The Birth of the Airlines
Though pilots sometimes carried sacks of mail that were “more sack than mail,” visionary airline executives like “Pop” Hanshue of Western Air Express—later Western Airlines—and Juan Terry Trippe of Pan American World Airways took leaps of faith on an industry that seemed to have no chance of success. After all, carrying two passengers at a time in temperamental airplanes that seemed to crash as often as they managed to reach their destinations was no way to run an airline.
Most modern airlines have their roots in those early days of seat-of-the-pants air mail flying. The airline that can trace its roots back the farthest in a direct line is Western Airlines, the company that coined the term “The only way to fly.” Legend has it that 1920s air mail pilots for Western also coined another phrase:“He bought the farm.” The reference was to the practice of paying for crop damage or damage to a barn caused by an airplane crash. If a crash was bad enough to kill a pilot, his friends sometimes said he had “bought the farm.”
Daring pilots who died while plying their dangerous trades have become the stuff of legend. The barnstormers, both of yesteryear and today, seem to thrive on life- and-death risks. Through its first few decades of growth, aviation was the right hobby for men and women who craved danger: It would be years before the send-off “Have a safe flight” would be much more than whistling in the graveyard.
The Least You Need to Know
Ж From its earliest days, aviation has attracted thrill-seekers and others who crave danger.
► Despite huge risks to life and limb, barnstormers introduced aviation to a curious America.
V Air mail piloting in the early days of the air mail service was sometimes a deadly profession.
Chapter 4 Great Flyers of the World Wars
In This Chapter
V Aviation enter* World War I
^ “Eddie" Rickenbacker: America’s Ace of Aces
^ The bloody Red Baron
>■ The bombers that won World War II
^ The P-51 Mustang and Chuck Yeager: two aviation legends
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In the years between the Wright brothers first flight in 1903 and the spark that ignited World War I, aviation grew through an awkward adolescence. Fragile American biplanes that had been viewed mostly as adventurers playthings were, after barely more than a decade of refinement, gradually being pressed into military service.