The Route: Long Island to Cleveland

Pilots flying the mail cross-country in 1921 followed these directions to find landmarks along the way.

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Landing field at Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, October 1935. Note the "large white circle" called out in the directions. NASM (SI-91-8506)

U. S. Air Mail Service
Pilots' Directions (February 1921)

Long Island, New York to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

Miles
0.      Hazelhurst Field, Long Island—Follow the tracks of the Long Island Railroad past Belmont Park race track, keeping Jamaica on the left. Cross New York over the lower end of Central Park.

25.    Newark, N.J.—Heller Field is located in Newark and may be identified as follows: The field is 1 ¼ miles west of the Passaic River and lies in the V formed by the Greenwood Lake Division and Orange branch of the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad. The Morris Canal bounds the western edge of the field. The roof of the large steel hangar is painted an orange color.

30.    Orange Mountains—Cross the Orange Mountains over a small round lake or pond. Slightly to the right will be seen the polo field and golf course of Essex Country Club. About 8 miles to the north is Mountain Lake, easily seen after crossing the Orange Mountains.

50.    Morristown, N.J.—About 4 miles north of course. Identified by a group of yellow buildings east of the city. The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad passes the eastern side of Morristown.

60.    Lake Hopatcong—A large irregular lake 10 miles north of course.

64.    Budd Lake—Large circular body of water 6 miles north of course.

78.    Belvidere, N.J.—On the Delaware River. Twelve miles to the north is the Delaware Water Gap and 11 miles to the south is Easton at the junction of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. The Delaware makes a pronounced U-shaped bend just north of Belvidere. A railway joins the two ends of the U.

111.    Lehighton, Pa.—Directly on the course. The Lehigh Valley and Central Railroad of New Jersey, running parallel, pass through Lehighton. The Lehigh River runs between the railroads at this point. Lehighton is approximately halfway between Hazelhurst and Bellefonte. A fair size elliptical race track lies just southwest of town but a larger and better emergency landing field lies about 100 yards west of the race track. The field is very long and lies in a north-south direction.    

114.    Mauch Chunk—Three miles north of Lehighton and on the direct course.

121.    Central Railroad of New Jersey—Two long triangular bodies of water northwest of the railroad followed by eight or nine small artificial lakes or ponds about half a mile apart almost parallel with the course but veering slightly to the south.

148.    Catawissa Mountain Range, which appears to curve in a semi-circle about a large open space of country directly on the course. To the north of the course may be seen the eastern branch of the Susquehanna. Fly parallel to this until Shamokin Creek is picked up. This creek is very black and is paralleled by two railroads. Shamokin Creek empties into the Susquehanna just below Sunbury.

168.    Sunbury, Pa.—At the junction of the two branches of the Susquehanna River. The infield of a race track on a small island at the junction of the two rivers furnishes a good landing field. The river to the south of Sunbury is wider than to the north and is filled with numerous small islands. The two branches to the north have practically no islands. If the river is reached and Sunbury is not in sight look for islands. If there are none, follow the river south to Sunbury. If islands are numerous, follow the river north to Sunbury.

170.    Lewisburg, Pa.—Two miles west of Sunbury and 8 miles north.

174.    After leaving Sunbury the next landmark to pick up is Penns Creek, which empties into the Susquehanna 7 miles south of Sunbury. Flying directly on the course, Penns Creek is reached 6 miles after it joins the Susquehanna 7 miles south of Sunbury.

178.    New Berlin—Identified by covered bridge over Penns Creek.

185.    The Pennsylvania Railroad from Lewisburg is crossed at the point where the range of mountains coming up from the southwest ends. The highway leaves the railroad here and goes up into Woodward Pass, directly on the course. A white fire tower may be seen on the crest of the last mountain to the north on leaving the pass.

202.    The next range of mountains is crossed through the pass at Millheim, a small town. A lone mountain may be seen to the south just across the Pennsylvania tracks.

217.    Bellefonte, Pa.—After crossing another mountain range without a pass Bellafonte will be seen against the Bald Eagle Mountain Range. On top of a mountain, just south of a gap in the Bald Eagle Range at Bellefonte, may be seen a clearing with a few trees scattered in it. This identifies this gap from others in the same range. The mail field lies just east of town and is marked by a large white circle. A white line marks the eastern edge of the field where there is a drop of nearly 100 feet.

Bellefonte to Cleveland, Ohio

Miles
0.    Bellefonte—Compass course to Cleveland approximately 310˚. Fly directly toward and over bare spot on mountain top south of gap in Bald Eagle Range. First range of mountains.

3.    Pennsylvania Railroad, following course of Bald Eagle Creek.

17.   New York Central Railroad, following course of Moshannon Creek.

35.   Clearfield, Pa.—On west branch of Susquehanna River. A small race track here serves as an emergency landing field. Two railroads, one from the north and one from the east, enter Clearfield and both go south from here.

