Last Official Open Cockpit Airmail Flight (My Grandfather)

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Ray
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Last Official Open Cockpit Airmail Flight (My Grandfather)

Post by Ray » Sun Feb 28, 2010 2:47 pm

Found this pic of my grandad - thought it was pretty neat. I have the envelope of the letter he delivered framed with the plaque he's receiving here.
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"Eddie Rickenbacker, pilot Capt. James Shelly Charles, Lilly Ponds? and two unidentified people at an Eastern Air Lines ceremony retiring their last open-cockpit Pitcairn Mailwing plane. Caption on verso reads, "1935 at ceremony retiring the last open cockpit mailwing - "The pony express of the air"." The Pitcairn Mailwing was manufactured by Harold F. Pitcairn, founder of Pitcairn Aviation (later Eastern Air Lines). Captain James Shelly Charles, who flew the last open cockpit airmail flight in the US in a Pitcairn Mailwing on October 14, 1935, was an early airmail pioneer."

Summary
A special broadcast from the Plaza at Rockefeller Center that covers the ceremonies marking the retirement of the last open-cockpit U.S. airmail plane. The same type of plane was used since the inception of the airmail service; the final one made its last scheduled flight, between Chicago and Jacksonville, on October 14, 1935. After the announcer describes the scene, Paul H. Bratton, assistant general manager of Eastern Airlines, introduces Charles P. Graddick, superintendent of airmail service. Graddick discusses the history of the airmail service, also referred to as "The Pony Express of the Air," and details current advances in airmail service. Lily Pons, opera star, then presents a commemorative plaque to J. Shelly Charles of Eastern Airlines, who was the pilot of the final flight. Next, Eddie Rickenbacker, World War One flying ace and general manager of Eastern Airlines, proceeds to discuss the history of airmail service and the ways that developments in aviation have eliminated many problems. During his speech, he points out such aviation luminaries in attendance as Major Alfred Williams, former Navy ace and holder of eight consecutive world records, Captain Frank Hawkes, who recently completed a forty thousand mile tour of the U.S., and Laura Ingalls, holder of the cross-country flight record. Rickenbacker then officially retires the plane from service as Navy buglers plays "At Sundown." The announcer concludes the program while commenting on the ceremony, and the broadcast is followed by three minutes of piano music.

Here's the plaque he's receiving in the photo above.
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Last edited by Ray on Thu Oct 13, 2011 10:11 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Post by Gunner » Sun Feb 28, 2010 2:53 pm

Very cool Ray! It's in your blood... 8)
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Post by Burner » Mon Mar 01, 2010 4:33 pm

Darn right! The old mail pilots were the best. It's like Norm McDonald says about cliff divers, if you survive at all you're an awesome cliff diver!
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Post by Ray » Mon Mar 01, 2010 7:26 pm

Burner wrote:Darn right! The old mail pilots were the best. It's like Norm McDonald says about cliff divers, if you survive at all you're an awesome cliff diver!
:lol: Yea the kind of flying they did back then was incredible - wish I could have met him, I bet he had some stories!

Was looking for info about my uncle Paul Charles, turns out he was the youngest licensed commercial pilot in the U.S. in 1928.

"Probably one of the most flamboyant of the early Adams county aviators was Paul D. Charles, a 21-year-old "orphan," who flew for the Gettysburg Flying Service, whose field was located on the old Forney Farm near Oak Hill on the Battlefield.

As note in the June 4, 1928, edition of the Gettysburg Times, Charles was described as "the youngest commercial pilot, wing-walker, stunt flier, and student instructor in the United States… He had been operating (flying) under a special permit from the department of commerce since early last summer and has been flying since he was 15 years of age. He was a pupil of his (older) brother, J. Shelly Charles, of Winston-Salem, N.C., winner of third place in the New York-Spokane air derby in 1927."

In that story, the writer reported on one of the more flamboyant escapades of young Charles.

On Saturday afternoon, June 2, 1928, Charles and a student pilot named C.C. Moller flew to Thurmont, Md. Their mission: drop flags over the cemetery there during a memorial service for Confederate veterans. Early in their flight, Charles realized it wasn’t going to be a milk run.

