An open letter to Bob van der
Linden, curator of the new “America By Air” exhibit at the Smithsonian
National Air and Space Museum:
Dear Mr. van der Linden,
I’m just back from Washington, D.C. The first thing I did was make a beeline
over to the new “America By Air” exhibit. Except for one mistake, which I’ll
get to in a second, you and your staff did a great, great job.
And since I consider myself an unofficial historian for Mohawk Airlines,
which was once headquartered at the old Oneida County Airport, I was
thrilled to see Mohawk included in the exhibit.
That model of one of Mohawk’s Martin 4-0-4s in the black and gold livery was
great to see, as was the picture of “Li’l Moh,” the airline’s living
trademark, poking his head out the window of the “Air Chief Mohawk.”
FYI, Mr. van der Linden, Bob Peach, Mohawk’s president, hired “Li’l Moh,” a
Mohawk Indian boy named Lynn Smith from the Onondaga reservation, to serve
as the airline’s mascot. “Li’l Moh” was used in airline advertising and
appeared in tribal attire at Mohawk promotional events.
Mohawk was called “Route of the Air Chiefs.” That slogan was painted on the
sides of Mohawk’s airplanes, quite appropriate considering that much of the
land Mohawk flew over was once home to the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations.
And painted on the side of the airline’s fleet was a stylized head of a
Mohawk Indian chief, a logo that became famous.
Mohawk’s fleet, twin-engine Convair Cosmopolitans, were named after Indian
tribes. Names painted under the pilot’s windows included Air Chief Oneida,
Air Chief Onondaga, Air Chief Seneca, Air Chief Erie, Air Chief Cayuga, Air
Chief Manhattan, Air Chief Tuscarora and Air Chief Iroquois.
That Indian identity disappeared in 1972 when Mohawk Airlines disappeared
into Allegheny Airlines, which later became USAirways.
Another thrill for me at your exhibit was to see the uniform of one of
Mohawk’s first officers, David F. Holmes, who flew DC-3s for the company, on
And that’s where the correction comes in, Mr. van der Linden. I’m hesitant
to bring this up because of all the mistakes I make. In fact, I made two
already today and it’s only 2 p.m. But the Smithsonian is, after all, the
Smithsonian and I know you are sticklers for getting it exactly right.
The information on the card next to the uniform once worn by First Officer
Holmes states this about Mohawk: “A prominent local carrier in the 1940s and
‘50s, Mohawk served New York State and the Northeast.”
To be accurate, Mohawk Airlines didn’t exist until 1952. In the 1940s it was
Robinson Airlines. This is the history: Robinson Airlines was founded in
1945 with one single-engine airplane and one route, the 173 miles between
Ithaca and New York City. It wasn’t until 1952 that Robinson Airlines became
Mohawk Airlines. The 1950s, ‘60s and the early 70s were Mohawk’s glory
And it served more than “New York State and the Northeast..”
At its height Mohawk flew as far north as Canada and as far west as
I hope I’ve been helpful, Mr. van der Linden. If it wasn’t the Smithsonian,
I wouldn’t even be bringing this up.
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and