First Flight Covers (FFC) are a type of historical stamp and postal history. These covers commemorate the first trip or inaugural run of an airplane, often flown by airmail. When researching my first book on LeTourneau’s Overland Trains, I collected an FFC with the Byrd/Poulter Snow Cruiser.
In starting research for my second book, co-authored with Dale Hardy, I found several FFCs for Usher Rousch, a pilot for R. G. LeTourneau. One in particular was unopened upon my receipt. I noticed that the envelope had something inside of it, which ended up being a thick cardboard card summarizing his flight experience and life.
These FFCs were typically postmarked with the date of the flight and often carried a cachet as well, which is a printed or stamped design or inscription, other than a cancellation or pre-printed postage, on an envelope, postcard, or postal card to commemorate a postal or philatelic event.
The inception of FFCs traces back to the early days of airmail, which officially began in the United States in 1918. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s, a period marked by rapid advancements in aviation, that the concept of FFCs truly took off. Airmail routes expanded across the U.S., and with each inaugural flight, unique FFCs were issued, much to the delight of stamp collectors.
In 1928, the U.S. Post Office Department, in conjunction with private airlines, initiated Contract Airmail (CAM) routes. These routes were milestones in airmail history as they marked a shift from government-operated mail flights to commercial entities. Each new route’s inaugural flight saw its unique FFC, creating a tangible and collectible history of this pivotal transition in airmail services.
Collecting FFCs offers a fascinating glimpse into the early days of airmail. Each cover, adorned with its unique postmark and cachet, represents a significant event in aviation history – the birth of new routes, the introduction of faster and more advanced aircraft, and the celebration of human progress in overcoming geographical barriers. Notable figures in airmail history, such as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh, also sometimes flew these inaugural flights, further adding to the allure of FFCs.
The golden era of FFCs spans the 1920s to the 1940s, coinciding with the rapid expansion of airmail services and the dawn of the Jet Age. However, FFCs continue to be issued for significant aviation events, ensuring the tradition lives on.
To this day, FFCs remain a cherished component of philatelic collections. Each cover serves as a miniature time capsule, preserving a specific moment in airmail history. It represents the marriage of progress and tradition, technology, and human spirit, encapsulating the awe-inspiring journey of human communication.
In conclusion, the history of FFC Airmail is a captivating narrative of human ingenuity and progress. These covers, much more than mere envelopes, serve as mementos of our quest to connect, communicate, and conquer the skies, one flight at a time. So the next time you see a postage stamp or an old envelope, remember that it could be a fragment of a grand narrative that forever changed the course of human communication.