On the flight down, Charles noticed that the "right wheel of his plane was hanging awry." With Moller manning the controls, Charles walked onto the wing to check the damage. Apparently after dropping the flags over Thurmont, they returned to the Gettysburg Flying Service air strip. Charles signaled his ground crew and dropped a message. Charles wanted to attempt a mid-air repair.

Gathering a length of rope and wire as specified by Charles in his note, an associate pilot of the Flying Service, Captain J.H. McKenny and James Mitinger, a son of the airport manager, took off in a second craft, the newspaper reported. While flying in close formation, "the landing gears of the plane piloted by McKenny at times (came) to within 18 inches of the top wings of Charles’ plane."

The transfer did not go smoothly. Winds were blowing upwards of 35 miles an hour. The 50 feet of rope was lowered, but became entangled in the rudder of Charles’ plane. "(B)y clever manipulation of his machine, (Charles) extricated the rope and after several more efforts got the rope on board." Once the transfer was completed, Charles walked out on the lower wing…(Charles hung the top part of his body down) and after two hours’ effort lashed the struts holding the (damaged) wheel to the struts on the other side securely enough to permit a landing." After an hour, Charles’ plane was again air-worthy.

Three months later, in September, Paul Charles piloted Gettysburg’s entry in an air race between New York and Los Angeles. Named the "Gettysburg Bullet," he was forced out of the race near Pittsburgh due to mechanical difficulties and bad weather."
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Post by Ray » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:11 pm

I've had a few e-mails recently from early era aviation researchers/writers trying to find information about Shelly and Paul, along with more info about this last mail flight. They've all seen this thread, apparently it's one of the first ones that shows in Google.

Going to use this thread to post information about them.
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Post by Ray » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:17 pm

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"In the early 1930's, airline pilot Shelly Charles operated an open primary glider from auto-tow at the old Washington-Hoover Airport (where the Pentagon stands today). His flights were usually of short duration before an appreciative Sunday afternoon crowd."

"5-7-00- Air show delighted crowds in 1929

A crowd estimated at more than 20,000 filled all available parking and standing room at Gettysburg. Automobiles lined every highway and at one time the Lincoln highway was jammed with motor vehicles. Dozens of state troopers and highway patrolmen were directing traffic during the two-day program.

Sunday's crowd was the peak crowd of the demonstration.

These lines could describe one of the annual Civil War reenactments held during Gettysburg's Heritage Days, which commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. But in this case, those words appeared on the front page of the Monday, Oct. 21, 1929, Gettysburg Times, and described a two-day "Aerial Demonstration" held at the Gettysburg Airport that weekend.

The Gettysburg Airport was operated by the Gettysburg Flying Service, and opened in August 1927 by businessmen from Washington, D.C., including Henry Berliner, an aircraft manufacturer. It was located on the Forney Farm, south of the Mummasburg Road in the shadow of Oak Hill on the first day's battlefield.

The manager of the flying service was Howard C. Mittinger and his staff included a young pilot and flight instructor, Paul D. Charles, and a mechanic, Charles Doersom.

The festivities during the two-day air show included stunt flying, two air races, "dead stick" (engine off) landing competition, parachute jumping, a night flying demonstration, and the dedication of a second hanger at the field.

"The honors for the two-day program (went) to J. Shelly Charles (Paul's older brother), of Richmond, Va., and Henry Little of Norristown, who each won two large silver loving cups.
"Charles won for stunt flying... putting his ship through every trick, twist and turn imaginable and (winning) the plaudits of the large crowd - and his dead stick landing expertise. Little won one each in racing competitions."

Thunderbolt Knight, of Baltimore, thrilled the crowds with his daring parachute jumps.

"The most thrilling performance was the delayed jump. Knight (leaped) from his ship at an altitude of 3,000 feet. After dropping several hundred feet he opens one chute. A few hundred feet farther down, he (cut) one parachute loose and (dropped) two hundred feet before opening his second chute."

