This fact still blows my mind. Of course you expect some sort of casualty when testing a giant piece of metal propelling you through the air, but to have deaths that steady had to have made the people in charge of this whole excursion stop and wonder if it was worth it. The first airmail pilot to pass away was Carl B. Smith. When he was test flying his De Havilland airplane on December 16, 1918 the plane stalled mid-flight and raced toward the ground in a tail spin. The accident happened at Standard Aviation field in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
The cause for Smith's death is attributed to his position in the plane. Known as the "flaming coffin," the pilot would sit in the front of the plane near the propellers with the gas tank behind them. Upon impact, the tank and nose crushed Smith. This led to more modifications to the DH-4 airplane, mainly moving the pilot's seat to the rear of the mail cockpit. This change improved the safety of passengers and also made the DH-4B become nicknamed the "workhorse of the airmail service."
**The images above are of the DH-4 airplane. The more recent photo is actually from the National Museum of the United States Air Force Early Years Gallery in Dayton, OH. As a kid living roughly 1-1.5 hours from Dayton (the largest city in Ohio we were close to) I actually visited the Air Museum quite a few times and would love to look into the rafters of this gallery and see the old planes. I even remember skipping school once so that we could take our cousins from Wisconsin to the Museum. Modeled from a combat tested British De Havilland design, the DH-4 was the only U.S. built aircraft that saw combat during WWI. And afterward it was shifted over to the USPS for additional use. That being said, I definitely want to visit soon and really look at the cross over between WWI and the Airmail services.