Wyoming Had A Big Part In The Early Days Of Air Mail
The Wyoming Department of Transportation says our first flight above terra firma was in 1911 in Riverton—just eight years after the Wilbur Brothers took the first airborne flight.
Flying was still dicey, but World War I motivated more innovation and air travel would become safer.
By 1931, radio technology meant the world to Medicine Bow, Wyoming. It meant air mail pilots could fly coast to coast in more weather conditions. The average American didn’t know it, but aviation compared it to the golden spike of the transcontinental railroad.
Today, an advance like that wouldn’t be overlooked by a Business Insider, a Bloomberg or a Wall Street 24/7. The connect in Medicine Bow came in a low-frequency signal to Rock Springs and Cheyenne, on the way from San Francisco to New York. It was at a time when pilots were still trying to fly safer and faster.
For years, they resorted to “contact” flying, maintaining a visual with geographic features - by day only. To make night flying safer, the post office began building a series of lighted beacons between Cheyenne and Chicago in 1923. Westbound flights could cover the continent in 34 hours, while eastbound tailwinds took just 29 hours, beating railroads by about two days.
Airports – or just good landing fields – started to pop up all across America in the 1920s. Wyoming had 14 facilities, from east to west, at Pine Bluffs, Cheyenne, Burns, Federal, Laramie, Rock River, Medicine Bow, Dana, Cherokee, Latham, Red Desert, Bitter Creek, Lyman, Le Roy and Knight.
In the early 1940s, another World War made aviation technology advancements come even quicker. Cheyenne served as a B-17 modification plant. When the plant was operational, 4,000 aircraft were modified there.
After World War II, the service was no longer needed, and airline hubs moved into Chicago, Denver and San Francisco. The rest is modern history.