A Ride in the Boeing 40C

Onboard “Airmail 1” for the first leg of the trip, from New York to Bellefonte.

Addison Pemberton pilots his restored Boeing 40C earlier this year. On the September 10 flight, the author rode in the compartment beneath the upper wing. (George Perks)

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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.

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