Steel Rails and Silver Wings by Serling & Foster Lindbergh Line to birth of TWA
Steel Rails and Silver Wings by Serling & Foster Lindbergh Line to birth of TWA
Steel Rails and Silver Wings by Serling & Foster Lindbergh Line to birth of TWA

Steel Rails and Silver Wings by Serling & Foster Lindbergh Line to birth of TWA

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Steel Rails and Silver Wings by Serling & Foster Lindbergh Line to birth of TWA
Steel Rails and Silver Wings by Robert Serling and George Foster The Lindbergh Line to the birth of TWA  Dust Jacket 2006 138 Pages
When World War One ended, some 3,000 Army Air Service pilots and 15,000 skilled airplane mechanics returned to civilian life to find an extremely limited employment market in a career many had come to love: aviation.
For the pilots, there were only two games in town, so to speak-either the precarious profession of barnstorming, or the even more hazardous job of flying the mail for the U.S. Post Office Department. Life expectancy for these airmen was short; of the first 40 pilots the postal service hired in 1919, 31 had been killed in crashes by 1925. It was an inevitable fatality rate, given the weather they constantly battled in flimsy, unreliable equipment, such as a number of converted DH-4s, a British-designed World War One observation biplane that had acquired the unflattering, interchangeable nicknames of "flying coffins" and "flaming coffins."
It was no coincidence that the U.S. government had to rely so heavily on a wartime English military aircraft, and a flawed one at that, to operate the nation's first major venture into commercial aviation. Aerial history's supreme irony was that the United States, where powered heavier-than-air flight was born, had paid only lip service to its subsequent development; not one airplane designed and built in America had seen combat service during the war.
The country's first passenger airline, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, inaugurated service across Tampa Bay on January 1,1914, using a Benoist Type XIV flying boat that carried pilot Tony Jannus and one passenger former St. Petersburg mayor A.C. Pheil, who paid $400 for this pioneering honor. But the venture lasted less than five months. Two years later, a new company incorporated as Pacific Aero Products (its president was named William Boeing) built its first airplane, a clumsy box-kite seaplane that carried one passenger and cruised at less than 70 miles-per-hour; France already was flying 100-mph monoplanes. The air mail service of which the Post Office was so proud actually was minor league compared to a far more extensive operation by French airmen.
(In 1919, Bill Boeing's struggling company received a government contract to modify 111 DH-4s, some of them earmarked for the Post Office's new air mail service. The job involved moving the fuel tank away from its position just ahead of the pilot- a location that had trapped him if an engine caught fire; the contract kept Boeing itself from crashing in flames.)
By 1923, a time when several European airlines were operating extensive scheduled passenger service aboard modern aircraft, the lone U.S. passenger air carrier then in existence had folded ignominiously. But emancipation for American commercial aviation came early in 1925, a year in which a number of fertile seeds were planted in what up to then was the rather barren garden of U.S. aviation progress.
U.S. Army Air Service pilots had contributed two of the few previous noteworthy achievements. In 1923, Lieutenants John Macready and Oakley G. Kelly flew the first nonstop transcontinental flight, a 2516-mile trip between New York and San Diego in just under 27 hours. The fact that their aircraft happened to be a Dutch-designed Fokker F-2 cabin monoplane didn't lessen the feat, but it also underlined the backward state of the nation's aircraft manufacturing industry. A year later, four U.S. Army planes took off in the first attempt to circle the globe by air. Two crashed en route but the other pair successfully completed the flight which took 175 days. This time, however, the airplanes involved were American-built biplanes manufactured in a former Santa Monica movie studio that had been converted into an aircraft factory by the founder of the infant company. His name was Donald Douglas.
Emancipation for U.S. civil aviation came early in 1925 via congressional legislation officially titled the Contract Air Mail Act, which turned virtually the entire job of carrying air mail over to private operators who would bid for the various routes. Unofficially the bill became known as the Kelly Act, after Republican Rep. Clyde
Kelly of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Post Office Committee, who was its chief proponent and sponsor.
It was an ironic twist. Kelly, no fervent supporter of aviation, happened to be Capitol Hill's chief proponent for the railroad industry which simply wanted to get the Post Office Department entirely out of the mail-carrying business. Around Congress, in fact, Clyde Kelly was known as "the voice of the railway mail clerks." Not by the farthest stretch of the imagination could Kelly or any of his fellow railroad lobbyists foresee the day when the Frankenstein monster they had created would someday be carrying more than 80 percent of the nation's first class inter-city mail.
The Kelly Act became law February 2, 1925, and nearly eight months later the Post Office Department began awarding the first contracts for operating the dozen Civil Air Mail (CAM) routes it had established (there had been more than 5,000 initial inquiries and several hundred actual applications). American airplane manufacturers like Donald Douglas finally saw a viable market for their products; Douglas put his engineers to work designing a new mailplane that would become the reliable M-2. Among the others hoping for a new air age were the veteran air mail pilots, the men who had gallantly flown 15 million miles in less than a decade, carrying some 300 million pieces of mail while completing 90 percent of their trips. They now envisioned great opportunities in the embryonic airline industry.
So did a young brand-new Army pilot whose unemployed status as only a reserve lieutenant in the fund-starved Army Air Service reflected the corresponding lack of opportunities for pilots who would have preferred active military duty. It made no difference that Charles A. Lindbergh had graduated at the top of his Kelly Field class. Disappointed, he had joined a St. Louis-based flying circus but now saw a chance to fly the mail for an airline.
There were two other men who had watched the Kelly Act's passage with more than casual interest. One was a successful CAM bidder. The other was a railroad president.
Their paths eventually would cross, in a way destined to drastically affect the nation's transportation future.

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