SCANDAL: The incredible story of the US Air Mail fiasco

The safety record of the US Army Air Corps’ temporary operation of mail services turned into a national scandal. But so was the situation that led to the military stepping in

On 15 May 1918 the United States’ first scheduled air mail service began, linking Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York City. Amid great civic ceremony and watched by hundreds of dignitaries including President Woodrow Wilson, Curtiss JN-4HM ‘Jenny’ 38262 and 2nd Lt George Boyle left the capital’s Potomac Park polo ground with four bags of mail. In place of its forward seat the machine had received a compartment for its novel load.

RIGHT: Curtiss JN-4 38278, pilot Lt Torrey Webb and New York postmaster Thomas G. Patten at Long Island’s Belmont racetrack on 5 May 1918, prior to Webb’s departure for Philadelphia.
Inverted Jenny
‘Inverted Jenny’, the 24-cent US postage stamp first issued on 10 May 1918, on which the image of Curtiss ‘Jenny’ 38262 was printed upside-down in error. At auction on 15 November 2018 a single stamp achieved a hammer price of $1,350,000.

Alas, Boyle became lost and landed to ask the way, but his mount nosed over. More successfully, meanwhile, Lt Torrey Webb and ‘Jenny’ 38278 had taken off from Belmont Park racetrack on Long Island. Webb arrived safely at Philadelphia’s intermediate Bustleton Field near the railroad, transferring his load to a third JN-4, 38274, which flew to Washington piloted by 2nd Lt James Edgerton.

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