Friday, February 19, 2010

Charles Lindberg - Chicago to St. Louis, 1926

I have been working on the next History Club presentation scheduled for March 6, 2010.  It's about Scots and early aviation.  Lindberg was not a Scot, but he certainly had a powerful influence on flying.

In 1926, he was young and unknown.  On an April morning he took off from the Maywood, IL., airport in a DeHavilland DH-4, with a sack of mail destined for St. Louis with stops in Peoria and Springfield. It was the first delivery for this route.  He was working for the Robertson Aircraft Corp. in St. Louis.  Robertson was one of 85 companies that later merged into American Airlines.

It was 5:30 a.m. when Lindberg took off; the airport was deserted.  The date was April 15, 1926 and this was the first regularly scheduled flight in history.  It took a little over 3 hours to complete the journey.  On his return trip from Lambert Field a large crowd gathered as he loaded 3 sacks of mail destined for Chicago.

American Airlines maintained that flight from Chicago to St. Louis until July 8, 1978, a total of 42 years. The last jet flight took 53 minutes with no stops at Springfield or Peoria.  The sleek jet on that last scheduled flight had electronic guidance, Lindberg had none.  In Lindberg's day, towns were asked to paint arrows on their buildings pointing to local airports.  Pilots often used railroad tracks for guidance.  Some pilots watched the farm animals, if they scattered at the sound of the plane, they were probably off course  Otherwise, the animals would have been use to the sound of the engine.  If the weather was bad and a pilot couldn't land, he pointed his plane away from populated areas and parachuted to earth.  The mail could be recovered from the wreckage.

The last flight was made, an era ended, and no one even noticed.

The Maywood airport was located near the Edward Hines, Jr. Memorial hospital.  The hospital lay just west of the one runway.  (First Ave.and 22nd street ) To the south was a tract of forest preserve property, now occupied by another giant hospital.  The original plan was to have 11 airports ringing the city of Chicago and Maywood was an import cog in that plan.  A plan was once advanced that First Avenue be closed and the runway extended.  A new road was to be constructed following the Des Plaines river.

In 1929, the Tribune reported that "airplane traffic in Chicago has developed to such an extent that it suffers as much from congestion as automobile travel." The use of the Municipal airport (now called Midway) was reaching capacity and some wanted the Maywood airport used for passenger service as well as mail deliveries. It never happened.

One more comment about Charles Lindberg. On September 16, 1926, Lindberg was unable to land at the Maywood airport because of fog, so he changed course, perhaps flying to Peoria.  Over Ottawa, his plan ran out of fuel and he parachuted to safety.

Yesterday, I had lunch with Don Buik and he remembered the airport in Maywood.  I have yet to determine when the airport closed.

June 23, 1925 - J. Ordway Webster, who lived at 848 Washington Blvd. in Oak Park, IL. was killed while practicing night flights from the Maywood airport.  He was soon to assume the duty of flying night mail from Chicago to New York City.  The service was scheduled to begin July 1.  The plane fell to earth at First Avenue and Roosevelt Rd. an address that many in our History Club will know.

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