The Early Airplanes

By 1911, airplanes had matured to a point that some began to consider them seriously as an exciting new way to carry the mail. Postmaster General Hitchcock was an enthusiastic supporter of airmail experiments. Under his encouragement, the potential for mail by air was demonstrated across the U.S. over the next few years.

Did you know
...that when he retired from United Airlines in 1949, ex-airmail pilot E. Hamilton Lee had flown longer and farther than any other pilot alive?
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The first post office-sanctioned airmail flight honors go to Fred Wiseman, who took off with mail from Petaluma to Santa Rosa on February 17, 1911. Wiseman's airplane was built from photographs taken of Wright, Farman and Curtiss airplanes, as well as from notes made as the builders observed aircraft at aviation meets. When asked to identify his machine, Wright said that it was a combination Curtiss-Wright-Farman aircraft because it had the best features of each of those airplanes.

The very next day, and half a world away, on February 18, 1911, Henry Pequet flew mail during an exhibition in Allahabad, India. Pequet carried over 6,000 cards and letters in his Sommer biplane. On September 9, 1911, the first official British airmail flight was under way when Gustav Hamel took off in a Blériot monoplane and flew from London Hendon Aerodrome to Windsor Castle, 20 miles away. Hamel carried about 23 pounds of mail on his flight.

Back in the United States, Earle Ovington became the first American to be officially designated an airmail pilot on September 23, 1911. That day, he flew mail at an aviation meet in New York in his own Blériot monoplane that he had brought to America from France. Ovington named his airplane "Dragonfly."

Fad to Fundamental: Airmail in America