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Army Air Corp. Air Mail Accidents: February-April 1934 Special Collection
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This collection contains correspondence relating to Air Mail accidents in spring 1934.
The Army Air Corps Mail Operation (AACMO) was a reduced operation of 17 routes and 11,000 miles of airways. Nevertheless, the problems and risks were formidable. The Air Corps had about 1,500 airplanes, but nearly a third of them were trainers or special purpose aircraft. Most of the others were light, maneuverable airplanes built for combat in daylight and good weather. Most of the 250 Army pilots assigned to AACMO were lieutenants with less than two years of flying experience. Although the air mail would be transported mainly at night, only 31 of the pilots had more than 50 hours of nighttime flying. The AACMO flights were scheduled to begin in Newark, N.J., on the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 19, but on Sunday afternoon, a blizzard moved east from the Rocky Mountains. It arrived in Newark around 3 p.m. and mail flights from there were canceled. The first flight departed instead from Kansas City, Mo., with 39 pounds of mail for St. Louis. Nine inches of snow accumulated in New York City, and New England had 15 inches. Despite numerous cancellations for weather, especially in the East, many of the flights got through. The initial loads were much heavier than expected because of the number of stamp collectors who wanted a letter on the historic first run. Two air mail airplanes crashed on Feb. 22, killing the pilots. The next day, an OA-4A amphibian aircraft, ferrying mail pilots, went down off the New York coast and a passenger drowned. There were dozens of crashes, and March 9 was a particularly bad day. Four air mail crew members—three pilots and a mechanic—were killed in crashes in Ohio, Florida, and Wyoming. That raised the AACMO death toll to 10. Roosevelt and the Air Corps were under fire for the recurring mishaps. On March 10, Foulois suspended the air mail operation for 10 days and ordered all of the aircraft and instruments to be checked thoroughly. Pilots with less than two years of experience were removed from AACMO duty. The suspension served no purpose except to create a political smoke screen. The pilots resented it as well as the assumptions about their competency that lay behind it. Operations resumed on March 19, reduced to eight routes from the previous 17, and covering 7,049 miles of airways instead of 11,000. A ninth route was added April 8. There were two more fatal accidents in March, but the Air Corps had gained proficiency in flying the mail. The operation stabilized and deliveries became routine. The Air Corps learned from the weaknesses exposed by the air mail operation. The old attitudes that assumed flying in daytime and good weather gave way to approaches that made use of instruments and radio communications. AACMO deficiencies alerted the nation to the needs of the Air Corps for better aircraft and equipment, and within a short time, the open-cockpit biplanes were rendered obsolete by a new generation of fighters and bombers. The Air Corps that entered World War II was an entirely different force than the one that had been ordered to carry the air mail seven years before.
0.4 Linear Feet 1 manuscript box
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