Abstract: American Airmail as an Analogy for Commercial Space

Glenn Bugos


The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and government subsidy of airmail fueled the emerging American air industry. The NACA, an interagency research body, actively surveyed the state of the art to define the most common problems afflicting those who built and operated aircraft, then did the research to solve those problems. Airmail service began in 1918 as a government function, operating at a substantial loss, within the U.S. Army Signal Corps and the Post Office. The structure of the industry shifted dramatically when the Kelly Act of 1925 privatized airmail service and the Air Commerce Act of 1926 established a framework for regulating air commerce. This was a time of significant corruption, with the government over-investing $7.5 million per year in air commerce. It was also a time when the NACA introduced the technologies that, by the early 1930s, enabled the "airframe revolution." Government involvement in the early years of airmail is seen by many today as a model for how NASA and the FAA can support an emerging commercial space industry.