Erik Nitsche: Dove Carrying Letter
Artist: Erik Nitsche
On May 15, 1918, U.S. Army pilots, flying Curtiss JN4Hs -- biplanes affectionately known as "Jennies" -- made postal history by flying the first U.S. air-mail route. Lt. Torrey Webb took off from a makeshift airfield at New York's Belmont Park racetrack bound for Philadelphia. Meanwhile, at Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson were among the spectators eagerly awaiting the takeoff of another Jenny. For more than 20 minutes, Pilot George L. Boyle futilely attempted to start the plane's engine. Just as the president was about to leave, a voice from the crowd cried "gasoline!" The crew quickly realized they had neglected to fill the aircraft's gas tanks. Once the situation was rectified, Boyle was finally airborne. Unfortunately, misfortune struck again. The misguided pilot lost his bearings and, in an effort to seek help, wrecked the Jenny by attempting to land on a country road. However, another flyer completed Boyle's mission and the first day of airmail service was considered a success. Over the next few years, planes became better adapted to their tasks. Before airfields and aircraft were equipped with adequate illumination, mail had been forwarded by rail during the evening hours. The advent of night flying in 1923 made airmail delivery even more efficient.
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