55.    C. & M. Junction—One branch of the Buffalo, Rochelle & Pittsburgh from the east forms a junction here with the N. & S. line of the Buffalo, Rochelle & Pittsburgh Railroad. Dubois is 2 miles north of course on the N. & S. line of this railroad.

70.    Brookville—One mile north of course, west of city, is a 2-mile race track which makes an excellent emergency field.

86.    Clarion—One mile north of course. Emergency field marked by white cross and red-brick hangar is here. The Clarion River passes north edge of city. Railroad from the east ends here.

110.    Franklin, Pa.—Seven miles north of course at junction of Allegheny River and French Creek. Cross Allegheny River where there is a pronounced horseshoe bend. This is due south of Franklin.

122.    Sandy Lake—Two miles north of course. Cross the Pennsylvania Railroad at right angles 2 miles south of Sandy Lake.

138.    Shenango—Two miles north of course. Three railroads enter this town from the north. Two continue south and one runs east for 3 miles and then turns southeast.

152.    New York Central Railroad, running north and south. One mile north of course the Erie crosses the New York Central at right angles. Four miles west the Erie should be crossed where it turns southward. Eight miles south of course is Warren, with eight railroads radiating out.

157.    Pennsylvania Railroad, running north and south.

165.    Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, running diagonally northeast-southwest.

206.    Cleveland on Lake Erie—The mail field is in East Cleveland between the two railroads that follow the lake shore. The field is near the edge of the city and near the edge of the freight yards of the New York Central. The field is distinctly marked by long cinder runway. The air mail hangar is in the southwest corner of the field. The Martin factory is in the northwest corner of the field.

Reprinted by permission from Pilots' Directions: The Transcontinental Airway and Its History, edited by William M. Leary, University of Iowa Press, 1990.

