Honoring General Billy Mitchell

Today, we continue our celebration of National Military Appreciation Month by remembering General Billy Mitchell, who helped lead the military’s development and use of airpower at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1999, the Postal Service honored General William “Billy” Mitchell (1879-1936) with a 55-cent stamp.

General Mitchell was a professional soldier who served as an infantryman in the Spanish-American War and went on to achieve greater fame as an outstanding U.S. combat air commander during World War I. Artist Paul Salmon’s oil-on-gesso painting is based on an early photograph of Mitchell. The foreground shows the SPAD XVI, which he used in observation and command roles during World War I.

In 1941, the North American B-25 Mitchell—a bomber used during World War II—was named after General Mitchell, a true pioneer of U.S. military aviation.

Armed Forces Utilize the Strength, Agility of American Aviation

Advances in aviation since the Wright brothers’ first airplane flight in 1903 have had a significant impact on our country’s military power. Issued in 1997, the Classic American Aircraft pane features 20 planes representing the first 50 years of powered flight in America, many of which were instrumental in times of conflict.

Grumman’s F4F was the Navy’s first line of defense in early World War II. It out-fought the faster, more agile Japanese Zero at the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal. The Wildcat’s rugged service continued throughout the war.

An early 1930s breakthrough, this sleek monoplane took over the job of bomber from big, slow biplanes. The Martin B-10 carried a one-ton cargo, opened the eyes of strategists, and pointed the way to the hardy B-17 and B-24.

The bent-winged F4U achieved one of World War II’s highest victory ratios. Impressive in ground support, the Vought Corsair also served effectively in Korea. The plane was retired in the 1970s with a long and distinguished international record.

The Boeing B-17 is an American legend. In World War II, it carried the air war to Germany, bombing heavily defended targets while dodging flak and enemy fighters. Able to withstand severe damage, the ‘Fort’ commanded great respect.

Beautiful, agile, powerful, the North American P-51 is rated by many as the best fighter of WWII. The Mustang escorted bombers over Europe and the Pacific, sweeping the skies, and winning the hearts of its pilots.

These classic machines paved the way for countless advances in aviation technology, keeping American armed forces on the cutting edge. What kinds of aircraft would you like to see on a future stamp?

Pioneering Aviator Amelia Earhart Embodied the “Spirit of America”

Amelia Earhart (1897–1937) returned to the news last week when new analysis of a photograph taken soon after her plane mysteriously disappeared in 1937 seemed to reveal that the pioneering aviator crashed in the Pacific Ocean off the island of Nikumaroro in the nation of Kiribati. The U.S. Department of State plans to travel to the island in July to search for the wreckage.

Earhart disappeared in the Pacific on July 2, 1937, while attempting to fly around the world. She had already achieved many “firsts” as a female pilot. In 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and across the continental United States. (Jack Northrop designed her beloved Vega, a sleek wooden monoplane that launched the Lockheed company on its path to success. Earhart later flew a Lockheed Electra.) For her trans-Atlantic flight, Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross. Three years later she became the first woman to fly across the Pacific from Hawaii to California.

In addition to her aviation career, Earhart also served as a nurse during World War I and as a women’s career counselor at Purdue University in the mid-1930s. Her achievements were inspiring not only to women but to all of America struggling through the Depression.

National Book Month: Doris L. Rich’s Queen Bess

Before any stamp is issued, USPS wants to know not only what stamp subjects looked like, but also the details of their lives and the social and historical significance of their accomplishments. In most cases, books form the backbone of our research.

When we decided to commemorate Bessie Coleman as part of the Black Heritage series there weren’t a lot of reliable, comprehensive sources available to us. But we lucked out because just as we were beginning work on the stamp, Doris L. Rich published her fascinating study, Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator (1993).

Through Rich’s work we were properly introduced to Bessie Coleman, who worked tirelessly to pursue her dream to create an aviation school for young, black aviators. As a black woman in the early 20th century, Coleman was not allowed to attend American flying schools. After earning her pilot license at a French aviation school, “Brave Bessie” performed stunt-flying routines all around the United States. In 1995 she became the 18th person honored in the Black Heritage series of stamps and the fifth woman to be honored in the series.