Pioneer Official Air Mail Services
Developing International Airmail Links
This article tracks the first ten years of Chile airmail from the inaugural pioneer official airmail services between Santiago and Valparaiso in 1927 to the subsequent international air route links to the United States and Europe that then developed.
Those links were pioneered by C.G.A (Aeropostale – becoming Air France), Panagra, and Condor/Lufthansa. Both the eastern and western South American routes are represented by flown covers as well as the early Andes flight crossings both of an experimental and regular nature.
Links with the South Atlantic air accelerated mail services to Europe and Africa are shown as are the links to the German airship airmail services.
Chile: SANC (Sociedad Aero Navigacion Commercial)
The Valparaiso – Santiago Line
Luis Testart commenced this service on 3 May 1927 between the two cities using a DH Moth aircraft. This was the first official air mail service in Chile.
Unissued Chile commemorative stamps were surcharged for this first air mail service, rate 40 centavos per first 20 gr. with a sliding scale thereafter. The only aircraft crashed 18 March 1928. The service ended and the remaining air stamps were destroyed.
Valparaiso: 16 May 1927 at 12.00. Backstamped Santiago: 16 May 1927 at 8.00 p.m.
Santiago: 2 Nov. 1927 at 12.00. Backstamped Valparaiso: 2 Nov. 1927 at 8.00 pm. Note: Addressee LUIS TESTART.
Chile: Lasa (Linea Aeropostale Santiago Arica)
The Valparaiso – Santiago – Line
Air service recommenced 11 August 1928 between the two cities using DH moth aircraft. Initially it was operated as a division of the air force – Commandante Arturo Merino Bonitez.
A new series of overprinted surcharged air stamps, 20 centavos to 10 Pesos value was issued 6 August 1928. The 3 Peso & 6 Peso aero surcharge on 5c and 10C stamps were soon forged and led to an early withdrawal of the value.
6 Peso surcharge, used to Antofagasta 10 Aug 1929 and ignored. 5 Peso used to Santiago, it was treated as 5c and 40 centavos postage due was taxed.
Chile: Doolittle (Curtis Aircraft Export Co.)
Survey Flight, Santiago – Buenos Aires
Between February and May 1928, Lt. J.H. Doolittle was granted leave of absence to demonstrate the possibilities of a permanent air mail service between several South American cities. Using a Curtis aircraft he made five survey flights for South American governments and carried mail on each of these flights. Pan Am was a co- sponsor.
The second flight was south from La Paz, Bolivia to Santiago, Chile.
The third flight was across the Andes. Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
La Paz: March 1928. Backstamped Santiago: March 1928.
Santiago: 8 May 1928-7am. Backstamped Buenos Aire: 8 May 1928 – 6 pm.
CHILE: C.G.A. (Compagnie Generale Aeropostale)
Rail to Mendoza – Air To Brazil – Sea to Dakar – Air To Paris
Chilean Air Mail was despatched to Europe commencing 5th March 1928. The mail crossed over the Andes by rail to Mendoza in Argentina. From there it flew on LATE 25 aircraft to Buenos Aires by C.G.A.
From Buenos the mail was carried on the regular scheduled Aeropostale flight to Natal in Brazil, crossing the Atlantic by fast mail packet to Dakar in Senegal, where the regular C.G.A. service flew on to Paris.
Registered Valparaiso: 29 September 1928 for London, England. Backstamped London: 17 October 1928.
Chile: C.G.A. (Compagnie Generale Aeropostale) and Panagra (Pan American Grace Airways)
First regular Flights Chile – Argentina
C.G.A. integrated a trans-Andean operation into its scheduled trunk services in South America, Using a Potez 25 aircraft pilots Mermoz and Guillamet flew the Santiago – Mendoza Andes crossing on 18 July 1929, transferring the mail to a LATE 26 aircraft that continued on to Buenos Aires (see cachet on front).
Chile covers carried on this flight also received a special circular black cachet on the back reading – “A expedier de Buenos Aires le 20 JUL 1929 Par AVION Compagnie Gale Aeropostale”.
Airmail Santiago 18 July 1929 for the United States via Rio de Janiero // Then steamship USA. Backstamped Rio De Janiero: 20 July 1929. Backstamped 20 July 1929 Compagnie Gale Aeropostale.
Buenos Aires Argentina: 17 October 1929 for Santiago, Chile. Backstamped 20 October 1929.
