When Stanhope Stewart Boggs joined the U.S.
Air Mail Service on August 2, 1920, he hardly realized he d
signed on for a job fraught with terror, but one morning five
months later, flying out of San Francisco bound for Reno, the
realization became abundantly clear.
Boggs knew that the newly formed Post Office airmail enterprise
suffered an inordinate number of tragedies.
Stanhope Stewart Boggs R.M.A.
2nd Lt. Air Service, U.S.A. Brooks Field, San Antonio,
Texas, 12-18. Photo courtesy of Connie Curran
Up to that time, eight pilots, two mechanics, one clerk and
a division superintendent had died in crashes, much of it due
to faulty equipment. As a flight instructor at San Antonio s
Brooks Field from 1918 to 1919, Boggs had all ready experienced
such dangers. Still, at age 25, discharged from military
service with a record 1,100 hours in the air without an accident,
he felt confident that a bright future lay ahead for him in
the new field of aviation.
Came the morning of January 4, 1921; fog cloaked San Francisco
like a blanket, causing his plane, as well as others lined up
at Marina Field, to drip water. At 7:00 a.m., the field supervisor
advised him to take off; daylight was just breaking.
Did Boggs climb into the cockpit of his DH-4, thinking he d
prefer to wait until the white mist lifted? Perhaps, he thought
he could cut through the pea soup and reach clear skies in open
country over the Sierras.
He adjusted his goggles and yelled, "contact" to the field hands
who pulled the prop through to compression. At 7:10 he
ascended into the murky sky. The converted WWI fighter, loaded
with 470 pounds of first class mail, rose in long easy circles
to a height of 2,000 feet. He craned his neck to look at the
city below, its lights barely visible.
his motor cut out. In an instant, the plane stalled.
Helpless to control the plummeting craft, Boggs
tried to glide it back to the landing field.
The distance proved excessive. He steered
toward civic center park. Not possible. He
tried to sideslip through the city s network of
trolley and telephone wires, knowing he must avoid
roofs of houses or citizens of San Francisco, just
then heading to work.
While 100s watched, horrified, the plane plunged through the
air; with a roar heard for blocks, it crashed into the wires,
then struck the pavement, burst into flames that shot high as
the telephone polls.
Boggs jumped out of the burning plane, virtually uninjured and
scrambled to a nearby fire alarm box to alert the fire department.
Pedestrians, street cars and automobiles barely escaped injury,
though one street car screeched to a stop a few feet from the
plane when it lost power from the broken wires.
Boggs attributed the accident to the moisture from the fog,
which had collected in the carburetor and leaked into the fee
jet. As the plane struck an air-bump, the engine stopped dead.
Not one to let an accident interfere with his plans for an aviation
career, Boggs continued flying for the Air Mail Service.
Pilot Stanhope S. Boggs, who
has just landed on Marina Field, San Francisco,
the first airmail from Salt Lake City (September
9, 1920) is describing his route to pilot Raymond
C. Little, who next morning took out
By the time the Post Office contracted airmail to private carriers
in 1927, Boggs had put in six years. For the next thirty-nine
years he worked for the FAA, traveling across the United States
locating possible airport sites. He became an active member
of the Air Mail Pioneers.
In 1929 he married Margaret Mills. The couple lived in Santa
Monica, California, where they raised their son, Marshall Stanhope
Boggs, born in 1935 and died in 1976. Grandsons Randall Marshall
Boggs and Craig Steven Boggs carry on the family name.