Why Was Early US Air Mail Called The Pony Express of the Air?

That’s what some people called the first coast-to-coast airmail service.

In 1921, it took five days for the mail to go by train from New York to California. The Post Office thought that airplanes could make the trip much faster, particularly if they flew day and night.

But in those days, nobody had done much long-distance flying at night. There were very few airports, and those that existed had no lights. There were no beacons on the ground to guide the pilots, and there weren’t even good maps.

But the Post Office convinced some World War I pilots to try it anyway. The first four planes loaded with mail took off one morning in February 1921, two from San Francisco and two from New York. Only one plane completed the trip coast to coast.

Working in relays, just like the Pony Express, it took five pilots 33 hours and 20 minutes to fly from San Francisco to New York. Two of the other planes were grounded by bad weather, and the fourth crashed. However, they had proven it could be done.

Regular cross-country airmail service was started in 1925. By then, the pilots had equipment to make their job at least a little bit safer.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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