In October of 1925, the U.S. Post Office Department awarded Robertson
Aircraft Corporation the new Chicago-to-St. Louis
airmail route known as CAM-2. Up until this point in their aviation business, Bill and Frank had managed to handle most of the piloting jobs. Bill had accumulated over 2,500 hours, while Frank had over 2,000 hours in his logbook. But now, as their managing duties kept increasing, they realized they would need help.
For that job they hired 23 year old Charles "Slim" Lindbergh, a fearless and smart young pilot who had first barnstormed into St. Louis in October of 1923 to attend the National Air Races being held there. Selling his Curtiss Jenny to an enthusiastic spectator at the Air Races, Lindbergh stayed around Lambert Field to give the new owner flight instruction. The Robertson brothers and other Lambert Field pilots made him feel welcome. Instructing more students and a few more barnstorming trips kept Slim busy until March of 1924 when he enrolled as a cadet in the U.S. Army Air Service flight training school in Texas. When graduation came one year later, only 19 of the initial 104 cadets were left, and Lindbergh was first in the graduating class. Unfortunately the Army already had enough active duty pilots in 1925, so Lindbergh and the rest of his fellow graduates were given Reserve Officer commissions and sent on their way to the civilian world. Jobless, Lindbergh took a train back to St. Louis to restart his civilian aviation career. He spent the spring and summer of 1925 instructing students and flying part time for the Robertsons at Lambert Field. When they didn't have work for him, he barnstormed and flew airshows around the midwest. In late summer Lindbergh took a job flying for the Mile-Hi Airways and Flying Circus out of Denver, Colorado. He enjoyed the new challenges of flying around the Rocky Mountains. In October Robertson Aircraft was awarded the new CAM-2 airmail route and they offered Charles Lindbergh the job of Chief Pilot.
(click on any of the pictures on this page to enlarge them)
Lindbergh and the Robertson brothers spent the winter of 1925-26 preparing for the CAM-2 airmail operation, scheduled to begin the next April. Their contract with the Post Office called for five round trips between Chicago and St. Louis each week, with mail stops in Peoria and Springfield, Illinois while enroute. Lindbergh took charge of surveying the 278 mile route and setting up flight and postal operations at the four landing fields. He also selected and prepared 9 additional emergency landing fields, one about every 30 miles. To help him fly the mail route, Lindbergh hired two of his Army flying buddies, Phil Love and Thomas Nelson. Barnstorming buddy Bud Gurney was the backup pilot and chief mechanic, in charge of preparing the four war-surplus DeHavilland DH-4s that would be used on the mail run. In stock military configuration, the 400hp DH-4 was a two-place observation airplane, with the pilot flying from the front cockpit, while the observer rode in back. For airmail flying, the DH-4s had to be modified in the Robertson shop to a single-cockpit. The airmail pilot would fly the DH-4 from the back, where the war-time observer had originally sat. The original front pilot's cockpit was converted into a large cargo bin to carry the mail. Fresh out of the shop, the Robertson DH-4s looked good. The wings and tail surfaces were silver doped, and the fuselage was painted "Tuscan Red" with bold white lettering on the side saying "U.S. AIR MAIL C.A.M. No. 2". The airplanes were given Robertson company designations as airmail ship "109", "110", "111", and "112", painted on the nose in white.
The official inauguration of CAM-2 took place on the morning of April 15, 1926. Chief Pilot Charles Lindbergh got the honor of flying the first flight, taking off from Chicago’s Maywood Field at 5:50 AM with 87 pounds of mail, all of which carried a special commemorative catchet postmarked at 5:30 AM. Here is one of the pieces of mail he carried on that flight.
Flying south, Lindbergh's first stop was in Peoria where he picked up another 23 pounds of mail, postmarked 7:00 AM.
At Springfield Lindbergh picked up 93 more pounds of mail, postmarked 7:45 AM. He arrived in St. Louis at 9:15 AM, completing the first southbound leg of the CAM-2 route.
The Robertson contract with the Post Office called for a return flight to Chicago in the late afternoon, timed to connect with the transcontinental eastbound and westbound mail planes. An airmail letter sent from St. Louis in the afternoon would be in New York City the next morning, ready for the start of the business day.
The innaugural northbound legs of the CAM-2 route generated a lot of press and spectator attention. It started in St. Louis, where city officials and Major Lambert (who the airfield was named after) made speeches and predicted a great future for aviation in St. Louis. The biggest mail load up to that point, about 5,600 letters (144 pounds), was loaded into Phil Love’s DH-4. At 4:00 PM Love took off, bound for Chicago. The northbound mail out of St. Louis has a 3:30 PM postmark.
Also taking off from St. Louis and flying alongside Love were two empty Robertson
DH-4s, one flown by Lindbergh and the other by Major C.R. Wassall. The
extra ships were in anticipation of a heavy mail load reportedly waiting in
Springfield. Wassall was commander of Lindbergh's National Guard Squadron
and was filling in for the third CAM-2 pilot Thomas Nelson, who was not available
yet. All three airplanes landed in Springfield, where Postmaster William
Conkling had 385 pounds of mail waiting to go to Chicago. A large crowd
had gathered to watch. All of the Springfield mail, postmarked 4:30 PM,
was loaded into Lindbergh's DH-4 #109 (see pictures). It was determined
that Major Wassall's airplane would not be needed, so he was sent back to St.
Louis. Lindbergh and Love took off for the next stop, in Peoria.
In Peoria, Lindbergh put another 40 pounds of mail in his plane, postmarked 5:30 PM.
By 7:15 PM, both airplanes were safely in Chicago, ending the first full day
of official operations for CAM-2. The next day they would begin the repetitious
and dangerous job of flying the same route, day after day, in all kinds of weather.