CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — In September of 2020, Bellefonte participated in “Air Mail 100”, a commemorative flight marking the 100th anniversary of U.S. transcontinental air mail service. Today, the American Philatelic Society in Bellefonte received pieces of history from that flight.
Why today? It is the 100th anniversary of the flight that pilots say “saved the U.S. air mail.”
In the 1920s, President Harding and Congress openly debated ending federal air mail due to safety and long transit time.
At that point, planes only flew during the day, but Pilot Jack Knight changed that. He flew the first overnight, transcontinental air mail delivery.
Many of the first deliveries flew from New York to Chicago.
“And Bellefonte was the first stop,” said Ken Martin, director of expertizing at the American Philatelic Society. “It was about as far as a plane could fly on a tank of fuel in 1918… pilots would stay overnight here.”
The community was fascinated.
“People would almost fight for whos home they would stay at because it was almost like an astronaut in the sixties,” said Martin.
The flight from New York to Bellefonte was among the most dangerous.
“It was known as ‘Hell’s Stretch’,” said Martin. “It was probably the most dangerous route other than crossing the Rockies.”
Today, Stephen Tucker, a pilot who flew the final legs of Air Mail 100, traveled from Concord, California to deliver pieces of history to Bellefonte.
Among those items were two mailbags signed by the Air Mail 100 pilots, a replica of the manual given to the original pilots, and cancellation devices from the anniversary flight.
The items will be showcased at the American Philatelic Center as a way to honor mail carriers of the past and inspire the continuation of mail services in the future.