1899: “The Dean” of Aviation Begins His Life’s Journey

September 27, 1899

Aviation pioneer Dean Cullen Smith was born at his grandparents’ home in the city of Cove, Oregon. After graduating from high school in the Beaver State, he attended Principia College in St. Louis, Missouri, for two years. 

The origins of Smith’s strong interest and involvement in flight activities can be traced to the summer of 1917, when he enlisted in the aviation section of the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps (a predecessor to the U.S. Air Force). Not long after joining that military service, Smith – with only about 57 hours of flying experience – became the youngest-ever flight instructor in the history of the U.S. Army.

Smith subsequently played a key role in the introduction of airmail service by the U.S. Post Office Department. By the time he joined that service during the summer of 1919, he had logged 900 hours of flying time in the Army. Smith’s first air mail delivery assignment entailed flying from Nebraska to California. As an air mail pilot, Smith helped pioneer the use of electronic instruments for planes transporting letters and packages along transcontinental flight routes. Smith worked as an air mail pilot until 1927, logging a total of 3,765 hours and 365,719 miles (588,568 kilometers) on behalf of that service.

In another one of his major flight career achievements, Smith served as a pilot for the 1928-1930 Antarctic expedition led by U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Smith’s contributions to that large-scale effort included flying over Antarctica to explore and identify previously uncharted terrain there. Smith Peak on Antarctica’s Thurston Island was named after him.

Smith, who was popularly known as “The Dean,” also worked for various companies in the aircraft industry. These companies included American Airlines, Douglas Aircraft Company, Fairchild Aviation, Hughes Tool Company, Learning Curtiss Company, and United Airlines.

In addition, Smith was a member of the Aero Club of America, Air Mail Pioneers Association, and National Air Pilots Association (ultimately merged into the present-day National Air Pilots Association). Smith died in 1987 in the town of Easton, Maryland, at the age of 87.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Dean Cullen Smith, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Smith_(pilot)

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