Airmail pilot James DeWitt Hill

circa. 1924

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Airmail pilot James DeWitt Hill started as an engineer, but caught the flying bug and never looked back. He was working at the Curtiss Aircraft Company as a pilot and sales representative when he left to join the Post Office Department's airmail service in 1924. He flew mail for the Department until August 11, 1927, when his route was turned over to a private company. Hill and fellow airmail pilot, Lloyd Bertaud had been friends before both joined the Department. Unlike many other pilots who flew as pilots for the fledgling aviation companies, Hill and Bertaud decided to try to be make a record transatlantic flight to Rome, Italy.

The pair obtained a Fokker F-VII-A aircraft for the flight they named "Old Glory." They took off just after noon on September 6, 1927 for Rome. Messages received from the plane through the evening indicated that all was well, although the aircraft was heavy. Just before midnight, the plane was spotted by a steamship crew about 350 miles east of Cape Race, Newfoundland. The aircraft was tracked through its signals by rescuers, but by the time they reached the spot where it should have gone done, nothing could be found in the now-stormy seas. On September 12, the crew of the SS Kyle, sent by Hearst news to find the wreckage or survivors, came across part of the aircraft. No survivors were ever found. In 1927, the airport at Latrobe, Pennsylvania, was renamed for James DeWitt Hill.

Photographer: Unknown

National Postal Museum, Curatorial Photographic Collection

Museum ID: A.2009-13

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  • Title: Airmail pilot James DeWitt Hill
  • Date Created: circa. 1924
  • Medium: paper; photo-emulsion