It’s perhaps not the most auspicious date to be marking an anniversary. After all, today is September 11, the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks that changed the United States and changed aviation forever. But for aviation, it’s another day to mark: airmail service in the United States is 90 years old, and it’s to be marked by the flight of three vintage planes across the country, starting on Long Island and taking 15 days to get to San Francisco. The planes include a Boeing 40C from 1928 as well as two Stearmans. All are veterans of early airmail service.
A few early celebrations such as one in Ottumwa, Iowa, were held earlier this year, but the official beginning of regularly scheduled airmail is being marked now. Air mail (it’s two words when used by the United States Postal Service) began in 1918 with a flight between Belmont Park, New York, and Washington, DC, with a stop in Philadelphia. Airmail has real importance beyond the antiquity: when the government took over the service, it began setting safety rules and also set up the earliest navigation system – beacons and bonfires. And airmail was the chief source of revenue for the early commercial airlines of the nation.