Army Air Corps Air Mail Accidents Feb - April 1934

The Army Air Corps Mail Operation (AACMO) was an operation of seventeen routes and 11,000 miles of airways. It was established in 1934 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt directed Postmaster General James A. Farley to cancel airmail contracts with airlines because of contractual irregularities. The previous year, the airlines had carried several million pounds of mail over several routes in the US that totaled nearly 25,000 miles. On February 9th of that year, Air Corps Chief Maj. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois was directed to take over the airmail operation. He was given 10 days to prepare.

In spite of a reduced operation and route plan, the problems and risks were formidable. The Air Corps had about 1,500 airplanes, but nearly a third of them were trainers or special purpose aircraft. Most of the others were light, maneuverable airplanes built for combat in daylight and good weather. Most of the 250 Army pilots assigned to AACMO were lieutenants with less than two years of flying experience. Although the air mail would be transported mainly at night, only 31 of the pilots had more than 50 hours of nighttime flying.

The first two months of AACMO were marred with numerous accidents and fatalities as bad weather and dated aircraft endangered pilots. There were dozens of crashes, and March 9 was a particularly bad day. Four air mail crew members—three pilots and a mechanic—were killed in crashes in Ohio, Florida, and Wyoming. That raised the AACMO death toll to 10 in less than a month. President Roosevelt and the Air Corps were under fire for the recurring mishaps. With spring weather and growing experience, crashes and casualties declined. On June 1, 1934, new contracts with the airlines were signed, and the Air Corps was relieved of all responsibility for the nation’s mail.

The weaknesses of the Air Corps that were exposed by air mail operation led to an overhaul. AACMO deficiencies alerted the nation to the needs of the Air Corps for better aircraft and equipment, and within a short time, the open-cockpit biplanes were rendered obsolete by a new generation of fighters and bombers. Alterations were made in approaches to training and flying, moving towards practices that made use of mechanical instruments and radio communications. The Air Corps that entered World War II was an entirely different force than the one that had been ordered to carry the air mail seven years before.

This collection contains various correspondences (telegrams, radiograms, memorandums, index sheets, etc.) in regards to the Airmail Accidents of the Army Air Corps from February to April 1934.   

For more information on the history of the AACMO and about the collection, see our Descriptive Finding Guide.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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