January 16, 1920 – Chicago
March 1, 1920 – Cleveland
October 15, 1920 – Cheyenne
July 16, 1921 - Omaha
James H. "Jack" Knight was one of America's most famous airmail pilots. He was hailed as a hero after his courageous and remarkable flight from Omaha, Nebraska to Chicago, Illinois in the dead of night on February 23, 1921.
Born in Lincoln Center, Kansas on March 14, 1892, Knight grew up in Buchanan, Michigan. In 1917, he enlisted in the first World War and was sent to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, where he served as an instructor pilot.
Jack Knight's airmail service career would be remembered as an excellent one, even without his heroic 1921 night flight. On January 3, 1920, Knight flew 215 miles in 83 minutes, beating the previous record, which he had also set. On that flight, he carried a load of mail from Cleveland, Ohio to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in less than an hour and a half. Knight averaged 156 miles per hour during the trip and bested the record he had set in September 1919 when he flew part of the trip during a snowstorm.
Knight in his DH4
While flying the Chicago-Cleveland route on May 4, 1920, Knight's engine quit. He glided toward a field 100 yards away when a sudden downdraft caused him to lose 40' of altitude. Unable to now clear the telephone and telegraph lines on the border of the field. he tried to turn around and squeeze into a smaller field directly below. Knight's aircraft slide-slipped into a crash, tearing the engine lose, breaking the fuselage in half and damaging both sets of wings. Knight was knocked out, but fortunately, he had turned off the gas and cut his switches, so there was no fire. When he came to, he was able to get help and called for the mail to be retrieved and placed onto a train. Knight got back to Cleveland to fly the mail out the next day.
In November 1923, Knight helped test the use of radios in aircraft for the postal service. He flew with a set in the airplane. The receiver was located under his helmet and the transmitter on his chest. The whole mechanism, including batteries, weighed 170 pounds.
Knight continued his flying career after the end of the Air Mail Service as a pilot for United Air Lines. He retired from United in 1937, having flown over 2 million miles in his career. Jack Knight died in 1945 at the age of 53.
Jack Knight is posed here showing off the Post Office Department's airmail flight suits. Fellow pilot Clarence Lange is posing facing the wall, showing the back of the suits.
- Courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
In this telegram, dated February 23, 1921, Knight describes his historic flight from Omaha to Chicago.
- Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Learn more about Jack Knight's heroic 1921 night flight
Learn more about the postal service's experiments with radio