GATES "Boys," said Leo
McGinn, "I thought sure enough I’d crashed and gone straight
to heaven. I thought that queer-looking arch must be the pearly
"McGinn’s problems began when
he tangled eye-ball to eye-ball with a bad combination of wind,
rain and fog on approaching the shores of Lake Michigan into
Chicago," wrote Paul Collins in the March 23, 1929, issue of
Liberty Magazine. (5 cents delivered.)
McGinn was making the night
run carrying the New York mail from Cleveland to Chicago in
early spring of 1926.
"At that time, we had not yet
come to the stage of investing much faith in our instruments,
partly because the ones we used were not altogether reliable;
also because instrument flying was a matter of confidence, of
learning to trust our lives to the antics of cute little dials,"
When Leo judged Chicago was
somewhere beneath the fog, rain and dark clouds, he started
to circle the area looking for anything that might pinpoint
his location. He could see nothing as the wind tossed his plane
all over the sky. He flew north, then made more circles looking
desperately for even a pinpoint of light on the ground – nothing
except more fog, rain and darkness. Another worry cropped up
as he glanced at his fuel gauge. It wasn’t a happy sight.
Fighting the weather for what
seemed like hours, Leo still had not sighted Chicago. He was
thinking he, his plane and the mail might end up in Chicago
Suddenly, a brilliant panorama
of lights, people and strange architecture materialized out
of the darkness over the tip of his left wing.
"Rigid with astonishment, he
watched the vision pass and disappear in a whirl of mist," wrote
"The whole think was twisted
on its ear," said Leo, afterwards. "It seemed made of fantastic
domes and towers like some Oriental palace. There was a large
gilded archway in the middle. Chicago never looked like that
The truth dawned on him almost
immediately. In the fog, his plane had flopped over on its side
and wallowed down to a point directly over the entrance of White
City, a major Chicago amusement park. In a split second, he
recovered and found the landing field and delivered his mail.
Leo McGinn joined the Service
May 10, 1923 to August 31, 1927. He flew 593.58 hours for 60,937
Collins joined the U.S. Air
Mail Service February 12, 1921, to August 31, 1927. He flew
3,487 hours for 361,689.
AIR MAIL PILOT MADE
In my first issue as editor
of the Air Mail Pioneers News (summer 1998) I questioned John
R. "Duke" Skoning’s claim that he was one of the six U. S. Army
Air Service pilots who inaugurated and flew the mail for the
post office from May to August 1918. My research showed that
Skoning could not have participated in that aviation milestone
because, as official post office records indicate, he joined
the service in 1919 and bailed out three months later.
I asked readers for help clearing
up the discrepancy. No less an expert on airmail history than
our president (ret.), Jerry Lederer, came through with newspaper
clippings and first-hand memories of his co-worker and friend.
"I had flown with Skoning and
because of his affiliation with many U.S. Air Service officers,
I assumed he had been an Air Force pilot," wrote Jerry.
A yellowing clipping from the
Dayton Herald gives Skoning’s history. According to the reporter,
he instructed flying cadets at Brooks field in 1918 and then
flew the airmail between New York and Chicago for two years
thereafter, a claim unsubstantiated by U.S. Air Mail Service
Jerry remembers Skoning as
an aeronautical entrepreneur. In 1929, Skoning convinced the
Dayton Aircraft Corp., a Studebaker Securities Co. of Chicago
enterprise, to support the development of a radically new monoplane.
This experimental craft featured two engines mounted on the
top of the plane, allowing greater visibility for pilots and
eliminating the danger to passengers from revolving propellers.
It cruised at 140 mph and because of the height of its cabin
permitted passengers to stand upright.
Skoning asked Jerry to join
the project and design the structure for the new craft. The
plane was the brain child of noted French aero-engineer Theodore
De Port, chief of the aerodynamic unit of Wilbur Wright field
where the plane was tested. Skoning superintended construction
of the plane.
The first two tests on the
new plane succeeded but the third, in which a stiff rudder caused
the pilot to lose control in landing, resulted in a broken right
wing and a smashed tail skid. Due to the skillful handling of
pilot Lt. John A. Macready, former altitude and cross-country
flyer, he and Skoning escaped injury. In honor of Macready the
plane was to bear his name.
After Jerry completed
his stint designing the twin-engine transport, he joined Pioneer
Aviation Insurance Underwriters: Barber and Baldwins in New
York where he launched his career in aviation safety, evaluating
risks and losses.
Jerry remembers 1929 vividly:
"When the 1929 depression broke my salary was reduced from $5,000/year
to $3,000. I was lucky. My office was in the Wall Street area
– people were committing suicide by jumping out of office windows,
due to the economic calamity."
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