Mavericks of the Sky: The First Daring Pilots of the U.S. Air Mail

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9780060529505: Mavericks of the Sky: The First Daring Pilots of the U.S. Air Mail

MAVERICKS OF THE SKY is a story of the pilots of the U.S. Air Mail Service, who made it possible for flight to evolve from an impractical and deadly fad to today’s worldwide network of airlines.
They were a dashing group—proud, brazen, resentful of authority. They were also loyal, determined to prove to the skeptics that we had entered the Air Age. Few believed them. Air ships were different from trains, people claimed. More flimsy, and far more dangerous. They would never hold up to a scheduled delivery service.
The pilots set out to prove them wrong. But it was a formidable task. One out of every four men lost their lives in those early years. Weather and mechanical failure were always a threat. With little instrumentation available, aviators relied on their wits and the flying sense of a hawk to keep them out of trouble. They learned to listen to the wind in the wires. With a road map strapped to their thighs they ducked under fog and skimmed over church steeples, following the terrain as best they could. If they were lucky, there would be a clear sky overhead and a set of railroad tracks below, which they aptly nicknamed "the iron compass". But sometimes, there was no getting around it. Sometimes, along the way, they had to look a thunderhead in the eye and say "the hell with it," just to bring the plane in on schedule.


Bold though they were, these pilots were no barnstormers, content to perform stunts to the crowd. With mission-like zeal, they sorted through the problems of flying one by one, studying the lessons of every mishap. When torrential rains ripped pieces off the wooden propellers, mechanics added metal plates to reinforce them. When cracks appeared in the fuselage, they devised ingenuous ways to fix them. Day after day they climbed into an open cockpit to deliver a sack full of mail across the sky and in the process carved out a network of sky routes still in use by every major airline today.


MAVERICKS OF THE SKY offers readers a narrative non-fiction account of the crucial, first three years of the air mail service—from the inaugural New York-to-Washington D.C. flight in 1918, through 1921 when famous aviator Jack Knight pilots his single-engine biplane through a blizzard to complete the first coast-to-coast flight ever attempted in the dark of night, thus, silencing the critics of aviation once and for all.


Omnipresent throughout those pivotal first three years was Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger, a gritty a tough-talking, former newspaperman who along with his boss, Albert Burleson, the tenacious postmaster general in the cabinet of President Woodrow Wilson, held a common faith in the future of aviation.
Despite the deaths, the public skepticism and the contempt in which Congress held airmail, Praeger and Burleson refused to give up. Day after day, they held to the same impossible conviction—that airmail could be reliable and eventually far superior to rail service. Relentlessly, he pushed the air mail service to expand westward until, only three years after the first air mail flight, he had managed to connect the entire country with air routes, from New York City to San Francisco.


The years covered by MAVERICKS OF THE SKY illustrate a tumultuous time in America. The country was embroiled in World War I, and tens of thousands of American boys were on their way to England and France.
At the same time, the forces of the Industrial Revolution had whipped the country into a frenzy of change. Suddenly, telephones were connecting people to each other in ways never before imagined. Electricity, once considered a fad, was single-handedly changing the way Americans lived. Washing machines, vacuum cleaners, electric fans, toasters, ovens and a host of other labor-saving devices were only as far away as the Montgomery Ward catalog.


Heady with the freedoms of prosperity, Americans began challenging old ways of thinking, of doing business. The women’s suffrage movement had reached a critical mass, and women were about to receive the right to vote in 1920. This was the Jazz Age, and the world was changing—politically, socially and economically.


Onto this stage, the daring pilots of the U.S. Air Mail Service appeared—their heads swimming with modern ideas about America and its emergence into the new era of air travel.
There has always been romance, adventure and peril attached to carrying the mail. The lone rider with the mail pouch swung across his saddle, the gangs of outlaws holding up the mail stage, the mail cars falling victim to masked bandits with six-shooters. But it reaches its climax with the men of the early aero mail service.
These men thrived in an atmosphere of danger. They went up in their wood and canvas biplanes in all weather. When it got cold, they silently shivered in their fur-lined flightsuits and turned to a flask of whiskey, known as "pilot tea," for comfort.
Men like Jack Knight, the savior of the transcontinental night flight; "Wild Bill" Hopson, who earned his nickname everyday; Slim Lewis, the best contact flier in the service who routinely flew so low that they were constantly picking tree branches out of the landing gear of his planes; and Max Miller and Eddie Gardner, close friends and rivals who competed with each other on every mail run. These were men who played poker all night and flew the next day. At the same time, they cherished the solitary high places and the look of the good Earth from above.

