Mail was flown by Post Office aircraft and pilots in the early years of air mail service. The
first air mail route was from Washington, D.C., to New York City with an intermediate stop
in Philadelphia. The service operated one round trip, six days a week. Within two years a
transcontinental route from New York to San Francisco was being flown with 13 intermediate
stops along the path. At first, aircraft flew only during the day, and the mail was put on a
train at night. In 1924, however, the first day and night service was inaugurated, transporting
a letter from coast to coast in a scheduled 34 hours, 46 minutes westbound and 32 hours 3
Commercial air mail service by private contractors began after 1925 with the passage of
the Kelly Act authorizing the postmaster general to contract with commercial air carriers for
domestic air mail service. The Kelly Act also authorized feeder routes to the transcontinental
network, and private aeronautical corporations were formed to bid on postal contracts.
The Post Office and Department of Commerce wanted to encourage the development of
larger, more substantial airlines that weren’t solely dependent on air mail revenue. They
favored such airlines in the bidding process, which led to many mergers of the smaller,
one-route carriers. A carrier could bid up to $3 dollars a pound to transport air mail, but
even at this princely sum, the empty mail sacks often foretold only slow starvation for the
e t i p t f o d o slow on o
ma a e
Top Left: The Stearman’s new instrument panel. Finding the original Pioneer
instruments was the most difficult part of the project.
Top Right: Mike Williams in his element.
Below: When Mike bought the Stearman it had a World War II Stearman
tailwheel installed, so Kent and Mike rebuilt the original tail skid.