Air Mail Centennial is Opportunity for Grassroots Birth of National Park of the Air

By Scott Spangler on April 6th, 2015


In less than a month in late 1911, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and the United States each made their inaugural air mail flights. All of them were short distance experiments that led to regular delivery schedules along established routes. The US Post Office began regular air mail service between New York City and Washington, DC, on May 15, 1918. The centennial of this first flight could be an opportunity for the grassroots creation of an American National Park that would connect the far reaches of the nation, just as the Air Mail network did by the late 1920s.

arrow-aerialAs the map shows, the transcontinental route, which pretty much followed Interstate 80,  connects New York City and San Francisco. The Contract Air Mail Routes that emanate from it reach into the heartland and connect cities and towns large and small. Each of them could be a part of the national park of the air. Once the original air mail airports (or those closest to them because the originals have been buried by progress), perhaps pilots could fly part or all of the Air Mail Heritage Trail in search of new places to have a hamburger. Following the routes on their GPS, perhaps they’d turn a circle or two over the surviving beacons and concrete arrows that pointed the way to the next stop.

To succeed, this long-term grassroots effort must be a collaborative effort that involves more than pilots. Members of local and county historical societies would lead the effort to research the locations and people who wrote aviation history of the century past. Students could make these people the subjects of their school work and perhaps hold candy bar fundraisers for the plaques and displays that would recognize their contributions. The chambers of commerce in each waypoint on every route could unite online for the mutual promotion of the Air Mail Heritage Trail as well as the attractions specific to their city or town. And aviation groups of all interests could build on this to connect the past with examples of how aviation today serves their community, their state, and the nation. –Scott Spangler, Editor


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9 Responses to “Air Mail Centennial is Opportunity for Grassroots Birth of National Park of the Air”

  1. Iron City Says:

    The big base at Bellfonte PA is behind the high school now, I believe, or they built the high school by the airway field. Lots of the navigation aids (arrows, bonfires, etc) that ended up turned into radio beacons or 4 course ranges were also turned into VORs, now being turned off.

    Where does this fit in the brave new privatized or public private partnership ATC system?

  2. Richard Says:

    This would be terrific. As someone who flies gliders I can attest to the deep interest in aviation history that many Americans share. Such a historic route would have broad public support. As an example of on-going interest, and what would fit in well with the project, here in St. Paul MN we still have one of the original light beacons, nicely preserved on a hill overlooking the city.

  3. WILL Says:

    My Dad, Joseph Pelletier Sr. flew the airmail reinactment from Belfonte to DuBois in 1980 with myself and Jay Davler of Lansdale, PA

  4. Rich Says:

    We still have one of those towers and beacons.

    Still in use at the La Porte Municipal Airport in Indiana.

  5. Ben Scott Says:

    Glad you are doing this. I flew CAM 18 with airmail in 08.

  6. WILL Says:

    I have seen many beacon towers around in my travels,
    one at the Sylvania GA airport just off field and one in Hardeeville SC just near an industrial park west of town.
    Hardeeville is just off I95 north of Savannah river.

  7. Jordan Says:

    This is a really interesting concept that I’m just now hearing about. It would be a real treat to go on a “tour” of these original airmail routes and see what it was like for them!

  8. JET Says:

    This sounds like a very good project that I’d love to see taken on. We could have all the large and small Aviation Museums across the country join in, in some fashion. What a great way to connect the Air Museums and people connected with them and their people who may have played some part in the Air Mail system with various Airlines. A great way to unite may of the various Airline Retiree’s groups also. Along with the World Airline Historical Society.

  9. Charlie Pyles Says:

    Our museum at Cincinnati Lunken Field would like to be in on this in some way. We own one of the original All American Airways Air Pick-UP Stinson SR-10C’s that we intend to restore…and wouldn’t it be nice to see us do an actual pick-up. You can donate here:

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