The Liberty Gazette
September 20, 2011Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Wars and letter writing, that’s what built airports–well that, and the need for places to land those new-fangled flying machines. I finally took Sharon and Bill Tinkler up on their long-standing offer to visit them at their home on Chandelle Airpark in Tullahoma, Tennessee, with a beautifully maintained grass strip next to the large Tullahoma Airport, built in 1942. Like Ellington Field in Houston and others around the country, WWII encouraged the U.S. to build large airports to accommodate military pilot training and serve as an integral part of our defense.
Before WWI however, the notion that we could deliver mail by air sprouted many small airports, and the world’s first airline, flown by brave pioneers, cowboys of the sky.
I received a substantial but partial history lesson on the beginning of the Air Mail Service from Bill Tinkler, who made a commemorative flight in 1984 of the original east-west route, from New York to California, on the 60th anniversary of the first daily Transcontinental Air Mail service involving both day and night flying. I have more history lessons to attend, after which no doubt you will become familiar with not only an exciting and significant part of our country’s history, but also one fascinatingly fun man.
Until then enjoy this smidgen of homage to another great American, one who wrangled the safety of an embryonic industry like a true bronco-buster of the old west, and gave back to us infinitely more possibilities of flight.
Mike: The year before the Wright brothers made the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, Mrs. Lederer, of New York, named her newborn boy Jerome. Jerry, as he was often called, turned out to be a mechanical genius, which New York University recognized by conferring on him a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1925, just as the U.S. Post Office was about to begin that daily transcontinental air mail service. Success at his first job, building, calibrating, and operating a wind tunnel, opened the door for his next as aeronautical engineer for the Post Office. The open cockpit bi-wing deHavilland DH-4’s weren’t the most stable airplane to fly, but it’s what they had, and they flew them in every kind of weather, mostly at night. There is only one in flyable condition today.
Those daring early pilots were paid handsomely, but one in six who flew the mail at the dawn of aviation perished in aircraft accidents, forging a safety record that had no where to go but up. Jerry Lederer reconstructed the airplanes that crashed to determine the cause of their misfortune, then designed modifications which would help prevent accidents.
Among his friends were Charles Lindbergh, whose Spirit of St. Louis he inspected before Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, and Neil Armstrong, having contributed directly to the safety of both men’s missions. Apollo 8 had 5,600,000 parts and 1.5 million systems, subsystems and assemblies, with which Lederer was intimately familiar.
He lived to be 101 years, and for more than seven decades Jerry’s contributions improved safety of flight, from small parts found on simple aircraft today to manned space flight. But Jerry didn’t focus only on the airplanes. He recognized the importance of the human factor and investigated unique and challenging problems facing aviation safety, such as subtle cognitive incapacitation of pilots, cockpit boredom, and interpersonal communications. His warning, “You always have to fight complacency,” can be applied to all of life.