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Flyboy: 1917

Flyboy: 1917

Washington, D.C., circa 1917. "Allied aircraft demonstration at polo grounds. Avro training plane designed by A.V. Roe of England. Lieut. Stephen Bonsal Jr., one of the young Army flyers who have entered the newest profession, that of airplane mail carrying, is the son of the former war correspondent and veteran newspaperman who is now a major attached to the general staff of the Army." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Second vote for HR tag here. I'm surprised there aren't more of us making a fuss over this one! Love the sweet, slightly shy look in his eyes.

Handsome Rogue

I vote for the HR tag on this daring young man in his flying machine. 23-skiddoo!

Cigarettes, Airmen and Airmail

Cigarettes and airmen seemed inseparable - military planes had ashtrays well past WW2. Smoking did in my father, a Marine aviator, at a somewhat early age. Meanwhile, after nine years of Army air operations, with many deaths in the early years, the government began awarding mail routes to commercial carriers, encouraging the flying of regular routes, and making it possible to take passengers on a subsidized basis, since the planes were flying anyway. This program, although marred by favoritism and a public scandal in 1934, developed the infrastructure for all-weather scheduled flights and improved airplanes, that put US aviation into a leadership position. By 1933, millions of pounds of airmail were delivered annually across the nation - a lot of progress in 15 years.

Coolest job in the world

at that time.

Lieut. Bonsal Hits a Fence

Washington Post, May 17, 1918.


Accidents Mar Second Day's Service With New York.


Swerves to Avoid Horses in Landing
At Fair Grounds in New Jersey.

After undergoing various delays, the aeroplane mail from New York arrived in Washington last night at 8:42 o'clock, six hours and twelve minutes behind schedule, marking the second day of America's aerial mail service by another accident. On the first leg of the journey from New York to Philadelphia the pilot, Lieut. Steven Bonsal Jr., lost his way in a fog over Delaware Bay and was forced to descend at Bridgeport, N.J., 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia, smashing his machine as he landed.

Lieut. Bonsal said that he was driving a new machine and that he had ascended to an altitude of 8,000 feet so as to be high enough to manipulate his plane in the event of an accident. When he realized that he was off his course he picked out the old Bridgeton racetrack for a landing place.

It is now used as a horse bazaar and was filled with horses. In landing, Lieut. Bonsal made a nose dive to drive away the horses, but they would not scare, he said, and in order to avoid killing some of the animals he swerved into a fence, breaking the propeller and one plane. Lieut. Bonsal was uninjured.

Mail by a Relief Plane.

A relief plane was immediately sent to Bridgeton and the mail taken to Philadelphia. At the latter city the mail was transferred into a plane piloted by Lieut. Walter Miller, and he started on the second leg of the journey to Washington at 5:50 o'clock. After going about 30 miles, Lieut. Miller noticed that the spark plugs in his plane were too close together, and that the engine was missing, so he returned to Philadelphia.

There were no relief planes in Philadelphia so Lieut. James C. Edgerton, who carried Washington's first aeroplane mail to that city this morning, volunteered to make the trip and left Bustleton, Pa., at 6:33 p.m. for this city. Just as the twilight was fading Lieut. Edgerton landed his plane on the aviation field in Potomac Park. Although it was virtually dark he made a perfect landing.

The consignment of mail for Washington amounted to 218 letters and was delivered by special messengers at 9 o'clock.

Lieut. Edgerton's Success.

The plane piloted out of Washington by Lieut. Edgerton yesterday morning at 11:30 o'clock carried 7,360 letters to New York and 570 for Philadelphia. Of these 3,630 were for New York City delivery, and 3,730 for distribution in New York State and New England.

Twelve Killed in Two Weeks.

Twenty-nine flying fields are being operated by the army air service in the United States. Four other fields will soon be opened for flying instruction, increasing the total to 33.

During the two weeks ended May 8 aviation accidents at the American fields took a toll of 12 lives, the War Department announced. Out of this total two were killed at Hazelhurst field, Mineola, N.Y., and two at McCook field, Dayton, Ohio.

Early Air Mail

N.Y. Times, May 19, 1918.


Letters Delivered on Time in All
Three Cities Involved -- May
Use Larger Airplanes.

The airplane mail service between Washington and New York via Philadelphia worked without a hitch yesterday, the mail being delivered on time in all three cities now included in the daily aerial service. Lieutenant Stephen Bonsal, who piloted the machine which brought the Washington and Philadelphia mail to New York, arrived at Belmont Park at 2.52 P.M. yesterday, having covered the distance between Philadelphia and New York in one hour and seven minutes — that is, at a speed of approximately 90 miles an hour.

Lieutenant Bonsal left Belmont Park with the New York mail boxes for Philadelphia and Washington at 11.23 A.M. yesterday, and landed on the aerial mail field in Philadelphia at 12.38 P.M. Lieutenant Paul Culver brought the Washington mail to Philadelphia, where he transferred it to Lieutenant Bonsal, who piloted it to New York. It was said at the Post Office that the mail brought by Lieutenant Bonsal, which arrived at the Pennsylvania Station Post Office at 3.15 P.M., was distributed within an hour after its arrival.

Lieutenant Culver piloted the machine which took the mail to Washington from New York and Philadelphia. The total round trip flying time between Washington and New York yesterday was unofficially reported last night to have been a little more than five hours.

A plan to use larger airplanes in the service to Philadelphia and Washington because of the unexpected increased use of the mail is under discussion by the postal authorities, it was reported yesterday at Belmont Park.

It was said that all persons except army men and Post Office employes directly concerned in the mail service would hereafter be barred from the field, as a measure of precaution against accidents. There will be no flight today.

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