replaced the linen fabric fuselage plywood sheets over wood struts, repositioned the landing gear and installed larger wheels.
- The retrofitted de Havillands became known as the “workhorse of the airmail service.” In their first year of service, the airplanes carried more than 775 million letters. The de Havillands retired from airmail service in 1926 when the Post Office Department began to contract with private carriers to carry the mail by air.
- Credit line
- On loan from National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
- Data Source
- National Postal Museum
- 1918- January 4, 1923
- Object number
- Transportation Equipment & Models
- United States of America
- See more items in
- National Postal Museum Collection
- On View
- Currently on exhibit at the National Postal Museum
- Record ID
- Not determined