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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Pushing forward at 100 mph through murky damp fog—just clearing house tops—brushing thru tree tops, finally after ten minutes of this I began to lose sight of ground although my wing tip had been practically even with the insulators along a telephone line.

Just one of two things left to do—cut the switches and land blind—or take another chance and try to pull up through.

The latter was my choice so I struggled and fought the old [“bus”?] for 15 minutes finally emerging into sunlight at 7000 feet with a white sea of unbroken fog underneath as far as [I could] see.

Now cam[e the] real test—fly a compass course above this supposed to be innocent looking sea of soap suds—for two hours and then come down through and hope to see the ground before hitting it.

Incidentally it’s a great help to make up your mind that at the end of about 1’-50” you will find a break through the layer and be able to get an occasional glimpse of terra firma—the more firma (the less terra).

At the end of my allotted 2-15 I had not been able to sight a break in the clouds—so—not having enough gas to continue to N.Y.—nor enough to fly back to Cleveland—had one choice left—come down through and pray fervently that the angel of good luck remain roosted on your shoulder until you have landed & stopped rolling.

After starting down—I suddenly changed my mind, and decided to leave some interesting data—in case of accident—which very probably would happen.

I wrote a will—my last word and testament—giving ship no. 67 my destination—who to notify disposal of my effects—also the mail—all this data on the back of an old envelope—tucked it into a pocket took a last lingering look at the sun light—and dove into the clouds headed for the ground.

My altimeter registered 6000-4500 3500 air speed raised to 140 even with throttled motor—wires screamed wildly and struts vibrating badly—still no sight of ground—just wet impenetrable fog rushing through my wings.

2800 feet on the altimeter and still nothing but fog. God for just one glimpse of the ground.

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