Reuben H. Fleet had the distinction of being “Air Mail
Pilot Number 1” at the time the U.S. Post Office Department
established regular air mail service on May 15, 1918. Image,
right, from his NASM biographical file (cited, left sidebar), shows him at about that time.
His second wife, Dorothy Mitchell Fleet, wrote a book (reference,
left sidebar) that covers the Fleet legacy from his early airmail
days to leader of Consolidated Aircraft. Click this link
for a biographical chronology of Reuben Fleet with some great,
clear images and other links (as well as a description of
the “haunted house” he and his wife lived in in
San Diego!). This link leads to a Smithsonian photograph of Fleet from May 15, 1918.
Below, from his NASM biographical file, is a portion of the seven-page typescript
written by Fleet describing early airmail operations.
Below, from the Library of Congress (LOC) via Bob Woodling (cited, right sidebar), is a crisp photograph of Fleet standing next to his airplane on the day of the airmail inaugural. The airplane is a Curtiss JN46H. He carries a chart fastened to his right leg. Note the rectangular bulge in his left jacket breast pocket and compare it to the photo next below.
Reuben Fleet, May 15, 1918 (Source: LOC via Woodling)
Notice also the oil smeared on the fuselage of his airplane. Image, below from Dorothy Fleet's book showing Fleet with
President Wilson (left) at the airmail inaugural.
Pilot Fleet arrived at Tucson on Wednesday July 31, 1929.
He was in Fleet NX8612, headed northwest from El Paso, TX to Phoenix, AZ. He carried a single, unidentified "Passanger" [sic].
They stayed on the ground at Tucson for an hour and a half.
Based at Buffalo, NY, they gave no reason for their travel in the remarks column of
the Register. However, we know exactly who the passenger was, and what they were doing in Tucson.
According to the Wagner reference in the left sidebar, pp. 137ff., Fleet's passenger was his secretary, Mrs. Lauretta Lederer Golem (1898-1929). They were on an extended sales tour with the "Fleet 3," a trainer that was received with enthusiasm everywhere they stopped.
Both Fleet and Golem were married to other people at the time of their voyage, so this excursion was not without its rumors and tongue wagging (and perhaps that is why Fleet did not identify her by name in the Register). That would be surprising, because Fleet was undeterred and honest in his responses to raised eyebrows: he and Golem were in love and would be married at some point. It was even thought that part of their trip would be to his home state of Washington, where he would introduce Golem to his parents.
According to Wagner, after their Tucson stop, Fleet and Golem flew to Phoenix and then westward to San Diego, CA. It was on this visit to San Diego that Fleet proposed that the City sell him (for $1,000,000 cash) the newly established Lindbergh Field in order for him to relocate his Consolidated Aircraft Co. (see below) cross-country to San Diego. With the seed planted, that move occurred six years later.
North Tonowanda (NY) Evening News, January 27, 1930 (Source: Web)
In preparation for their trip, Golem had learned to fly in Buffalo, so she was freshly trained and totally able to fly the airplane. Except for one, Wagner provides no clue as to which legs of the trip might have been flown by her. On their homeward flight from Detroit to Buffalo, they decided to take the shorter land route over Ontario, Canada. Golem was at the controls in the rear cockpit with Fleet in the front cockpit.
Over West Lorne on the north shore of Lake Ontario, the engine failed and Fleet took the controls. He headed for a clearing and a crash landing resulted. Their tour ended in tragedy on September 13, 1929. Golem suffered a broken neck and spinal injuries and died the next day at age 31 (but note the age discrepancy reported in the news obituary, below). A few months after her passing, her husband placed an obligatory legal notice to creditors in the Tonowanda (NY) Evening News of January 27, 1930, right. Golem's grave marker can be viewed at the link.
Golem's obituary, below, appeared in the September 16, 1929 issue of the North Tonowanda (NY) Evening News.