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About the Author:

Barry Rosenberg is a longtime journalist specializing in aerospace, technology and issues of national defense, and has contributed to Aviation Week & Space Technology, as well as many other publications, for two decades. Catherine Macaulay is an experienced news reporter and editor, and has contributed to a variety of national publications ranging from E/The Environmental Magazine to the Daily Racing Form./

From the Inside Flap:

MAVERICKS OF THE SKY brings to life the daredevil early days of aviation and tells the forgotten history of the band of aces who pioneered flight and proved that the airplane was an invention of enduring value.
Veteran aviation reporter Barry Rosenberg and long-time writer Catherine Macaulay have brilliantly combined the romance and danger of the halcyon days of flight with the dramatic story of these near-mythic men and women.
MAVERICKS OF THE SKY offers an absorbing history of the crucial, first three years of the U.S. Air Mail Service—beginning with the inaugural New York-to-Washington D.C. flight in 1918 through 1921 with Jack Knight’s desperate against-all-odd night flight on which the future of airmail hinged.
Day after day, they climbed into their flimsy wood and cloth-covered biplanes to move the mail through torrential rain and blinding snowstorms, relying on their wits and instincts to keep them out of trouble. They were constantly driven by Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger, a tough-talking former newspaperman who pushed the men and machines to the extreme.
One in four of the pilots died during these years. Yet Praeger relentlessly expanded the air mail service westward, and just three years after the first air mail flight, the entire country from New York to San Francisco was connected by air.


The pilots of the U.S. Air Mail were nicknamed "The Suicide Club," and were a brash collection of First World War aces who returned as heroes from Europe looking for a way to continue their obsession with flying. At a time before there were any established air routes and when planes were very much a developing technology, they pushed the limits of flight to the extreme. They were dashing, group-proud, brazen, and resentful of authority.
Their legacy, however, is undeniable: By establishing the first reliable application of powered flight in the face of wide public skepticism, "The Suicide Club" ushered in the era of modern aviation.


Rosenberg and Macaulay’s thrilling narrative draws on exhaustive research of new archival material to bring back to life the exploits of the most daring and colorful pilots—American pioneers who were true symbols of the Jazz Age and the American spirit. A unique tale of adventure, heroism, and suspense, MAVERICKS OF THE SKY is as irresistibly fascinating as its subject.

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 201 x 132 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. It was the pilots of the U.S. Air Mail service who made it possible for flight to evolve from an impractical and deadly fad to today s worldwide network of airlines. Nicknamed The Suicide Club, this small but daring cadre of pilots took a fleet of flimsy World War I Jenny Biplanes and blazed a trail of sky routes across the country. In the midst of the Jazz Age, they were dashing, group-proud, brazen, and resentful of authority. They were also loyal, determined to prove the skeptics wrong. MAVERICKS OF THE SKY, by Barry Rosenburg and Catherine Macaulay, is a narrative non-fiction account of the crucial, first three years of the air mail service - beginning with the inaugural New York-to-Washington D.C. flight in 1918, through 1921 when aviator Jack Knight was the first to fly across the country at night and furthermore, through a blizzard. In those early years, one out of every four men lost their lives. With the constant threat of weather and mechanical failure and with little instrumentation available, aviators relied on their wits and instincts to keep them out of trouble. MAVERICKS OF THE SKY brings these sagas to life, and tells the story of the extraordinary lives and rivalries of those who single-handedly pulled off the great experiment. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780060529505

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 201 x 132 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. It was the pilots of the U.S. Air Mail service who made it possible for flight to evolve from an impractical and deadly fad to today s worldwide network of airlines. Nicknamed The Suicide Club, this small but daring cadre of pilots took a fleet of flimsy World War I Jenny Biplanes and blazed a trail of sky routes across the country. In the midst of the Jazz Age, they were dashing, group-proud, brazen, and resentful of authority. They were also loyal, determined to prove the skeptics wrong. MAVERICKS OF THE SKY, by Barry Rosenburg and Catherine Macaulay, is a narrative non-fiction account of the crucial, first three years of the air mail service - beginning with the inaugural New York-to-Washington D.C. flight in 1918, through 1921 when aviator Jack Knight was the first to fly across the country at night and furthermore, through a blizzard. In those early years, one out of every four men lost their lives. With the constant threat of weather and mechanical failure and with little instrumentation available, aviators relied on their wits and instincts to keep them out of trouble. MAVERICKS OF THE SKY brings these sagas to life, and tells the story of the extraordinary lives and rivalries of those who single-handedly pulled off the great experiment. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780060529505

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