Mail pouch from first airmail flight over the North Pole
U. S. Air Mail mailbag carried on the first airmail flight over the North Pole aboard a single-engine World War II fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang, on May 29, 1951. Capt. Charles F. Blair, an airline pilot, whose actual objective was to prove whether non-military trans-polar flights were feasible, piloted the plane.
It was planned as a one-man polar expedition. Blair had made significant changes to his 1943 Army surplus plane — modifying the wing for additional fuel capacity and installing a new, powerful engine to attain a 35,000-foot altitude. Blair had not foreseen carrying mail.
It was Ernest A. Kehr, Stamp and News editor for the New York Herald Tribune and American Air Mail Society vice president, who conceived the idea for the plane to carry official mail over the North Pole for the benefit of the Damon Runyan Memorial Cancer Fund (active in the 1940s and 1950s). Because space and weight were critical to the flight, the small U.S. Mail pouch was used as a seat cushion by Blair. It contained 3,000 post cards. Blair was made an officially sanctioned mail carrier for the flight that originated at Bardufoss Field outside Oslo, Norway and ended at Ladd Field in Fairbanks, Alaska (3,260 miles in 10 hours 27 minutes).
Once the polar flight was completed, Blair decided to fly from Fairbanks to New York's Idlewild Airport. [Note that the mailbag is addressed to "Postmaster, New York, N.Y., Courtesy, Capt. Charles Blair" and was marked as weighing 6 pounds 11 ounces.] There he passed the mailbag to Ernest Kehr who was given it by the U. S. Post Office Department in recognition of his humanitarian and postal documentation initiative. In 1956 Kehr gave it as a gift to Paul-Emile Victor, polar explorer and philatelist. William Littlewood received it from Victor in 1964.
The National Air and Space Museum acquired Blair’s plane, the Excalibur III, in 1953.