PILOT STORIES: Robert
Shank and Gardner were rehired early in 1919
when James C. Edgerton, the former Army airmail pilot, was
named Praeger's Chief of Flying. On August 27, Shank
was scheduled to fly a Standard aircraft JR-1B from New York
to Philadelphia. When the radiator sprang a leak, another
JR-1B was prepared for Shank's use. The mechanics moved
the compass from the first airplane to the second, but did not
have time to check it. In 1960, Shank recalled that flight
to a reporter. He said he relied completely on the compass
for that flight, not bothering to look out for landmarks along
the way. "When I figured that I was near Philadelphia,
I lifted my head and looked out for a landmark," he
said. "But I didn't recognize a thing. I was lost."
Shank landed on a pasture to get his bearings and ask for
directions. Hopping back into his airplane, Shank took off and
picked up some railroad tracks to follow into Philadelphia.
Even after he reported the incident to postal officials, he was charged with a forced landing incident which went onto his record.
On another flight, Shank had to fly so low under
clouds that he clipped telephone lines and landed on Belmont Park field. Shank recalled landing once on a field with
fog so dense that the field mechanic had to keep shouting
to Shank in order to locate the airplane on the ground.
Airmail life didn't suit Shank or Gardner
in the long run, and the pair resigned their posts on April
16, 1919. They decided to try flying sightseers over Atlantic
City, New Jersey. As Shank recalled in 1960, "We used
three Curtiss JN4C airplanes, known as ‘Canucks,'
which had been purchased from the Canadian government and
we did rather well until the summer season ended," he
said. "Then we took off on a barnstorming trip through
the south and went broke. Two of
the airplanes were sold to Commander Richard E. Byrd and I kept
the other." Shank went on to buy and operate his own
small airport in 1944, which he operated for 13 years. Shank
died in Indiana in 1968 at the ripe old age of 76.
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