First Helicopter Airmail Flight

US #C119 – Sikorsky built the first practical single-rotor helicopter.  And the choppers used for these airmail flights were produced by his company. Click image to order.

On October 1, 1947, the first official Airmail service flown by helicopter was inaugurated in Los Angeles. 

Prior to this, the postal service experimented with delivery by autogiro aircraft.  On July 6, 1939, an autogiro was used to fly 52,128 first flight covers from the Central Airport at Camden, New Jersey, to the roof of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania post office.  Autogiros were then put into service in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.  

US #C119 – Fleetwood Plate Block First Day Cover. Click image to order.

However, the autogiro’s time was short-lived with the advent of helicopter service.  Helicopter Airmail test flights had been conducted in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and New York.  After those proved successful, helicopters were officially made part of the US Airmail fleet on June 2, 1947. 

The US Civil Aeronautics Board authorized Los Angeles Airways (LAA) to operate Airmail service in Southern California.  Their initial contract authorized them to serve 30 LA post offices for three years.  They would use the Sikorsky S-51 helicopter. 

US #C119 – Silk Cachet First Day Cover.  Click image to order.

The first Airmail flight occurred on October 1, 1947.  The service was so popular, they expanded it to include two flights each day between the main downtown post office and the Los Angeles International Airport.

By the end of the first year of operations, LAA had a fleet of five S-51s carrying out these deliveries.  In that first year alone, they had carried 700 tons of mail and made 40,000 landings throughout Los Angeles.  The service performed well, with a 95% reliability rate.  

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On December 17, 1953, LAA made the world’s first air express helicopter deliveries.  They also started providing scheduled passenger service in 1954 using the larger S-55’s.  LAA continued to deliver Airmail by helicopter until 1964. By the time operations ceased, they had carried over 82 million pounds of Airmail and over 25 million pounds of air express mail.  LAA ceased all of its operations in 1971. 

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  1. Interesting–I didn’t know the USPS offered this at one time. A statistic in the article brings a question to my mind that perhaps another reader know the answer to. It state that the helicopter “service performed well, with a 95% reliability rate.” Does anyone know what the USPS’ reliability rate is today, for their delivery in general? I would imagine it is incredibly high (99%?) Also, how is the reliability rate calculated? I’m like everyone else I imagine–I don’t like to see the price of anything increase, but what our postal service does–take a letter or a package and transport it almost anywhere on the globe–they are pretty impressive.

  2. This is a great Historic Stamp article
    about Igor Sikorsky
    being involved with this
    interesting USPS Mail Service.
    He has an interesting history
    in the helicopter 🚁 industry,
    if anyone would like to online search
    his background.
    Their large factory company was named after him, and it is located near me in Stratford, CT for years.
    They also manufacture
    high quality military helicopters there, and they are a part
    of a large aircraft mfg Company.
    I drive by their Factory periodically,
    and I have a friend who works there.

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