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Curtiss Carrier Pigeon Aircraft Information

Curtiss Carrier Pigeon

Curtiss Carrier Pigeon

National origin: United States
Manufacturer: Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company
First flight: 1925
Primary user: U.S. Airmail
Variants: Curtiss Lark

The Curtiss Carrier Pigeon was an American mail plane of the 1920s. A single-engined biplane designed and built to replace World War I surplus aircraft such as the DH-4, the Carrier Pigeon was one of the first aircraft designed specifically for U.S. Airmail service.


In 1925 the U.S. Postal Service felt they had excellent operational service with converted WWI biplanes. The eight year old-designs were considered antiquated by this time though, and a modern purpose-built machine was desired. While most manufactures started to build new generation passenger aircraft with mail cargo capability, the Curtis Carrier Pigeon was the first a clean-sheet design specifically made for U.S. air-mail service. The aircraft was well-suited and intended to be sold directly to the Postal Service, but new legislation that opened up outside contracts brought on a slew of competing models. The Carrier Pigeon was drawn up to meet or exceed the original postal specifications. Strength, serviceability, and ease of maintenance were the 3 core design criteria. It was intended to provide service on the nighttime runs between Chicago and New York with only one stop. The plane was built to take advantage of the powerful and plentiful 400 hp Liberty engine to meet Postal specifications. 40,000 airmail letters could be carried in the 1000 lb capacity cargo hold. The fuselage was a welded steel tube frame covered in fabric, with a solid unspliced spruce spar for the wings. The hinges were made of heavy replaceable bronze pins. It featured ailerons, rudder and elevator that were interchangeable and reduced spares counts. The Upper and lower wings were also interchangeable. The watertight cargo hold was at the center of gravity so the plane could accommodate any range of loads without changing balance. The landing gear used rubber doughnut suspension. The fuel tank was designed to be jettisoned if the pilot felt they were in danger of a imminent crash. A 7 quart fire extinguisher was plumbed to the engine compartment for suppression in-flight fires. The pilot could also choose between wheel controls or stick flight based on their preference.

Operational history

A prototype Curtiss Carrier Pigeon flown by Charles S.(Casey) Jones placed 7th in the 1925 Edsel B. Ford Reliability Tour. Out of 17 Starters, 11 aircraft including the Curitss Carrier Pigeon completed with a perfect score, netting a $350 prize. Henry Ford waited at the finish line to greet the winners of the 1900 mile endurance test.

The Curtis Carrier Pigeon was used by National Air Transport Inc. At the time, both Curtiss and NAT were owned and controlled by Clement Keys. 10 Carrier Pigeons were put into service with 35 surplus Liberty Engine spares. NAT used the Carrier Pigoen for the Contract Air Mail CAM-3 (Chicago-Dallas) route. The first recorded service was on May 12, 1926 with The route between Chicago, Illinois and Dallas, Texas. Stops were scheduled in Moline, Illinois, Saint Joseph, Missouri, Kansas City, Missouri, Wichita, Kansas, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Fort Worth, Texas. The madien flight was piloted by D A Askew, R L Dobie, R H Fatt, Lawrence H Garrison, P E Johnson, H L Kindred and Edmund Matucha. These pilots logged 776,351 miles of flight in the first year without an accident of loss of any mail.

NAT invested 10 million dollars competing for the nighttime Chicago New York route (CAM 17). NAT started service on September 1, 1927 using Carrier Pigeons from CAM-3. These planes flew the early lighted airway from Chyenne to Chicago, and recently extended to New York. The path over the Allighenies was referred to as the "Hell Stretch". Early in 1929, NAT acquired seven 625 hp Curtiss Falcons, these replaced the smaller Carrier Pigeons. D. A. Askew flew the final Carrier Pigeon flight. He had flown this same plane on the inaugural CAM No. 3 flight. On February 9, 1934 The Post Office cancelled all airmail contracts on suspicion that the mail carrying contracts had been awarded through collusion during the previous administration.

One fatal airmail crash was recorded in a Carrier Pigeon when Arthur R. Smith was killed in plane #602, he hit trees near Montpelier, Ohio, enroute to Chicago.

On November 27, 1929, Bobbi Evelyn Trout with Elinor Smith, while flying a Sunbeam biplane, Trout took off from Metropolitan Airport to attempt the first refueling endurance flight by women. The task was accomplished through a Curtiss Carrier Pigeon, which refueled the plane three and a half times. The plane was to be refueled in early morning and before sunset. Refueling went well. With shifts of four hours each, two days passed. By Thanksgiving Day, they had been up for 39 hours. While refueling, the Pigeon began trailing black smoke. Bobbi quickly tossed the fueling hose over the side, as Elinor maneuvered away from the ailing Pigeon. It landed, and the fliers emerged safely.


The Carrier Pigeon 2 was built by the Carrier Pigeon Co of Buffalo, New York in 1929. This was a larger and modernized version of its predecessor with a 600 hp geared Curtiss Conqueror and a 3-blade prop.

The Curtiss Lark model 41 was the follow-on aircraft, employing 4 interchangable wing panels.

Specifications (Curtiss Model 40 - Carrier Pigeon I)

Data from Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947

General characteristics

Crew: 1
Capacity: 1,000 lb (450 kg) cargo
Length: 28 ft 9.5 in (8.776 m)
Wingspan: 41 ft 11 in (12.78 m)
Height: 12 ft 1 in (3.68 m)
Wing area: 505 sq ft (46.9 m)
Airfoil: U.S.A.27
Empty weight: 3,603 lb (1,634 kg)
Gross weight: 4,900 lb (2,223 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 12,390 lb (5,620 kg)
Powerplant: 1 x Liberty L-12 water-cooled V12 engine, 400 hp (300 kW)


Maximum speed: 109 kn; 201 km/h (125 mph)
Cruise speed: 91 kn; 169 km/h (105 mph)
Stall speed: 43 kn; 80 km/h (50 mph)
Service ceiling: 16,700 ft (5,100 m)
Rate of climb: 800 ft/min (4.1 m/s)

Bowers, Peter M. Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947. London:Putnam, 1979. ISBN 0 370 10029 8.
"The Curtiss Carrier Pigeon". Flight, April 16, 1925, pp. 228-229.
"The Ford Reliability Tour", Flight, November 26, 1925. p. 786.

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