On July 15 2016 Royal Mail flew a vintage Tiger Moth carrying a symbolic bag of mail from the Farnborough International Airshow to Le Touquet in France as part of Royal Mail’s celebration of 500 years of postal services.
The event commemorates a proving flight that was made by the Aircraft Transport and Travel airline on July 15 1919 and helped to establish a regular airmail service between England and France
The Royal Mail branded Tiger Moth biplane will carry a special mail bag of letters from school children in Farnborough as well as a personal letter from Royal Mail CEO Moya Greene to La Poste CEO Philippe Wahl.
The flight pays tribute to those early pioneers of aviation who braved often difficult conditions to get mail overseas and established it as a key communications channel
Blue airmail etiquettes reading “By Air Mail / Par Avion” were first used in Britain in 1920, following a French decision to apply airmail etiquettes reading “Par Avion” to their airmails
In 1930 the postal service launched blue airmail postboxes that were designed to advertise the new airmail service.
In the mid-thirties postal charges were simplified causing the volume of airmails to leap from 120 million tons to just short of 190 million tons. From a starting point of 10 million airmail letters per year in 1935, numbers doubled annually, reaching over 91 million in 1938.
Today Royal Mail’s Heathrow Worldwide Distribution Centre handles all international air mail leaving the UK, despatching around 700,000 items a night, using seven miles of conveyor systems. Royal Mail exports to 221 destinations using scheduled flights of 55 airlines from London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports.
Royal Mail is heading to Farnborough International Airshow on July 15 2016 to recreate the first scheduled, international, commercial airmail flight from the UK to Paris. The flight forms part of Royal Mail’s celebration of 500 years of postal services.
The first proving flight for a cross-channel commercial route was made by Lt Henry ‘Jerry’ Shaw, chief pilot of Aircraft Transport and Travel on July 15 1919, just under 100 years ago. Within thirty years of this flight, Britain would become the world’s largest carrier of airmail.
To mark this occasion, a vintage biplane will fly out from Farnborough International Airshow early on the morning of July 15 2016. The aircraft will carry a symbolic bag of mail including letters from schoolchildren from Wavell School in Farnborough as well as a personal letter from Moya Greene, CEO of Royal Mail Group to Philippe Wahl, CEO of La Poste, before returning with another batch of mail in the late afternoon.
The Tiger Moth will firstly fly to Headcorn in Kent to refuel, before crossing the channel to arrive at the airport in Le Touquet where the mail will be received by a French postal worker from La Poste.
The sortie pays tribute to the UK’s first scheduled, international flight to carry mail for the general public. On July 15 1919, Lt Henry ‘Jerry’ Shaw, chief pilot of Aircraft Transport and Travel, flew the first commercial flight across the English Channel in a de Havilland DH.9 biplane. The aircraft took off at RAF Hendon to land in Paris-Le Bourget in a journey that took 2 hours and 30 minutes and cost £21 per passenger, the equivalent of more than £1,000 today.
This historic flight was the forerunner to the first scheduled airmail service between England and France. On November 10 1919, Aircraft Transport and Travel carried the first international airmail from Hounslow to Paris in an Airco DH4A de Havilland biplane, flight number G-EAHF, with a Royal Mail pennant proudly attached to its rudder.
Royal Mail is recreating this historic flight in another de Havilland biplane, a DH82 Tiger Moth as a tribute to those early pioneers of aviation who braved often difficult conditions to get mail overseas. The pilots were under some pressure to deliver the mail on time given the several variables that could lead to delays including high winds and inclement weather. With unheated, open cockpits and before the age of radio, pilots would rely on compasses for navigation as well as following landmarks such as railway lines to ensure they were on track.
“Royal Mail owes a great debt of gratitude to those early aviators who often took their lives in their hands to ensure that the mail was delivered safely to overseas destinations,” said Royal Mail CEO Moya Greene. “Today’s flight pays tribute to those pioneers of the skies while underlining the entente cordiale that exists between Royal Mail and its French counterpart La Poste as we continue to oil the wheels of commerce between our two countries. Today airmail is of course very much a core part of Royal Mail’s operation, ensuring we deliver mail as quickly as possible to destinations around the world.”
Farnborough International CEO, Shaun Ormrod said: “We are delighted to be working with Royal Mail and help celebrate 500 years of postal services. It is very fitting that they should choose the Farnborough International Airshow to recreate the first scheduled, international, commercial airmail flight. Farnborough is the birthplace of aviation with a rich history of aviation pioneers and we continue to inform and inspire the engineers and pilots of the future.”
The aircraft, K4259, was originally allocated to the Royal Air Force on November 24, 1934 at Kenley. During the Second World War, RAF pilots learned to fly in the Tiger Moth before progressing to other aircraft such as the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster.
K4259 was issued to 1 Armament Support Unit (ASU) on February 21, 1936 before issue to 24 squadron 11 fighter group on the 5th June 1937. Its next unit was based at Gatwick and it then served with a succession of training units throughout the war such as 10 EFTS and 22 EFTS. It ended its service at 12 MU where it was sold to Mr A. J. Whitmore on the 1st December 1953 and registered as G-ANMO on the 22nd January 1954. Aero Legends Ltd acquired the aircraft in 2014.