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Pilot Project: 1938

Pilot Project: 1938

May 16, 1938. "National Airmail Week essay winners at Washington Airport." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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The Winning Essay

I tracked down Perry Morrison's winning essay, published in the May 16, 1938 issue of the Lodi News-Sentinel. Their are a few metadata discrepancies with the previously posted Washington Post article: the correct theme of the competition was “Wings Across America”, not “Wings Over America” and the California paper reports Perry's high school as Monrovia, not Arcadia.

I enjoyed reading Perry's essay for the combination of astonishment and thrill in the new age of air commerce and communication.

Wings Across America

by Perry Morrison

A nation is no stronger than the ties which bind it together, Air transportation and communication constitute such a tie—an agent in binding our country into one unit. Moreover, it helps to maintain within that unit a social, cultural and economic as well as political democracy. For instance: The Federal Reserve Bank's resources in New York are being taxed. Money lies idle in San Francisco. An adjustment is made—by air. A Government official is in Chicago. Urgent matters of state call him to Washington. He is there in less than twenty-four hours—by air. Serum from Boston is needed for an epidemic in Florida. It gets there in a few hours and saves many lives—by air. Junior cuts his first tooth. Full particulars are sent—by air. Even such trivial matters as information bout Junior's tooth help to bind us together as a nation. Wings Across America help to keep us united yet democratic; efficient yet free—an ideal much of the world has given up.

Wings Across America also makes for more gracious living for the individual. One has breakfast in Los Angeles; dinner in New York. A letter mailed on one coast is delivered on the other in an astonishingly short time. Loved ones or business connections, days away by land, become a matter of hours by air. Scenic wonders take an even greater glory when viewed from above. Speed and dispatch undreamed of a few years ago are now at every man's disposal for the purchase of an air mail stamp. To what end? Unity for the nation; more abundant life for the individual.


My dad loved DC-3s, and in the late '60s finally found a C-47 cargo variant, which he loved. He flew it out of the Naples and Ft. Myers airports.

He raved about it being perhaps the best airplane ever built, and I asked him what made it so special. He started a long explanation about wing loading and other technical stuff, and then stopped and said, "Sometimes an airplane just looks so right that you know it's right, and the DC-3 is one of those. It's just perfectly proportioned."

Maybe that's part of their appeal. I used to see the Naples Airlines/Provincetown-Boston's DC-3 at the Naples airport in the winters and it was a beauty!

Wings Over America

Pictured are the state winners of the national essay constest. This photo at the LOC shows Postmaster Burke awarding the prizes to the top three national winners. A technical comparison of the photos (I looked at the shoes) suggests that Perry Morrison is second from the left (he has the swagger of a winner) while Ellen Peak is on the right-hand arm of the pilot. I can't find Homer Still, jr.

Washington Post, April 21, 1938.

Essay Contest Will Mark Air Mail Birthday

Washington Public, Private School Pupils
to Seek 1,500-Mile trip.

Vincent Burke, District postmaster, yesterday announced plans for an essay contest for students in public and private high school of Washington in connection with the twentieth anniversary of the Government air mail service, to be celebrated from May 15 to 21.

Burke said the essays would treat the subject “Wings Over America,” including the purposes of air transportation and its effects on modern communication. Similar contests are being conducted in each State.

Winners of the State contests will receive an air trip to Washington to take part in the Airmail Week celebration, while the winning Washington student will be given a 1,500-mile round trip to whatever point he wishes. The runner-up in the District will be given a plane ride to Norfolk, Va., and back. The national winner will be given a trip and five-day stop-over to Hollywood, Calif., or Miami Fla. …

Washington Post, May 16, 1938.

Perry Morrison, Arcadia (Calif.) High School student, last night was awarded a trip to Miami as winner of the National Air Mail Week essay contest at a dinner held at the Mayflower Hotel.

Runners-up were Ellen Peak, of Manhattan, Kans., who received a bronze and silver trophy, and Homer Still, jr., of Jacksonville, Fla., who was presented with a silver plaque. …

My First Flight

My first commercial flight was on a Frontier Airlines DC3 from Lincoln, NE to Kansas City, in about 1960. Before takeoff, the stewerdess handed out sticks of Doublemint to chew because the planes were not pressurized. I sat behind the emergency exit door and there was a slight breeze coming through it during trip. The plane flew low enough that you could see farmers out working in their fields. We had to spend about an hour on the ground in St. Joseph Missouri during a scheduled stop because it was discovered that one of the fuel caps was missing and it took them a while to round up another one. I remember more details about that short flight than the many I have taken since.

Tail NC16094

I googled the tail number and found out that the DC3 was sold by Eastern to Pan Am in 1939. In 1941 the government grabbed it and sent it to the UK. The Dakota (Brit for DC3) was sent to the North African campaign. I found that Corgi prduced a model of this DC3 and there were several offered in action. There were also three rather low rez pictures of it in war trim. It as well as both Eastern and Pan Am are no more.

The plane that changed the world

These wonderful birds have been in the air in one form or another for almost 80 years. An excellent history of the plane (Donald Douglas himself considered it the best on the subject), “The Plane that Changed the World: A Biography of the DC3,” (Douglas Ingells, 1966) is available online, and should be a must read for anyone with the slightest interest in aviation history. These planes just keep flying and flying with no end in sight.
Most likely many Shorpy readers are unfamiliar with airmail service of days gone by. Most mail moved by train or truck then, but for a premium (six cents as opposed to three) a letter could be sent by air.

hold on to your hats!

These essays are going to blow you away.


Where the 'Airmail Week' winners are being airmailed to. An interesting assortment of folks; how many might be about to take their first airplane ride, if that be the prize involved.

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