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August 18, 2005
Americus-- Long ago, and right here in southwest Georgia, the Albany Herald newspaper was delivered by an unusual method.
Many people find it unbelievable that pilots literally threw bundles of the newspapers out the windows of airplanes, and some single issues, to eager readers.
The last living pilot, who made sure the Albany Herald got delivered everyday, regardless of the weather, has no intentions of retiring his love for flying. Like most pilots, Walter Reed can't resist looking critically at airplanes, as if he were going to fly each one, right then.
"Be sure everything is intact," says Reed, as he slowly walks from airplane to airplane at the Americus-Sumter County airport wearing a straw hat on a hot, summer afternoon. At 79, he doesn't miss an opportunity to touch an airplane, like when he was eight years old.
"I was barefooted and just struck out running to that river bottom where he landed; Ran through briars and everything else just to get to touch that airplane," says Reed.
He had just seen a military airplane make an emergency landing. That experience would take him on an exciting, death-defying adventure, learning to fly in the Army Air Corps, then literally dusting crops, then to a flying job that many people find it hard to believe ever existed: Delivering the Albany Herald newspaper from an airplane in 1953.
Walter Reed repaired airplanes and taught students how-to fly in the mornings to supplement his income, and then delivered the Herald in the afternoons. "On May 28, I did the paper route by myself. I flew for two hours-and forty-nine minutes on that paper route," says Reed who took off at 2:00PM Monday through Saturday.
He would often return after dark during the short winter days. The Sunday paper was delivered in the mornings. They stuffed newspapers in literally every square inch of the little airplane, putting several duffel bags full, as well as several individual copies.
And, when he got close to one of his 20 drop points, he would slow the airplane to about 80 miles per hour, then fly with his knees because he had the control wheel turned upside down, and throw out the newspapers just at the right time.
Newspaper boys like Buddy Holloman waited for their bags of papers to fall from the sky. "He would circle the field to get a good entry way to where he could drop the papers. He would scoot down probably 55 to 60 feet and drop the papers out and go back up again, and he would always wave. I looked forward to his wave. I didn't know who he was, but we always look for his wave," says Hollomon. Later he would find out.
Rheudene Hall's yard was Reed's next target. She got a single copy of the newspaper that was bound with old editions to help cushion the landing of the current edition. "Very accurate. There was never more than six or seven times we did not find the paper," says Hall who still lives in the same house where her paper was delivered by air in the mid-1950s.
Reed remembers one time when his aim was off considerably. A gust of wind blew a duffel bag of newspapers into the back of a passing dump truck. They never heard from the driver about the newspapers that mysteriously appeared from the sky.
Walter Reed flew a cloth covered airplane known as a Piper Pacer that would carry the pilot and three passengers and had a tail wheel. The plane's interior was taken out, leaving the pilot's seat so it could carry as many papers as it possibly could. "I sat on a bag of papers, and we had them everywhere, even by the windshield," says Reed.
It was a wonder he could see enough to fly. He would fly just above the trees on a 250 miles trip everyday from 1953 to 1957, so the Albany Herald could expand its circulation area. Back in the 50s, many roads were still dirt and in such bad condition that trucks couldn't deliver the papers while the news was still news.
His easterly route from Albany took him to Acree, Sylvester, Poulan, Sumner and TY TY. Then he'd turn south to Moultrie for a drop, turn northeastward to Omega, Norman Park, and on to Tifton. From there, he flew directly to Douglas, Fitzgerald, Ocilla, Mystic, Ashburn, Cordele, Doles and to Stock's Dairy, north of Turner Field in Albany.
Some people between the drop points got individual editions, remembering the route as if he flew it yesterday. "Back then, the paper came out in the afternoon. Often, people who lived outside Albany got the newspaper before those in town got it because we'd get the first newspapers that came off the press," says Reed.
He said he didn't like to deliver the Sunday edition because it was so heavy, and delivered in the morning when fog would often make his job more dangerous. Reed feared getting trapped on top and not being able to land. He concerned himself with the hot, bad weather during the rest of the week. Hot, summer afternoons challenged the airplane and his flying talents.
Reed remembered the air was so thin the heavily loaded plane could barely take-off. Once airborne, he'd circle the Albany airport to gain enough altitude to get over the trees. "Flew in all types of weather," says Reed. As approved by the FAA. "It was pouring down rain, hurricane winds 30 to 50 miles per hour. Danger didn't register until I got back on the ground a lot of times," says Reed.
He remembers flying through a particularly bad thunderstorm between Douglas and Fitzgerald. Later, he learned that chicken houses were blown over by the intense storm near the time he flew through it.
"My military flight instructor told me to keep flying as long as the plane was flying and don't try to land in bad weather," says Reed, who flew so low that day that he could see the headlights of cars just a few feet below him. "I flew IFR- I follow roads, now I fly instruments" says Reed.
He had some instrument flying training in the Army Air Corps, but his plane was sparsely equipped. The once dirt roads that he flew over daily got paved one by one, and a trucking company placed a lower bid to deliver the Herald. Airplane delivery ended in 1957. Buddy Hollomon no longer got his papers from the sky, but he would meet Walter Reed almost 20 years later. Fate brought them together at South Georgia Technical College.
Hollomon remembers hearing Reed talk about his unusual flying job, and Hollomon sensed that Reed was the pilot who always waved at him. Within a few minutes, they realized their connection and a lasting friendship started. Reed calls Hollomon his paper boy.
Walter Reed's love for airplanes didn't end when the flying company lost its contract. You can often find him at the Americus-Sumter County airport talking with pilots and former students.
Even though his declining heath makes it impossible for him to fly an airplane as pilot in command, he quickly accepts rides and offers flying tips based on 12,500 hours of real-world flying experience. He loves to tell his story when he delivered the Albany Herald by airplane, a story many people think was made up, as if it came out of the blue.