A Ride in the Boeing 40C
Onboard “Airmail 1” for the first leg of the trip, from New York to Bellefonte.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 11, 2008
(Page 2 of 2)
I’m trying to follow the 1921 Pilots' Directions, but it's difficult. I don't know if I've correctly identified the Orange Mountains, or Hopatcong and Budd lakes. The first landmark I'm absolutely certain of is at mile 78: "The Delaware makes a pronounced U-shape bend just north of Belvidere. A railway joins the two ends of the U.” To our right is a mountain range. Larry says, “I bet Jack Knight [an early airmail pilot] ran the gap on our right.” The notch is so close to the treeline, reminding me again how low the airmail pilots flew.
The cockpit is open, and behind the passenger cabin. As we fly, Addison speaks with me by radio. “Jack Knight may have seen that same church steeple,” he muses. “In my 39 years of flying,” he continues, “this is some of the best weather I’ve ever seen. The plane is running fantastic. It’s purring like a cat in a creamery.”
The 40C’s windows slide open, and I poke my head out the window, snapping pictures and shooting video; this is the way to travel!
While I’m busy being a tourist, Addison shares some history with me. “When an airmail pilot got into the cockpit and began setting up with his directions and everything else, it was called ‘building the nest.’ ” From our earlier conversations, I know that Addison has “built his nest,” in part, with boxes of Good & Plenty. (His love of sweets has earned him the trip nickname of “Sugar Bear.”)
“We’re going to do a Tora Tora Tora pass,” says Addison as we approach Bellefonte. “How’s your stomach?”
My stomach is great, but as we fly in formation over Bellefonte, I hear Larry on the radio. “Sugar Bear, does Rebecca know her door is open?” I glance over and sure enough, the latch has come unhooked. I scramble to close the door while the three airplanes fly in formation over the airfield. Larry lands first, taxiing up to the fuel pump, while Addison and Ben make a dramatic pass over the airport. We land—after a two-hour, 45-minute flight—to a cheering crowd.
“It was good to hear them in the air, wasn’t it?” I hear one man say to his friend. When Addison asks for help in pushing the 40C into position, volunteers jump to assist.
“If the airplane gets away from you, throw your bodies in front of the Boeing,” Addison jokes. “Remember: People heal, airplanes don’t.”
There’s a lovely ceremony and the crew takes a well-deserved break before heading off for the next stop, Cleveland.
Next May, the men plan to re-create the 40C’s historic route, and they’re already making tentative plans to celebrate airmail’s 100th anniversary—although perhaps not in these particular airplanes. “I don’t know if I’ll still be able to wrassle that old girl,” Larry says of his 1927 Stearman.
Whatever they’re flying, I’m hoping to be along for the ride.