Airmail History Celebration Flight Carries 2,700 Letters from San Diego to Seattle

Historic Stearman Speedmail biplanes carried 2,700 letters for 1,200 miles from San Diego to Seattle from Sunday, May 13, to Friday, May 18, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of airmail service in the United States. The Mail Centennial Celebration included a stop in Olympia where the public viewed these rare planes.

The Olympia stop on Friday, May 18, was hosted by the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division and took place at the division’s offices at the Olympia Regional Airport in Tumwater.

Attendees spoke with pilots and got up-close views of three Stearman Speedmail biplanes used as mail planes in the early 1930s. Powered by 450 horsepower engines, the wood and fabric open-cockpit aircraft were noted for their dependability and ability to carry heavy loads. Of the 41 built, only seven still fly. They retraced the pioneering West Coast airmail route, known as Contract Air Mail 8 (CAM 8).

The U.S. Postal Service was also set up at the event, stamping mail and handing out commemorative envelopes that were officially postmarked at each of the 12 stops.

The nonprofit, Western Antique Airplane and Automobile Museum of Hood River, Oregon, sponsored the 2018 flight, which was endorsed by the U.S. Postal Service.

Six pilots were involved in the event. Three of the pilots, Addison Pemberton and Jeff Hamilton, both from Spokane; and Ben Scott of Reno, Nevada; were sworn-in as official airmail pilots to assist local post office authorities.

Pemberton said he enjoyed meeting people and telling them the Cam 8 airmail story.

After departing San Diego, on Sunday, May 13, stops included Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno, San Francisco, Concord and Redding in California; Medford and Eugene in Oregon; Vancouver, Olympia and Seattle in Washington.