A Story of Early Aviation Days
“This is a first-hand account of early days in American aviation, including the beginning of air mail service in this country. It is written not by one of the pilots but by the wife of one. Edith Dodd Culver’s husband, Paul, was one of the country’s earliest fliers. Mrs. Culver recalls those days when flying was a strange and dangerous business. She gives us not only the history of that era but the unique perspective of the women who were also involved. However, not all women were loyal bystanders. There were some early women pilots also. One of these was Katherine Stinson who married New Mexico judge Michael Otero and lived in Santa Fe until her death in 1977. Mrs. Culver has captured the flavor and excitement of those days and has shared with her readers not only many interesting anecdotes but photographs of that time.”
—Marcia Muth, “Book Chat,” Enchantment
“On 3 May, 1918, Major Reuben Fleet, Aviation Section, U.S. Army Signal Corps, received a special order: ‘… to inaugurate an Aerial Mail Service between Washington and New York each way every day except Sunday, to depart both terminals at 11 a.m. beginning Wednesday, 15 May, 1918, with intermediate landing at Philadelphia by both north and south bound airplanes …’ The same ‘Rube’ Fleet who later founded Consolidated Aircraft, had just 12 days to organize the project. He would have to find landing fields, pick pilots and operate without weather service, communications or trained ground and flight personnel. One of the few persons who participated in those hectic 12 days was the widow of one of the four pilots, H. Paul Culver. With some assistance from Fleet, still full of beans, she has written her memoirs.
“Edith Dodd Culver still retains her enthusiasm for aviation, which she shared, vicariously, with her husband from the time he enrolled as a student in the Curtiss Flying School at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in early 1916. Paul Culver became an instructor at Curtiss, where many of our famed pioneers received their first dual instruction—Billy Mitchell and others who became great names. Today Mrs. Culver attends the meetings of the Early Birds and the Air Mail Pioneers where she renews friendships of more than 50 years.
“The first part of her book is filled with fascinating details of the early Army Air Mail Service which Fleet operated with increased efficiency until it was turned over to civilian contractors. From Fleet Mrs. Culver obtained much background information and some splendid photographs. The second portion of the work is equally fascinating. A veritable roster of hallowed names, it recounts the experiences of the early barnstormers, such as Beckwith Havens and Katherine Stinson, all of whom the Culvers knew intimately, as they did the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss and many of the Curtiss-trained men who rushed to join the Lafayette Escadrille in World War One. The author’s story of the routine and training systems at Hampton Roads, where students soloed in flying boats, is history at its rare best.
“In the era of the 1920s, Mrs. Culver writes of ‘Fish’ Hassell, who will be remembered by erstwhile Ferry Command pilots as Major B.R.J. Hassell at Gander, Newfoundland. Fish promoted a Stinson called ‘City of Rockford’ and tried the Atlantic hop. He went down in Greenland but was rescued. Forty years later, so was the Stinson, still in good condition. It was brought home, restored and displayed at the Early Bird meeting in Rockford in 1969.
“A feature of the ceremonies commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Air Mail was the arrival of old No. 249, flown from the West coast to Washington for the event. Mrs. Culver tells how the ship was brought down from a mountain where it had crashed almost 40 years ago, and the travail of rebuilding it. There’s much, much more in this book, a truly historic treasure. Other works on the subject have none of the authenticity, the deep background and the priceless little details that mark this work as outstanding.”
—William A. Ong, Flight
“Culver’s late husband, Paul, one of the country's earliest pilots, was a member of the team that carried the first bags of air mail. Here his wife recalls those days, when to be a pilot was to court death and when marriage to a pilot presumed early widowhood.”