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ISSUE 31 - September 2008
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On September the 10th this year, Addison Pemberton, Larry Tobin and Ben Scott will depart New York’s Republic field (FRG) on a flight to Chrissy Field, San Francisco, commemorating the 90th year of air mail service in the U.S.

Theirs will be a transcontinental re-enactment of the air mail flights which once crisscrossed this nation, making possible rapid mail service to thousands of communities large and small.

[Left] Larry Tobin 1927 Stearman C3B
Ben Scott 1930 Stearman Speedmail

For a decade, from it’s beginning in 1918, to the last ‘mail’ flight in 1927, tales of air mail pilots and their exploits were the substance of countless pulp magazine stories, newspaper articles and newsreel accounts. Accounts of long forgotten brave men such as Ira Biffle, who taught Lindbergh to be a ‘Mail’ pilot, and the legendary Slim Lewis who would later become a United Airlines Chief Pilot, the very colorful Hamilton Lee, San Diego’s own Major Ruben Fleet, who along with Sergeants Waters and Boyle, departed Washington D.C. May 15th, 1918 on the first of the continuing mail flights. These adventures pilots flew their rag wing, stick and glue machines night and day, sunshine snow and ice, taking pride in their contributions to the development of U.S. commercial aviation and to the growth of this nation.

But the planes they flew were frail and in just one year, 1921, the Service recorded 1,764 unplanned ‘landings’, about half due to weather and half to mechanical failures; In all thirty four pilots flew into darkness and never returned.

Next month’s historic flight will consist of 3 aircraft, each deeply seated in the history of the Postal Services:

Addison Pemberton will fly his magnificently restored 1928 Boeing 40C, Larry Tobin will pilot a 1927 Stearman C3B and Ben Scott, a 1930 Stearman 4E.

Pemberton, Tobin and Scott are dedicating this epic flight to the honor of all the pioneers
of U.S. commercial aviation and of the U.S. Postal Services.

Scheduled are visits to 15 of the original air mail stops on the transcontinental route.

On Sept. 10 the flight will depart New York’s Republic field (FRG) at 9:30AM arriving at Belafonte, PA. (N96) late that morning. They will depart in time to arrive at Cleveland (BKL) by late afternoon or early evening for an overnight stop.

From there the schedule will include:

Sept. 11 – Depart Cleveland (BKL) 9:30AM. Arrive late morning Bryan, Ohio (OG6)
Depart and arrive Chicago Lansing Airport (IGQ) late afternoon. Arrive early evening Iowa City (IOW) Overnight stop.

Sept. 12 – Depart Iowa City 9:30AM. Arrive Omaha, NB (OMA)
Late morning. Depart and arrive North Platt NB(LBF) late afternoon. Overnight stop.

Sept.13 – Depart North Platt, NB 9:30AM. Arrive late morning Cheyenne, WY (CYS)
Depart and arrive mid afternoon Rawlins, WY (RWL). Depart and arrive Rock Springs, WY (RKS) early evening. Overnight stop.

Sept.14 – Arrive late morning Salt Lake # 2 (U42). Depart and arrive Elko, NV (EKO)
afternoon. Depart and arrive Reno, NV (RNO) early evening. Overnight stop.

Sept. 15 – Depart Reno, NV 9:30AM. Depart and arrive Hayward, CA (HWD)
Late morning. Depart Hayward, CA mid day for SFO or Chrissy Field (to be determined) and return to Hayward, CA.

(The final destination uncertainty is due to the fact that Chrissy Field, sad to say, has been closed. Although designated a National Historic Landmark, along with the entire Presidio of San Francisco in 1962, and thought to be sacrosanct from development, it was finally closed to fixed-wing aircraft In 1974, although helicopter operations continued their until very recently.)

Aerial Views of Chrissy Field, San Francisco

Estimated flying time from New York to San Francisco over 6 calendar days will be approximately 28 flying hours.

The “flight” has been authorized by the U.S. Postal Service to carry official U.S. mail between New York and San Francisco. A staff photographer, George Perks, will accompany the flight to document this historic reenactment.

Each of the 15 stops will include an education program and The Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine will create a web site,, so interested parties may track the flight's daily progress, read blogs and view pictures.

For your further research into the extraordinary history of air mail operations in this country, from early 1911 when it was conducted by the Military, through 1927 when the U.S. Postal Service’s ended their direct involvement and began contracting with private carriers, see the following sites:

Addison Pemberton's 1928 Boeing 40C

Photo Credits: Addison Pemberton and the National Archive

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