The Night Air Mail

Posted 03/03/04

By W.G. "Swede" Golien

Editor’s note: The late "Swede" Golien is one of the true legendary figures of TWA. This 1933 poem by him was highlighted in an article on the company’s "formative years" in the October/November 1962 issue of Flight Facts, published by Flight Operations.

Cruising along on its lonesome flight,
Racing away through the mists of night,
A thundering roar from out of the dark,
The challenging voice of an air borne bark.
Breasting space, and storm and gale,
Far on its way is the night air mail.

The bright moon smiles on his heavenly throne,
As he lends an ear to the engine’s drone.
Friendly stars, shimmering, flickering, dancing high,
Complete the beauty of the jeweled sky.

The splendor of it all; this Deified Art,
Sends a surge of joy through the pilot’s heart.
As the plane speeds on over hill and dale,
All is well with the night air mail.

Now low in the sky looms a thickening cloud,
The lights of the beacons dim in the gathering shroud.
A darkening gloom creeps over the gay moon’s face.
The sparkling stars from the brilliant sky are soon erased.
The storm beats down in a driving pour,
But the motor returns a defiant roar.
The plane is tossed in the turbulent gale,
Fighting its way is the night air mail.

Soon the torn and troubled air subsides,
The storm-tossed plane now easier rides.
The heavens again with the stars are bright;
A quiet world is wrapped in beautiful night;
God’s glory and beauty for all to avail,
Far on its way is the night air mail.


The carriage of air mail by single-engine aircraft was the opening chapter in the air transport industry; but even after the advent of the tri-motor Fords and Fokkers, it continued as an important phase of the airline operation. Several factors were responsible for this; but, primarily, it was continued out if pure economic necessity – mail pay.

The receipt of mail pay was contingent upon two factors – the mail reaching its destination and a satisfactory level of performance over the awarded route. The mail pilots, relying on the rudimentary instruments then available, as well as sheer courage and skill, had accomplished virtually an all-weather operational record. In order to survive an airline must above all else maintain its mail contract.

But since passenger flights (Fords and Fokkers) were originally restricted to visual-contact operations, it was necessary to conduct a dual operation and continue to fly the mail with single-engine aircraft. Therefore, until instrumentation and blind-flying techniques were further protected, it fell to the mail pilots to "carry the airline on their backs," so to speak.

"The mail must go through," was their creed; and the record of achievement thus attained in upholding that creed is a proud one. The esprit de corps which this dashing group of aviators attained was legendary along the airways. Of their many hours spent alone in the air, some were punctuated by thwarting one sudden danger or another; and, needless to say, these exploits only added more luster to their image as daring airmen.

Initially, two different groups of pilots were employed by TWA – one group to fly the passenger flights and another separate group to fly the mail run. Eventually, a system of progression from copilot (on passenger flights) to night mail flights to captain on day passenger runs was evolved. This system prevailed until developments in aircraft and weather flying techniques indicated that both services could satisfactorily combined into a single operation. When this was accomplished, the mail could be moved at night on passenger flights, and then the book was closed on another colorful chapter of aviation history.

home.jpg (1124 bytes)

back.jpg (1127 bytes)