Wildfires that have ravaged Northern California partially hampered plans last week for a flight commemorating the 100th anniversary of transcontinental air mail delivery.

The final major leg of a 2,560-mile relay recreating the first scheduled transcontinental flight of U.S. Mail transport planes as operated in the early 1920s landed as scheduled Friday morning at Buchanan Field in Concord.

But the very last airborne segment — a short flight by float plane from the Martinez Marina to the Marina Green in San Francisco — had to be scrubbed because of smoky conditions, that plane’s pilot said Saturday.

The plane that landed at Buchanan Field, a Cessna 421 equipped to fly with instrument flight rules out of deference to the thick smoke, was the last of approximately 15 flights in this relay across the United States. 

This re-enactment of the mail relay came exactly 100 years since, on Sept. 8, 1920, an air mail pilot set off from Long Island, New York, on the first of 15 legs of the inaugural U.S. Air Mail Service transcontinental relay flight. Three days later, on Sept. 11, 1920, the 15th-leg flight landed at the Marina Airfield near the Golden Gate Bridge; the sacks of mail were then given to San Francisco’s postmaster.

“The original (transcontinental flight) was an astounding achievement at the time, and it’s a huge, huge honor to be able to take part in something like this.”

Aaron Singer, Sausalito pilot

For the 100-year commemoration, approximately 15 private pilots, flying their own modern-day aircraft at their own expense, carried sacks filled with commemorative postcards and letters, also destined for San Francisco. Like the airmail pilots in 1920, the volunteers exchanged mail sacks between planes, each flying one leg of the continent-spanning route.

Bill Moore, the lead event coordinator for the Airmail 100 Centennial Flights Project, said Thursday from his Omaha, Nebraska, home office that there had been significant delays on Wednesday, “Thunderstorms near Chicago, (terrible) weather over Iowa, mechanical problems in Omaha, but we seem to be back on schedule now.”

Then, after a short ceremony Friday morning at Buchanan Field, the mail sacks were originally to have been driven a few miles to the Martinez Marina, to be loaded onto a deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver float plane, for a 15-minute flight to the Marina Green in San Francisco, near the site of where the old Marina Airfield once existed. A “rigid inflatable” boat was to have met the float plane, from which the mail sacks were to be retrieved. 

The float plane was to have been piloted by Aaron Singer of Sausalito, who operates Seaplane Adventures in Mill Valley. He has a keen sense of the history of last week’s flight event, and has been involved in on-and-off efforts to establish an air museum at nearby Crissy Field.

But he said the Bay Area’s thick smoke on Friday grounded his flight, and that the mail bags were driven to the Marina Green for the final ceremony.

Singer said he is bummed not to have made that last stop from the air, but is happy to be part of the endeavor nevertheless.

“The original (transcontinental flight) was an astounding achievement at the time, and it’s a huge, huge honor to be able to take part in something like this,” Singer said.