Lauretta L. Golem Obituary, North Tonowanda (NY) Evening News, September 16, 1929 (Source: Woodling)
Mrs. Loretta Golem, N. T. Aviatrix, Injured When Airplane Crashed, Dead Returning from 20,000 Mile Transcontinental Flight When Accident Occurred in Ontario Funeral Will Be Held Wednesday Morning
Mrs. Loretta Golem, 29, of 775 East Robinson street, private secretary of Major Reuben H. Fleet of the Consolidated Aircraft Company, Buffalo, died at 9 o'clock Saturday night in Victoria hospital, London, Ont., for injuries received in an airplane crash Friday afternoon near St. Thomas, Ont.
Her Neck Broken
Mrs. Golem received a broken neck and internal injuries. With Major Fleet, she was completing a 20,000 mile air trip, when their plane crashed when Major Fleet was compelled to make a forced landing in a field. Both were pinned beneath it. The plane was a Fleet Consolidated, equipped with a Wright whirlwind motor and dual controls.
The funeral will be held Wednesday morning at 9 o'clock from the Golem home and at 9:30 from the Ascension Church. Mrs. Golem is survived by her husband, Herman R. Golem; her mother, Mrs. Loretta Lederer; two brothers, John and Richard Lederer, and a sister, Mrs. Gilbert Lance, all of North Tonawanda.
Major Fleet escaped from the crash with a sprained ankle and other minor injuries.
Was Licensed Pilot
Mrs. Golem was an enthusiastic aviatrix. She was only a few months ago granted a private pilot license.
The trip from which they were returning, when the fatal crash occurred, was in the interests of business of the Consolidated Aircraft Company. They left Buffalo about two months ago and went all the way to the Pacific coast.
Despite what the newspaper, above, calls minor injuries, Fleet survived what doctors described to him as, "... there wasn't a bone ... in the right place." The post-accident inspection of the engine revealed a broken rocker arm as the cause of faiure.
Reuben Fleet, September 3, 1942 (Source: SDAM)
So much for the reason and aftermath of Fleet's landing at Tucson. To continue, Reuben Fleet was an aircraft manufacturer of major importance during the Golden Age and through WWII. His company, Consolidated Aircraft founded in 1923, manufactured aircraft under the Fleet marque, and the Consolidated marque. There are 48 landings by his Fleet aircraft cited in the
Davis-Monthan Register. As testimony to the broad appeal and utility of the
Fleet marque, there are landings by them under Army Air Corps
and Navy military registry, as well as NC, NR (restricted),
NS (government) and NX (experimental) civil registry.
As well, there are 96 landings by Consolidated aircraft recorded in the Register. Again, they were flown by Army, Navy and civilian pilots. Consolidated Aircraft lives to this day as the Convair Division of the General Dynamics Company.
At right, a formal portrait of Fleet signed to Register pilot Charles Babb, September 3, 1942. This photo is part of Babb's photostream placed online by the San Diego Aerospace Museum (SDAM).
Below, from the Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter (BuaeroNews) of August 22, 1928, is a brief entry describing a visit by Fleet to the navy base at Pensacola, FL. Note, Brook Field should be Brooks Field.
Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter, August 22, 1928 (Source: Webmaster)
Below, from the BuaeroNews of January 23, 1929, is a description of the XPY-1 (see the airplane here at aerofiles.com). This airplane is the forerunner of what would become the U.S. Navy's Consolidated PBY and would see its early testing at N.A.S. Anacostia. Note in the testing participation by two Register pilots, A.W. Gorton and W.G. Tomlinson.
Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter, January 23, 1929 (Source: Webmaster)
Reuben Fleet was born March 6, 1887 in Montesano, WA and
died October 29, 1975 in San Diego, CA. He was 88 years old. His obituary, which appeared in The New York Times of October 30th, cited the cause of death as, "... injuries he suffered in a fall."
UPLOADED: 01/07/06 REVISED: 01/25/08, 05/07/09, 01/13/12, 03/06/12, 04/05/12