landing in Woodland Hills Park in Cleveland
May 15th. 1919
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA. MONDAY, MAY 15, 1961
Historic Run Described By Pilot
by Jack Gregg
A early day pilot now living in Chula Vista made history 42 years ago today by flying the mail from Chicago to Cleveland.
At the time, Lester Frank Bishop was a lot less worried about history making than he was about getting his De Havilland DH4 biplane to Cleveland.
But the flight was made without a hitch, Bishop had just made the first run on the nation's proposed transcontinental air mail service.
As the months passed, the Post Office Department opened more and more legs of the run. Finally, on Sept. 9, 1926, a mail plane arrived at Marina Airfield, San Francisco. Air mail had spanned the nation.
When he made that first run on May 15, 1919, Bishop was a tall, handsome pilot of 30 with three years of flying under his helmet.
He's 72 now-still tall and lean but favoring a cardiac condition and sticking fairly close to his trailer home at 4 Broadway, Chula Vista.
Bishop makes a hobby of collecting early day flying facts.
"It's a task separating the truth from the fiction," he says. "I'm afraid some of the early day pilots started to lace their stories in later years."
Bishop said his flight on the first leg of the transcontinental route was a distance of 325 miles.
""I took off at 9:38 a.m. and landed at 12:45 p.m. That was pretty good time in those days."
Bishop figures he logged about 8,300 flying hours after he first soloed in a German Taube airplane in 1916.
"That was in Chicago," he said. "I remember the Taube had a Sturdevant engine of 85 horsepower and the engine number was 24."
Bishop said that actually the first U.S. Air Mail flight was made Sept. 23, 1911, but it wasn't part of the transcontinental route. Earl Ovington was the first pilot.
Ovington flew with 75 pounds of mail from Nassau Boulevard, Long Island, to Mineola, Long Island, N.Y., in a Bleriot monoplane known as the Dragonfly. It has a 50 horsepower Gnome rotary engine.
Then in 1918, the U.S. Post Office Department tried another experimental air route, from College Park, Md., to Belmont Park, Long Island. The pilots who flew this route used a Curtiss JN4 plane powered with a 150 horsepower Hispano-Suiza engine.
"I made a few of the flights on the College Park-Belmont Park route in January, 1919," Bishop said.
The Post Office Department then decided to launch a transcontinental air mail service.
Mail pilots on the payroll when the Cleveland-Chicago leg was opened included Bishop, Dana C. Dehart, Edward V. Gardner, Ira O. Biffle, Leon D. Smith, Gilbert G. Budwing, Trent C. Fry, E. Hamilton Lee, Caroll C. Eversole, John M. Miller, Frank McCusker and Max Miller.
"Later we were joined by Jack Knight and others," Bishop said.
He said the De Havilands were Army planes rebuilt to the specifications of the Post Office Department.
"They all were in first class condition," he said. "The Liberty engines were reworked until they developed 425 horsepower. I remember we evengot 450 horsepower out of one of the engines."