Chile: C.G.A. (Compagnie Generale Aeropostale)
All Air to Brazil – Sea to Dakar – Air to Paris
An all air service to Buenos Aires thence the regular air service to Natal in Brazil for onward transmission to Europe commenced on August 15 1929. Pilot Guillaumet flew the mail in a Potez 25 to Mendoza, then in a LATE 26 aircraft on to Buenos Aires.
From Buenos Aires the mail was carried on the regular scheduled Aeropostale flight to Natal in Brazil, crossing the Atlantic by fast mail packet to Dakar in Senegal, then the C.G.A. service flew mail on to Paris.
Registered Santiago: 15 August 1929 for Paris, France. Backstamped Paris: 27 August 1929.
AEROPOSTALE. Propaganda stamp illustrating the C.G.A. service fom South America.
Chile: C.G.A. (Compagnie Generate Aeropostale)
MERMOZ: CHILE-FRANCE. West-East South Atlantic Survey Flights
1. C.G.A Pilot Jean Mermoz with two crew flew the seaplane “Compte De La Vaulx” on the first commercial South Atlantic crossing in May 1930. The return flight departed Natal in Brazil on 12 June arriving Dakar in Senegal same day. Mail then to France by C.G.A. on regular Dakar – Casablanca – Toulouse service. Backstamped Barcelona 17 June 1930.
2. Mermoz second crossing in same aircraft was not a complete success. Depart Natal, 9 July for Dakar. Engine failure led to ditching 400 km. to go. Ditched by fishing boat “Phocee“. Mail transferred later to liner which called at Dakar. Then C.G.A on to Paris. Backstamped 16 July 1930.
Chile: PANAGRA (Pan American Grace Airways)
Inaugural Flight Chile – Canal Zone. FAM 9
To gain access to the air routes on the western side of South America, Pan American Airways was forced into negotiations with the W.R. Grace Corp. and had to merge and form a new airline called Pan American Grace Airways (PANAGRA).
The extension of FAM 9, Chile to Cristobal, Canal Zone was flown by PANAGRA using Fairchild FC2 cabin planes, via Arica, departed Santiago 21 July 1929.
Right: Santiago: 21 July 1929. Cristobal Canal Zone – Backstamped: 25 July 1929.
Left: Posted Iquique: 20 July 1929. Backstamped Arica: 22 July 1929. Backstamped arrival Cristobal C.Z.: 25 July 1929.
Inaugural PANAGRA flight: Africa – Chile to Cristobal, C.Z.
Chile: PANAGRA (Pan American Grace Airways)
Inaugural Flight Miami – Canal Zone – Chile – Argentina. FAM 9
To gain access to the air routes on the western side of South America, Pan American Airways was forced into negotiations with the W.R. Grace Corp. and had to merge and form a new airline called PANAGRA.
The extension of FAM 9 through Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina was flown by PANAGRA using Fairchild FC2 cabin planes, this including the trans – Andean sector in October 1929.
Cristobal C.Z.: 8 October 1929 for Ascuncion Paraguay. Backstamped 20.1o.1929 via Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Miami: 27 September 1929 for Buenos Aires, Argentina. Backstamped 14 October 1929 Via Canal Zone. Backstamped 8 October 1929. 8 cents US in stamps to back. Also same violet cachet as above.
Chile: PANAGRA (Pan American Grace Airways)
Santiago – Cristobal C.Z. FAM 9. – PANAGRA
Cristobal C.Z. – Miami U.S.A. FAM 5 – Pan American
This routing by PANAGRA and Pan American Airways FAM 9 and FAM 5 using in main Ford Trimotor aircraft provided the fastest regular air mail service from Chile to the U.S.A.
Santiago: 18.11.1930 for Tacony Pa. USA.
Valparaiso 10.1.1934 for San Francisco, USA. Use of Meters Correos De Chile.
Chile to New Zealand: PANAGRA (Pan American Grace Airways) and C.G.A. (Compagne Generale Aerpostale)
Santiago – Air to Cristobal C.Z. FAM 9. – Mail steamer to New Zealand
Santiago – Air to Brazil – Sea to Dakar – Air to Marseilles – sea to N.Z.
Both of these 1932 Consular items were bound New Zealand. They were airmailed to ports of departure for steamship passage to New Zealand One was flown up the east coast to the Canal Zone, the other was flown across the Andes and up the west coast to Brazil, sea to Dakar, air to France. Both items franked with official stamps. Both 50c. Air fee. 20c. postage.
Posted Santiago: 1 September 1932. Backstamped Santiago Aereo: 4 September 1932. Backstamped Cristobal C.Z.: 7 September 1932.
Posted Santiago: 6 July 1932. Backstamped Marseilles, France: 17 July 1932.
