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Stinson Reliant and the Mail Pick-Up Service
October 19, 2011 12:35 PM   Subscribe

From May 12, 1939 to June 30, 1949, a fleet of Stinson Reliants were used for a unique form of mail pick-up and delivery: skyhooking. Similar in notion to the mail-on-the-fly and mail cranes used along rail lines, the Reliants would fly low, deposit one load of mail and pick up the next, without stopping, providing mail service to rural communities. The Smithsonian National Postal Museum has a 39 minute documentary presentation on YouTube, but it's a guy talking over powerpoint slides, which is pretty dry. Instead, here is a modern news report with interviews of a skyhook pilot and old newsreel footage.
posted by filthy light thief (24 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you want to read more, here's a bit on Doc Lytle Schuyler Adams, the dentist/inventor behind the skyhook; and here is a short write-up of the details of the skyhook mail service.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:37 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not the same, but not unlike: Tin Can Mail.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:44 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you live in the DC area, the Flying Circus out in Bealton does a demonstration of sky hooking as part of the show.
posted by COD at 12:45 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hahaha, public "mail". How quaint.

*cries*
posted by penduluum at 12:49 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Same thing Batman used to mail himself and his prisoner home from Hong Kong.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:55 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, the Bealeton Flying Circus...I remember going out to their shows back in the mesozoic era (aka 1970ish), which apparently was pretty early in the lifetime of the Circus. I don't remember any mail hooking demonstrations, but their dogfights were dang-diddly awesome for a kid.
posted by foonly at 12:56 PM on October 19, 2011


See also, Operation Coldfeet.
posted by cog_nate at 12:57 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Same thing Batman used to mail himself and his prisoner home from Hong Kong.

As with everything, Batman got the idea from James Bond.
posted by The World Famous at 1:14 PM on October 19, 2011


This was such lovely ad-hackery. Very, Very Cool.
posted by eriko at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2011


Another interesting failed mail delivery system - Rocket mail.
posted by dragoon at 1:25 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn, at first glance I thought it was a post about the Reliant Robin... nice post though, carry on.
posted by Huck500 at 1:30 PM on October 19, 2011


Kip: I would leave here, I would go to Pitcairn, Vandergrift, Indiana, Punxsutawney, DuBois, Clearfield, Philipsburg, State College, Bellefonte, Wickhaven, Selinsgrove and Williamsburg.

Interviewer: All in one day.

Kip: All in one morning.

Interviewer: All in one morning!?

Kip: Took an hour and forty-five minutes.
Airplanes: making freeways look stupid for 72 years.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:37 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a lot easier to fly between 20 different rural cities in a day when you're one of the few using the airspace, compared to sharing the road with thousands of other people, each with their own unique speed preference and route for travel.

And thanks to everyone else adding the other oddball mail systems, those are programs I've never heard of (or imagined -- rocket mail?)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:44 PM on October 19, 2011


Pigeon Post and Balloon Mail
posted by foonly at 3:01 PM on October 19, 2011


Wow, I had no idea this was a thing. It sounds insane, honestly, and more than a bit frightening. But then just yesterday I was watching a guy fly a banner up the Hudson alongside Manhattan, dodging all the helicopters and other planes while flying way too slow towing a giant rag that said "Burma Shave" or whatever. Scary? Fun? Boring? All three?
posted by Nelson at 3:06 PM on October 19, 2011


Also, mail by insane devilish twin-screw tractor. From the collections page of the most excellent Heidrick Ag History Center:
This was known as an Armstead Snow-motor. Hauling capacity was said to be five tons. Each drum receives power from a separate clutch which, depending on the position of the steering gear, engages and disengages. It can also traverse bare ground. This machine hauled mail from Truckee to North Lake Tahoe.
posted by foonly at 3:43 PM on October 19, 2011


Great post. Thanks, filthy.
posted by homunculus at 4:08 PM on October 19, 2011


I hear United Airlines ods going to scale the system up to use for passengers in non-hub airports. Cost savings are expected to be well worth the bruises and contusions
posted by happyroach at 4:49 PM on October 19, 2011


WTF! This is real?? I had heard the word "skyhooks" before but I honestly thought it was a figurative term for "some neato futuristic thing we wish were real but obviously never could be."

That footage of the plane dropping off one parcel in the field and then neatly snagging the one left for pickup was very, very cool.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:40 PM on October 19, 2011


Even more -- probably much much more than you'd ever really care to know -- about the US military's modifications to skyhook technology and its use in numerous operations, including exfiltrating intelligence assets (e.g., people): The Praetorian STARShip - The Untold Story of the Combat Talon.
posted by cog_nate at 8:29 PM on October 19, 2011


Banner tows start the day with essentially the same procedure (minus the simultaneous drop):

e.g., from the cockpit, rearward view

(ps Western Infidels: that's Lock Haven)
posted by tss at 8:46 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


WTF! This is real?? I had heard the word "skyhooks" before but I honestly thought it was a figurative term for "some neato futuristic thing we wish were real but obviously never could be."

There's another type of skyhook.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:08 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, thank you for that BungaDunga! The concept you linked to must be what I was thinking of.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:41 PM on October 20, 2011


tss - that's very keen!

BungaDunga - thanks for the clarification of the other sort of skyhook.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:06 AM on October 21, 2011


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