Apparently, the star of the show, one of the rising stars in the aviation field, was 23-year-old pilot Paul Charles, who "thrilled the large crowd Sunday afternoon with a series of rolls, wing-overs, nose-dives, falling leafs, upside-down flying, and other aerobatics" in his Whirlwind biplane.
Other participants included A.C. Pottorf of Chambersburg and S.B. Slyder of Chambersburg. Notable visitors to the field included Gen. James E. Fechet, chief of the Army Air Corps; E. C. Brauer, chief photographer and "Chief Aviation Pilot Insley" of the Navy; J. Morgan Harding, of Hadley Field, N.J.; R.W. Thaw of Norristown; and Earl Steinhauer of Hoover Field, Washington, D.C. (now the site of the Pentagon).

Nonetheless, a young army pilot was also present. His first claim to fame was piloting the "Question Mark," a- large biplane (now in the Air & Space Museum collections), that broke a record for endurance flight. But this aviator was destined for greater things. His name, Captain Ira C. Eaker, who, as the commander of the Army's Eight Air Force in Europe during World War II, helped bring Hitler's Third Reich to its knees through daylight bombing raids."

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Excerpt from the Bowlus BA-100 Baby Albatross Display at the Smithsonian.

"Factory records suggest that Bowlus produced parts for about 90 aircraft. Pilot and historian, Jeff Byard, has attempted to trace the histories of each known Baby Albatross serial number. His work has shown that enthusiasts probably built and flew from 50 to 60. Among the group were pilots who accomplished significant flights at the controls of their Baby Albatrosses. Eastern Airlines Captain J. Shelly Charles of Atlanta made a number of impressive flights. He flew 423 km (263 miles) on one occasion and later soared to an altitude of more than 3,040 m (10,000 ft)."
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Post by Ray » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:26 pm

AMERICAN NEWS
Jan Scott, President of the Vintage Soaring Association of America, has flownhis recently acquired Minimoa for 15 hours. While not enthusiastic about its aileron response, he has found it ,to be a terrific climber despite its 630 Ibs empty weight. This machine was flown by Wolf Hirth in Germany in the 1950s and was then sold to a Swiss owner. From Switzerland,it went to the United States in 1968 where it was until recently owned by Al Palmer. The aircraft is now in mint condition. Filling has given it a finish like that of a glass fibre sailplane. It is fitted with upper wing surface spoilers only.

There were therefore 4 minimoas in the US. The second - the one flown by
Dupont and other famous American soaring pilots before the war - is now owned by the National Soaring Museum at Harris Hill. A third Minimoa has just been located in the US thanks to a letter from Joe Jackson, a pilot with Allegheny Airlines living in Poland, New York State. Its registration is N 18163. The machine previously flew in Britain as BGA 388.
We still haven't found any trace of the fourth Minimoa known to have flown in the United States.

Joe Jackson's Minimoa was one of two aircraft of the type flying in England
in 1939; the other belonged to PhilipWills. Both built in 1938, the machines were flown et the British National Contests of 1939 at Camphill. One was ftown by Philip Wills and the other, Werk Nr 205, by Philip Brown. The latter machine was imported to the United States just before the outbreak of war by Shelly Charles. It apparently broke an absolute altitude record in the US during the late 1940s. After Charles' death, it was sold to someone else, who in turn sold it very cheaply to Joe Jackson.

The' Minimoa is now stored, dry, mostly without, fabric.
It is complete apart from its ailerons being in two pieces. Joe hopes to restore it to flying condition but is worried about joining the ailerons in case they should lose their flexibility. To build new ailerons, 'he would need drawings, but there are none in Germany or Britain. Can anyone help him? His address is Box 129, RD 1, Poland, New York134:31,USA.
Werk Nr 205 was once painted cream with green decor. Joe can remember seeing a photo of it decorated with a shamrock. This can 'be .considered as a positive identification as Chris Wills remembers seeing a green shamrock decorating the fuselage of a Minimoa in a workshop near Dunstable before the war.
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Post by Ray » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:32 pm

His journal entry documenting his world record setting flight at the time.
http://www.soar-mgsa.org/GeorgiaHOF/Hal ... 20Page.htm

