GLOSSARY OF AEROPHILATELIC COVERS
Editor’s Note: This glossary first appeared in the February 1995
Journal, with an invitation to readers to suggest additions,
corrections, or other amendments. This is the final
result of this effort.
spectrum of aerophilatelic covers is wide. This
glossary is intended to provide the philatelist with
general definitions of the types of covers and an
understanding of the differences.
The first separation to be made is quite
Carried on an aerial flight and bearing evidence of
being flown. (This definition is taken directly from
the FIP definition of aerophilately.)
Covers flown with postal authorization are official,
i.e., officially flown; if flown without postal
authorization, a cover is unofficial, i.e., private.
official(ly) flown from flown
the latter being any mail of an official
governmental authorized agency (indicated by special
official governmental agency markings or bearing
official overprinted/issued stamps, sent by
carried on any aerial flight, but directly related
to an aero or astro event or anniversary,
Cover from a planned or projected flight which was
Cover directed to be flown but not flown due to no
flight planned or made, unavailable service, weather
factors, or other reason.
flown, these are usually grouped with the flown
covers, together with explanation as to why not
flown covers are the foundation of aerophilately.
There are many different types and classes of flown
Flown by the Air Express service operated by the
Railway Express Agency (United States or Great
Photographed airmail letter. Microfilm of original
letter was flown, then enlarged and printed on a
special form at its destination. Process was used
during the Siege of Paris (1870-71) and again during
World Wars I and II (sometimes referred to in the
U.S. as “V-Mail”).
Flight made to carry mail to otherwise inaccessible
location due to blockade or enemy occupation of
usual access routes.
Flown by airship, either:
A lighter-than-air (LTA) craft characterized by a
rigid, covered framework, the interior of which
holds containment cells for the lifting gas, e.g., a
A non-rigid LTA craft, the form of which holds the
lifting gas, e.g., a blimp.
Flown by a private air letter service operated by an
Envelope used to carry and deliver a severely
damaged piece of mail, e.g., a crash cover.
Flight which failed to achieve its goal, e.g.,
altitude, distance or destination.
Flight made by a balloon.
most famous balloon flight mails are those flown out
of Paris during the German siege of 1870-1871:
Monte: Manned balloon. The covers themselves are
also referred to by this name. (French spelling is
Non Monte: Unmanned balloon.
Europe, mail-carrying balloon flights are often made
on behalf of charitable organizations, e.g., Pro
Juventute in Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
Souvenir mail is also frequently carried by balloons
competing in balloon flight competitions.
Planned flight which was not made due to adverse
weather, damaged aircraft, no aircraft available, or
A cancelled flight cover would be an example of a
non-flown cover, but important enough to be grouped
with flown covers if either the proposed flight or
the reason for cancellation was of significant
Flight made by an aircraft launched by a catapult
system, usually from on board a ship. The
"ship-to-shore" catapult airmail is sometimes
referred to by that term.
Most frequently refers to the catapult flights in
the North Atlantic in the period 1928-1935 (French
and German), but other major routes also used this
method, most notably the Deutsche Lufthansa South
Atlantic airmail service.
Cover transported by air and one (or more) other
(non-air) primary means in transit to the original
Example: Flight plus surface means (sea or rail).
Indication, preferably by postal markings, of both
the flight route and the surface transport are
All covers have obviously had some surface
combination cover is one
with primary transport by differing means
over major parts of the total route.
Combination Flight Cover
Cover flown by two different airmail means in
transit to the original destination. May be either .
in sequence to expedite delivery
Flight retracing all or part of prior, historically
important, flight or commemorating an important
Connecting (or Connection) Flight
Flight dedicated to making connection for
mail/passengers with another flight or another means
of transport, usually just prior to departure or at
a specified mid-route point. See also:
Feeder Flight, Supplementary
Contract Air Mail Flight
Flight made on a United States air mail route flown
by a carrier under contract with the United States
Post Office (and later the United States Postal
Service) in either the period February 15, 1926 –
February 19, 1934 or May 8, 1934 – November 30,
Foreign origin mail accepted for airmail service
absent an international postal treaty or agreement
to accept it.
(also: “Courtesy” or “Favor”)
Flown without postal authorization as a courtesy
prior to posting at a post office.
Incomplete flight due to aircraft accident resulting
in damage to or destruction of the aircraft, with
mails (if not lost) forwarded by other aircraft or
other means (sometimes referred to as “recovered” or
Covers with postal markings indicating the crash are
preferred when available. More than one type of
marking was used on the mails of some crashes.
Mail damaged in the crash is an exception to the
usual standards of condition. Severely damaged crash
mail may have an accompanying “ambulance cover.”
Deferred (late) departure / arrival vs. scheduled
time. Lateness caused by deferred departure or
prolonged planned flight stopover unrelated to
Flight made to show feasibility of service or the
reliability of the aircraft used.
