Crossing the Alleghenies in 1919

The man who saved the airmail describes “Hell Stretch.”

After his career with the airmail service, Knight flew for United Airlines between 1934 and 1937, when the airline was still flying single engine Boeing aircraft. By the time Knight retired, he had flown more than 2 million miles. (NASM (SI-81-4954))

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    The character of the terrain is such that at times our future health [and] happiness depended on our [“motto”?] “in good weather”—Well! In bad weather we hung on every explosion of the exhaust with a prayer. (A thankful prayer.)

    Deep gullies and high hills heavily timbered made fog flying a very risky touchy affair. Flying at 30 to 50 feet with never over 100 feet forward visibility in the average fog—made a great many angels of good pilots. Rushing thru this murk at 100 M.P.H.—Suddenly a wooded hillside looms up—just about 1/10 of a second of indecision and it’s just too bad.

Scene 1, Part 2   

Woodland Hills Park—improvised flying field 1919 for U.S. Air Mail.

Superintendant—field manager chief mechanic and pilot in office waiting for mail truck to find its way from Cleveland P.O. to air field.

Very dense fog limiting ground visibility to about 200 feet. Pilot apparently very nervous—divides his time smoking cigarettes and looking out of window trying to kid himself into believing that the fog is lifting and flying conditions are getting better.

Superintendant very irritable and apparently determined that if mail truck gets to field—pilot will fly it out—or else.

Well! The [truck] arrived—it was my turn to go—the other ship had left New York—where flying conditions were better. Weather at Bellefonte (our intermediate station) was reported “dense fog” with probability of clearing. Bellefonte 215 miles distant, and in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains approximately 2’-10” [2 hours, 10 minutes] flying if things went well.

Climbing into my suit as slowly as possible—without invoking suspicion that I was stalling for a few more additional minutes.

“Pull the blocks,”—another minute gained in adjusting goggles and final inspection of motor instruments—finally a half hearted wave to chief mechanic—and I fed her the gun and was off in the fog.

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