Airmail pilot William “Wild Bill” Hopson (seen here circa 1921) submitted a photograph of himself to the Air Mail Service along with the note: “Enclosed please find photo of bum pilot…. When finished with picture just post in cellar, it’s guaranteed to keep away all rats, mice and other vermin.” He would eventually log more than 4,000 hours of flight time, and cover some 413,000 miles. NASM (SI 75-7024)
On August 6, 1918, pioneers of the airmail came together at the Standard Aero Corporation factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where the six JR-1B aircraft that would begin the service were manufactured. Otto Praeger (second from left), the second assistant postmaster general, has been called “the father of airmail.” He hired engineer Benjamin Lipsner (fourth from right) to run the operations. Lipsner in turn hired four pilots and one reserve pilot. From right, the first four civilian pilots: Robert Shank, Max Miller (killed in a crash in September 1920), Maurice Newton, and Edward Gardner (to Lipsner’s right). NASM SI-83-8168
U.S. Airmail flights begin. On May 15, 1918, Army Lieutenant James C. Edgerton, having received a parcel of mail flown from New York, takes off from Bustleton Field in Philadelphia toward Washington, D.C. NASM (SI-A-38903-4)
Second Lieutenant George Boyle (right) thought he’d scored a coup when he learned he was assigned to fly the mail out of Washington, D.C. on the first day of service. Unfortunately, the rookie got lost twice during his attempt to fly from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia, the route’s halfway point. “The Atlantic Ocean and lack of gas prevent him going further,” noted Major Reuben Fleet (left), who was assigned the task of setting up the first regularly scheduled airmail service. Here, Major Fleet and Lieutenant Boyle review a map of their flight route on the Polo Grounds in Washington, May 15, 1918. NASM (00138840)
When de Havilland DH-4s first flew mail across the country, the mail sacks would have to be transferred to a train to keep the mail moving at night. By 1923, mail was transferred to another DH-4, which could follow a lighted airway from Chicago to Omaha, Nebraska, where this photograph was taken. NASM (SI-75-7026)
An unidentified clerk at the Fort Crook landing field in Omaha, Nebraska, poses with a dispatch board listing the stops on the Chicago, Illinois to Cheyenne, Wyoming, airmail run. Airmail movements were tracked by moving cardboard disks with pilots’ names and airplane’s numbers. NASM (SI-91-7061)
Mechanics who serviced the DH-4s (one in the hangar in background) were sometimes blamed for the inadequacies of the Liberty engines that powered them. This group worked at the Fort Crook airfield, in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1928, after the Post Office had handed off the mail to contract carriers. NASM (SI-91-7029)
Between January 1922 and June 1927, airmail pilots flew more than 14 million miles, delivering more than 250 million letters. National Air Transport flew Boeing 40s, and was one of the first companies to form in 1925 after legislation authorized the government to award contracts for airmail delivery. NASM (SI-89-12166)
Charles Lindbergh was one of three pilots who flew for the St. Louis-based Robertson Aircraft Corporation, which won the contract to fly mail between St. Louis and Chicago in 1926. Possibly because Lindbergh crashed two of the company’s four airplanes—bailing out once because his engine quit and a second time after a snowstorm kept him from landing and he ran out of gas—Robertson sold its operations to a company that eventually became American Airlines. NASM (SI-78-12207)
James “Jack” Knight (left) was one of the best-known airmail pilots, making a heroic night flight from Omaha, Nebraska, to Chicago, Illinois, on February 23, 1921. At the conclusion of his epic journey, Knight told the New York Times “I feel fine, except that I need some eats and some sleep.” Other pilots weren’t so sanguine. Clarence Lange would briefly quit the Air Mail Service, reporting shattered nerves due to the strain of night flying. Knight and Lange are shown here modeling winter flying clothing issued by the government in January 1922. NASM (SI-83-8165)
Pilot Eugene Johnson lands in Hazelhurst, New York, carrying mail from the West Coast, in the first transcontinental air mail flight on August 22, 1923. Coast-to-coast flying was made possible only with the advent of night flying. As the Los Angeles Times breathlessly reported in 1923, “The line of lights by which the night transit of the airplanes between Chicago and Cheyenne is guided appeals to the imagination as well as to practical instincts…. This chain of glittering points seems to have a mystical significance. It may be regarded as typical of the light of science, showing the way to mankind in his flight against time and distance.” NASM (SI-A-32904-M)
Addison Pemberton's Boeing 40C (background) and Larry Tobin's 1927 Stearman C3B biplane are two of the three airplanes that will retrace the 1920s cross-country airmail route in September 2008. George Perks
The planned route for the 2008 transcontinental mail flight:
Sept. 10 – Depart New York Republic field (FRG) 9:30AM. Arrive Belafonte, PA. (N96) late morning. Depart and arrive Cleveland (BKL) late afternoon, early evening. Overnight stop.
Sept. 11 – Depart Cleveland (BKL) 9:30AM. Arrive late morning Bryan, Ohio (OG6). Depart and arrive Chicago Lansing Airport (IGQ) late afternoon. Arrive early evening Iowa City (IOW) Overnight stop.
Sept. 12 – Depart Iowa City 9:30AM. Arrive Omaha, NB (OMA) late morning. Depart and arrive North Platt NB(LBF) late afternoon. Overnight stop.
Sept.13 – Depart North Platt, NB 9:30AM. Arrive late morning Cheyenne, WY (CYS) Depart and arrive mid afternoon Rawlins, WY (RWL). Depart and arrive Rock Springs, WY (RKS) early evening. Overnight stop.
Sept.14 – Arrive late morning Salt Lake # 2 (U42). Depart and arrive Elko, NV (EKO) late afternoon. Depart and arrive Reno, NV (RNO) early evening. Overnight stop.
Sept. 15 – Depart Reno, NV 9:30AM. Depart and arrive Hayward, CA (HWD) late morning. Depart Hayward, CA mid day for SFO or Chrissy Field to be determined and return to Hayward, CA. R. Davies
Working on the Boeing 40C in Pemberton's shop in Spokane, Washington. Ryan Pemberton
Ben Scott's 1930 Stearman 4E Speedmail. George Perks
The Boeing 40C as it looked during construction in April 2007. Ryan Pemberton
Left: Pilot Grant Donaldson shakes Bill Boeing's hand while standing on the wheel of his Boeing 40C in 1928. Right: Same airplane, 80 years later, with pilot Addison Pemberton shaking Bill Boeing, Jr.'s hand. George Perks
Pemberton takes the Boeing 40C on a test flight in February 20008. George Perks
The planned route for the 2008 transcontinental mail flight:
Sept. 10 – Depart New York Republic field (FRG) 9:30AM. Arrive Belafonte, PA. (N96) late morning. Depart and arrive Cleveland (BKL) late afternoon, early evening. Overnight stop.
Sept. 11 – Depart Cleveland (BKL) 9:30AM. Arrive late morning Bryan, Ohio (OG6). Depart and arrive Chicago Lansing Airport (IGQ) late afternoon. Arrive early evening Iowa City (IOW) Overnight stop.
Sept. 12 – Depart Iowa City 9:30AM. Arrive Omaha, NB (OMA) late morning. Depart and arrive North Platt NB(LBF) late afternoon. Overnight stop.
Sept.13 – Depart North Platt, NB 9:30AM. Arrive late morning Cheyenne, WY (CYS) Depart and arrive mid afternoon Rawlins, WY (RWL). Depart and arrive Rock Springs, WY (RKS) early evening. Overnight stop.
Sept.14 – Arrive late morning Salt Lake # 2 (U42). Depart and arrive Elko, NV (EKO) late afternoon. Depart and arrive Reno, NV (RNO) early evening. Overnight stop.
Sept. 15 – Depart Reno, NV 9:30AM. Depart and arrive Hayward, CA (HWD) late morning. Depart Hayward, CA mid day for SFO or Chrissy Field to be determined and return to Hayward, CA. R. Davies