100 Hundred years ago, when Air-mail service was just getting started, one community in our region became a well-known refueling stop for the pilots. With all the debate now about the Postal Service and Mail-in Ballots, imagine putting your mail on a biplane. That was the early days of Airmail and Bellfonte had an important role. Tuesday morning arriving at the Bellfonte Airport was pilot Chris Polhemus in a Pitcarin Bi-plane. It was a nice day for flying.
The bi-plane is part of the 100th Anniversary celebration of Transcontinetal Airmail Service. After taking off from the East Coast, Bellfonte was the first refueling stop for air mail pilots. A memorial tells the story. It was a dangerous stop known simply as Hell Stretch. Ken Lawrence, an airmail historian saying: “Because of the nearby mountains, there were quite a number of crashes in this area.” In fact, 34 airmail pilots lost their lives in crashes near Bellefonte.
The Pitcarin Bi-pane has its own history. Among its previous owners was actor Steve McQueen. The ceremony was held at the Bellefonte Airport. Actually, the early air mail pilots landed in a field about five miles away, behind whats now the Bellfonte High School.