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Chris,
I was browsing the Georgia state records and the 19,434' absolute altitude set in 1943 in an open single really stood out. I was wondering if you knew any more about that record.
Steve Mason
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Steve,
Yes, I have heard the lore behind this feat. This man took a wooden and fabric glider [Minimoa] into a thunderstorm over a little airport south of Atlanta. This airport is now known as Hartsfield International, the busiest airport in the world and a similar attempt could cost you your license and possibly more. For the foreseeable future the FAA will continue to prohibit cloud flying for gliders, so I expect this record to outlive this generation of pilots since a record cannot be approved that breaks the regulations. Bravery (and maybe a slice of stupidity) 57 years ago looks like it will stand for many years to come, and that is part of the charm of records [actually a lot of easy ones remain unclaimed or unbeaten too] Barring some extraordinary wave conditions, which are rare in this state, this is the only record that looks "unbeatable".
regards
Chris Ruf
Georgia State record keeper
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<< Bravery (and maybe a slice of stupidity) 57 years ago
J. Shelly Charles was Eastern Pilot. That explains a lot.
Bob Gaines, GA [retired Delta pilot]
:lol:
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Post by Ray » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:42 pm

+ Eastern Airlines mail pilot Paul Charles was blown 100 miles off course in a storm and found himself over Putnam County this week late in the night and perilously low in fuel.

He buzzed the town, trying to get someone's attention for help. Service station operator Charles Stone heard him. So did Comer Cannon, Harry Emory and Billie Chapin. Stone and the other group rushed separately to the airfield north of town.

In the dark, Stone built a fire to light the landing field. Meanwhile, the other trio lined the strip with their cars and turned their headlights on. Just before dawn, Charles landed his biplane safely.

An hour later he'd refueled, eaten a bite, and was on his way again with the US mail. (March 14, 1935).


Read more: Herald Citizen - 1935 March 13-19
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Post by Ray » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:56 pm

My other uncle,

Capt. James Shelly Charles Jr., USAF/Retired, of Palmetto, Ga., died August 13, 2002.

He was born Sept. 21, 1924 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Mr. Charles was raised by his father, James S. Charles Sr. as his mother died at an early age. Mr. Charles was a graduate of Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville and Southern Tech and entered the U.S. Air Force shortly after World War II. He was attached to the 49th Fighter Bomber Group in Marietta in 1951 and was sent to Korea where he flew more than 100 missions earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster. After serving his country, Mr. Charles joined Eastern Airlines where he retired 34 years later in 1984.

Mr. Charles was preceded in death by a son, James Shelly Charles III.
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Post by Ray » Thu Oct 13, 2011 10:08 pm

http://web.iwebcenters.com/usaimf/Stories.ivnu

Those days are ancient history now, and the airline business is a different ball game -- all a matter of pushing buttons, the modern pilots tell me. Well, I'm glad that my flying was done in the old days, like, for example, when I was a co-pilot on a DC-3 from Atlanta to Chicago with the late J. Shelley Charles, early in 1940. Shelley was one of our most spectacular captains. Our Indianapolis station called to inform us that the ceiling there had gone to 200 feet. In those days, the standard minimum was 300 feet, with the limited landing aids that we had at the time.


"Tell 'em we'll be right down!" Shelley said, with positive delight.


He went over the low frequency range station on final, flew down to 200 feet on a southeast heading to intercept the approach lights at a right angle, then did a steep, 180 degree turn to the left and landed northwest into the wind. He made it look so easy. Nothing to it. Just a piece of cake for Shelley Charles. Shelley was the only captain I ever flew with who would land when the weather was reported below limits. What a guy! And what an airline! Thank the Good Lord for my early days on RICKENBACKER'S FLYING CIRCUS.
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Re: Last Official Open Cockpit Airmail Flight (My Grandfather)

Post by Nancy » Wed Sep 27, 2017 3:23 pm

Hi! I would like to correspond via email with the author, Ray. My name is Nancy and it looks like I once lived near some of your relatives. Please contact me at nancyglynn2@gmail.com. Thank you!
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