DKPA Caption

story of the first airmail

YV Jeppu

The aircraft was invented by the Wright brothers in USA but the first Airmail to fly in the world was flown in India. This is the story of the First Airmail.

In early December 1910, SS Persia, a British merchantship arrived in Bombay with big cases containing dismantled plane parts. Accompanying the cargo were Commander Sir Walter George Windham and two pilots Henri Pequet, a Frenchman and Keith Davies, an Englishman. Along with them were also two mechanics Haffkin (English) and Billon (French). This was the team sent by Humber Motor Company, Coventry, England to exhibit the planes at the Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition to be held at Allahabad UP (United Provinces).

George Windham

Sir Walter George Windham

Sommer Biplane
Sommer Biplane

GNOME Engine
Gnome Engine

The Humber Motor Company started manufacturing under license Bleriot XI monoplanes called Humber Bleriot in 1910. Towards the end of the year they manufactured two Roger Sommer biplanes one of which was sent to India with the team. 

The Roger Sommer biplane was basically a modified Henri Farman biplane with a 50 HP, seven cylinder, Gnome rotary engine. The Gnome engine, developed by two French brothers Laurent and Gustav Seguin in 1908, was an innovation in engine design. Unlike the internal combustion engines of today, The Gnome had a crankshaft fixed to the airplane and the cylinders, arranged radially around it, rotated acting as a flywheel. This system cooled the cylinders effectively and reduced the weight by eliminating the water cooling system. The lighter weight and smooth running made it a popular engine till the end of World War I. 

The engine was placed behind the propellor which pushed the aircraft. The elevator in the front controlled the pitching movement of the aircraft and the ailerons on the wings controlled the rolling movements.

The party left by train to Allahabad and reached there on December 5. Two planes were assembled in 5 days in a polo field adjacent to the exhibition grounds. On December 10, Keith Davies flew his Bleriot possibly to test it after assembling. "On the 10th of December Mr. Davies had the machine ready and early in the morning circled the polo ground at a height of twenty to thirty feet" quoted one newspaper.

Windham was approached by the clergyman in charge of Holy Trinity Church, Allahabad, to see if he could raise some funds for a hostel planned by the church. Windham thought that if he could fly some mail across the river Ganges (Ganga) to Naini and put a special postmark, he could raise the money for the hostel. 

The Post master General of United Provinces and the Director General of Post Office in India approved the idea and a special postmark was authorized. The cancellation read First Aerial Post. A clergyman was appointed as the Postmaster at the parade ground at Naini.  A surcharge of 6 annas (37 paise today) was made and letters poured in from all over India. One letter had stamps worth 25 rupees. On February 17th, the day before the event, the Oxford and Cambridge Hostel at Allahabad was turned into a small GPO. The sorting of letters and postcards (approximately 6000) started at 9.00 hours in the morning and lasted till midnight. Henri Pequet signed some 400 postcards himself! 

The 1st Cancellation

Special Postmark depicted on the stamp issued on the Golden Jubilee of the Event

Map Reference

The First Airmail Route

Henri Pequet

Henri Pequet

Bathing in Ganga

Bathing in Ganges

It was a fine morning at Allahabad on the 18th of February, 1911. Henri Pequet took off with a wrist watch on his right hand and an altimeter fixed to his left knee. The biplane flew to Naini at 40 mph at an altitude of 130 feet. He landed at Naini, 8 Km from Allahabad, to be greeted by the lone postmaster. Pequet flew back. The whole journey lasted 27 minutes. 

The occasion coincided with Purna Kumbha, the Hindu festival held once every 12 years. Pequet had a birds eye of a million Indians washing away their sins in the Ganges below. Thus the event was watched by over a million Indians that day! 

One of the recipients of the first airmail was King George V of England. His secretary wrote to Windham "The King desires me to send you his thanks for the letter he received from India, bearing the inscription "First Aerial Post", which will be an interesting addition to His Majesty's stamp collection". 

Henri Pequet that day introduced aviation as a Postal Tool at Allahabad. February 18, 1911 will always remain as a Red letter day not only in India but all over the World!

A Post Card on the First Airmail.

A Post Card on the first airmail - courtsey Wonderland of Stamps

FDC 1961

India brought out this special cover to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of this event. A DHC Otter aircraft of the UP Flying Club flew the Allahabad-Naini-Allahad route carrying these covers. A planeload of invitees flew to Allahabad to witness the event. 

FDC 1986

This special cover was issued to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee of the event.

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