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I recently came across an interesting documentary, from the archives of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, that will test your ability to see the past through anything other than present eyes. It’s a silent film produced by the U.S. Post Office Department around 1925. It follows a letter sent from New York to San Francisco via air mail.

At first glance, you may find the footage boring. I did, because by modern movie standards it is–there’s no soundtrack, and hardly any “action” at all. Yet, I challenge you to watch this. In a different way.

Imagine it’s 1925. French psychologist Emil Coué has just brought his self-esteem therapy to the U.S. (“Every day in every way I am getting better and better.”) The first issue of The New Yorker was recently published, Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration was the first to be broadcast on radio, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is all the rage. It’s a time of tremendous change.

As History.com explains, “People from coast to coast bought the same goods (thanks to nationwide advertising and the spread of chain stores), listened to the same music, did the same dances and even used the same slang!”

The world was becoming smaller, and oddball pilots were helping fuel the changes. Today, when we think of advances in aviation, we think mostly of technology. But back then it was the pilots as much as the aircraft that made the changes possible. In the 1920s, all flying jobs were oddball flying jobs.

So I challenge you to actually watch this. Make some popcorn, put on some music, and go back in time.

If you squeeze your brain in just the right way you may get a glimpse of the Air Mail Service as the true technological marvel it was. You may see the air mail pilots as the true trailblazers they were. And you may have the same epiphany I did: 88 years from now our jets and our email and our cellphones will seem just as quaint.

To learn more about the history of the U.S. Air Mail Service, visit Air Mail Pioneers.

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3 Responses to “The “Air Mail Service” challenge”

  1. Gary Lampman says:

    Hard times and hard men! Open cockpit winter flying!!! There is still one DH4 flying: http://www.peckaeroplanerestoration.com/DH-4/dh4.htm

  2. Matt Finn says:

    Challenge accepted! Should’ve been working…

    Seeing the DH4 over the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas was something special. Can only imagine what that was like.

    I wanted to hear some of the pilots’ stories after watching this, a google search brought up the book Mavericks of the Sky. Adding it to the reading list.

  3. Gareth says:

    Hat’s off to those pioneering pilots with their limited engine reliability, navigation aids, communications and weather forecasts … but would we swap all those for what we have now to go back to such utter freedom of the skies? :0)

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