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Airmail pilots faced dangerous conditions

Airmail pilot Wesley L. Smith is shown in 1922.
Airmail pilot Wesley L. Smith is shown in 1922.

Early airmail pilots faced treacherous and deadly conditions to deliver the mail, the Atlas Obscura news site noted last week.

When the first airmail pilots took to the skies in 1918, they became pioneers of today’s aviation industry.

Storms, fog and snow threatened airmail pilots who flew planes from open cockpits without lighting to guide them.

Further complicating the mission, pilots relied on crude navigational aids, like maps strapped to their legs or simple instructions to “fly a little west of south for nearly 10 miles or about seven minutes.”

Thirty-two airmail pilots died carrying mail between 1918 and 1927.

Gradually, through trial and error and pilots’ daily experience flying in all kinds of weather, planes were modified to make them safer.

Once the Post Office Department and its pilots had proven the viability of commercial aviation, private enterprise entered the field.

In 1927, the department transferred airmail delivery to private air carriers, the predecessors of today’s commercial airlines.

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