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The world’s first official aeroplane post

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The first official post by aeroplane was organised as part of an exhibition in India in February 1911, held in the city of Allahabad. Mail flown on this special, one-off, flight bore a special postmark. Some 5,000 to 6,500 items are said to have been flown including about 40 to 50 large-size specially printed postcards and signed by the French pilot, Henri Péquet. These ‘official’ cards are now rare.

In 1908 a large exhibition was held at Nagpur, which led to influential people supporting a proposal for a larger exhibition. A public meeting in Allahabad on July 29, 1909, endorsed the idea for an exhibition, and a large sum of money was subscribed on the spot. The site selected was open land, which covered 120 acres.

The United Provinces Exhibition was scheduled to open on December 1, 1910, to run for three months, and to close on Tuesday, February 28, 1911. The exhibition opened on December 1, 1910. On entering, immediately to the right, was a domed building occupied by the Post & Telegraph Offices, which also contained relevant exhibits. Another Post & Telegraph Office was also provided for the use of the camps: ‘In tents outside the Exhibition ground, halfway down the Exhibition road’.

It had been agreed early in the planning stage that an aviation meeting should be part of the exhibition, largely with the aim of educating people to this new development in transport. In 1910, Captain Walter George Windham, R.N. was invited to bring some aeroplanes from England to take part. He founded The Aeroplane Club in 1908, and in October 1909 had taken part in what was (arguably) the first aviation meeting in Britain at Doncaster.

Windham arranged to take six aeroplanes, and two flyers – Henri Péquet and Edward Keith Davies – together with two mechanics, Billon French and Haffkin English. Captain Windham shipped the aeroplanes to Bombay in large crates, and they were then sent on by rail in special trucks to Allahabad.

There were two biplanes and four monoplanes, all made under licence by the Coventry-based motor firm Humber. One was fitted’ with the light four-cylinder rotary 50h.p. water-cooled engine. Both biplanes gave splendid exhibition flights. The monoplanes were based on French Blériot designs and had three-cylinder 30h.p. air-cooled engines. Unfortunately the monoplanes weren’t a success at Allahabad. Somewhat underpowered, they would not rise more than 20 or 30 feet. Matters weren’t improved by air pockets caused by the varying temperatures over the ground.

There were problems with punctures of the aeroplane tyres caused by large thorns which appeared on the flying ground. It was necessary to repair tyres after almost every landing.