Chile: Codos & Rossi
Attempted flight France – Chile
In preparation for their attempt to establish a worlds distance flight record Paul Codos and Maurice Rossi attempted a flight from Marseilles to Santiago. They departed Marseilles in aircraft Joseph Le Brux on 16th February 1935 and after reaching Cape Verde were forced down at Porto Praia on 17 February 1935. The flight then abandoned.
Chile: Lufthansa – Condor/Zeppelin
All Air to Germany – Airship “Graf Zeppelin”
The first South American flights in the Graf Zeppelin took place in May /June 1930. There was no Chile dispatch as there was no postal agreement in place. The first Chile Graf Zeppelin dispatches were on the nine 1932 Condor/Zeppelin flights to South America. Such mail is identifiable by cachet.
This cover was flown on the third such 1932 return flight, departing Recife, Brazil on 23.4.1932 at 0200 and arriving Friedrichshafen 27.4.1932 at 0404, flight of 8705 Kilometres in 98 hrs and 4 minutes. Total airmail carried on this flight was 122 Kg. Carriage from Santiago to Recife would have been either by PANAGRA or Aeropostale to Buenos Aires, then Condor to Recife. Indicated 70cts postage with air fee Peso 4.65.
Graf Zeppelin at Friedrichshafen.
Chile: Lufthansa – Condor
All Air to Germany -”Catapult”
1933 a successful experiment. A catapult fitted pot ship the “Westfalen” as positioned mid Atlantic. It had the ability to recover, refuel, and launch a mail carrying Dornier Wal flying boat.
On 9 October 1935, Condor commenced its Santiago-Buenos Aires service to link Natal.
Santiago 18.8.1937. via B.A, Natal, Fernando de Noronha and “Westfalen”. Catapult, ditching motor, pickup & relaunch to Bathurst, DLH on to Frankfurt Backstamped 23.8.37. This letters bag missed the transfer at sea and was put on the next northbound flight.
Left: Valparaiso: 8 October 1935 for London. Backstamped Santiago 9 October 1935. Purple cachet for “First All German” Air Mail.
Right: Santiago: 16 August 1937 for Germany. Backstamped Frankfurt (Main) Rhein Main 29 August 1937. Delayed due “Ditching” and “Missed Transfer”.
Chile: Lufthansa – Condor/Zeppelin
All Air to Germany – Airships “Graf Zeppelin” & “Hindenberg”
The first South American flights in the Graf Zeppelin took place in May/June 1930. There was no Chile dispatch as there was no postal agreement in place. The first Chile Graf Zeppelin dispatches were on the nine 1932 Condor/Zeppelin flights to South America. Such mail is identifiable by cachet.
From 9 October 1935 Condor commenced its Santiago – Buenos Aires flights via Mendoza, and an all German air mail from Chile to Germany was possible. It was also able to link through Rio de Janiero to Recife for CondorIZeppelin connections.
Such mail carries no distinguishing marks. Specific Santiago 6.a.m. postmarks can be tied to specific airship departures from Recife and so linked to the Condor /Zeppelin flights.
GRAF ZEPPELIN LZ 127. Santiago: 1 July 1936-6a.m. Condor to Recife via Buenos Aires & Rio de Janiero. LZ 127 depart Recife 3.7.36. Over Seville 6.7.36 Paradrop mail. DLH HE 111 “Restock” To Marseilles & Frankfurt 6.7.1936.
HINDENBERG LZ 129. Santiago: 2 December 1936 – 6 a.m. Condor to Recife via Buenos Aires & Rio de Janiero. LZ 129 depart Recife 4.12..36 over Las Palmas 6.12.36 Paradrop mail DLH HE 111 “Rostock” to Lisbon DLH HE 111 “Karlsruhe” To Marseilles, Frankfurt~Berlin Arrive 7.12.1936.
Chilean Airmails – John C. West. “Stamp Magazine 9/1992.
German South Atlantic Airmail Services. James W Graue (personal correspondence)
Doolittle S. A. Flight Covers 1928. A. R. Doublet FRPSL. London Philatelist 4/2000
Air Mail Conquers the Andes. Robert B Spooner. American Philatelist 6/1997
Poste Aerienne. Theodor Champion .6th Ed. 1930
Aero Field. 9/1943. – Chile First Air Mail Stamps -Victor Vargas
Aero Field. 6/1946 – The “Testart”Air Stamps of Chile .- John N. Meyer
We would like to thank Rick Oxenham for this interesting article. Rick is the president of the Air Mail Society of New Zealand.