Flight between two points without
intermediate landing. Non-stop flight
steerable lighter-than-air (LTA) craft. See
Flight directed to an alternate landing point, i.e.,
diverted from the planned route, usually due to
adverse weather conditions at scheduled landing
site, but may be due to other reason (e.g., armed
Cover flown once, then re-addressed and flown again.
Round Trip Cover.
Mail dropped from the air for forwarding. Usually
done because there was no airport or landing place
for the aircraft, or to hasten mail delivery when
landing procedures were prolonged or delayed.
Drops were made by "free fall", mail bags lowered by
rope, or by parachute (see
Propaganda leaflets dropped during wartime are not
generally considered as mail because the leaflets
were not mail per se as they were not postal and
Flight undertaken in response to an
Definition: Special arrangements made for
the conveyance of mail during periods of emergency,
such as floods, severe storms, breakdown of rail
transportation, strikes, and other conditions
requiring the abnormal dispatch of mail.
Many of the so-called "emergency" flights within
Alaska were not emergencies at all, but simply the
use of an airplane to forward mails because either
no other means was then available or the airplane
offered the most expeditious delivery.
Survey Flight. Cf.
Express Air Mail
Priority air mail service at a higher rate than
Flight made for primary purpose of exploring an area
Foreign Air Mail.
Connecting Flight. Feeder flight usually refers
to an airmail connection flight at a specified
mid-route point (rather than a connection flight
made immediately prior to initial departure). See
First airmail dispatch from a specified origin on an
existing route or service.
(also: “Inaugural Flight”)
Initial flight (airline, route, or aircraft) with
Note: Distinguish from "first flight"
without airmail, e.g., see "maiden flight".
First flight by carrier on new or extended scheduled
route, or with new aircraft type.
Aircraft could be a new type or simply an additional
airplane on the route for expanded service.
Inaugural service of NC-14714
Philippine Clipper, listed in
Edition, Volume 1, page 421.
A point-to-point dispatch or segment of a
Foreign Air Mail (FAM)
Foreign (international) contract air mail route
flown by a United States airline under contract with
the United States Post Office from U.S. point(s) to
a foreign country and vice versa.
Flight by glider or sailplane (unpowered
Non-continuous flight. In-flight problem resulting
in unplanned landing (usually due to weather
conditions or aircraft mechanical problem). Flight
continued later by the same aircraft or, to expedite
mail, another aircraft.
The terms “crash” and “interrupted flight” were
sometimes used interchangeably, e.g., in the
Mail Catalogue, which then defines these covers
“an important interruption or mishap on a scheduled
air mail route, capable of identification by cachet,
postmark, physical damage, routing or official
but not including minor accidents or forced landings
because usually no appreciable delay or damage to
The definitions in this Glossary clarify these terms. The old definition
cited in this Note should not be used.
Final flight on a specific route or by a
Encompassing all air travel means of this type,
including both balloons and dirigibles.
Flown with a specific aircraft, usually a new type
of military, commercial or experimental aircraft,
and posted at the end of the flight. The flight is
not a flight with airmail; the covers are
unofficial, usually prepared by aircraft company
personnel for placement on the first flight of a
new aircraft type. NOTE: Sometimes referred to as
Flight authorized and conducted/flown by military
personnel and aircraft.
Cover flown by two or more flights of the same basic
means, each with postal directions, markings or
cachets to show the different flights.
Flight between two points without
intermediate landing. Direct flight.
Cover dropped by parachute. May be souvenirs of a
special event, but occasionally are official mail
dropped where an airplane cannot land.
Zeppelin mails were frequently dropped by parachute,
either prior to landing to expedite mail
transmission, or over an airfield to avoid the delay
and/or expense of landing.
Airmail picked up by a passing aircraft in flight
Mail carried by pigeon, either on microfilm or a
small, very light-weight letter sheet ("pigeongram"
or "flimsy") carried in a pellicule attached to the
leg of the bird for flight.
Flight from the period beginning with the initial
experimental flights and ending with the beginning
of regular air services. Pioneer flights carried
small amounts of mail authorized by either national
or local postal authorities.
the United States, the "pioneer period" is 1910 -
1918. In general, the term “pioneer” airmail refers
to the period from the beginning of aviation to the
early 1920s at the latest.
Planned flight which did not take place. See also:
“projected flight” is basically an early
cancellation, the cancellation of a plan rather than
the cancellation of an actual flight.
flight is a term used by U.S. airlines. Primary
intent is to familiarize crew members with new
aircraft or route. Sometimes referred to
“familiarization” flights. These flights in many
instances carried mail and non-paying passengers.
Rate Change Cover
Flown cover posted on the first day of a new
Flight that sets a new record for speed, distance,
altitude or endurance.
Flight by any rocket.
Early rocket pioneers sometimes placed souvenir
cards or covers in their rockets. This is referred
to as "rocket mail".
Astrophilatelists mark significant rocket flights by
covers posted at the launch site (or its nearest
post office) on the launch date. These are non-flown
covers, but keys in astrophilately.
Round Trip Cover
Cover flown both ways on a round trip without
Unofficial flown cover, usually carried by pilot or
crew member, or for promotional or commercial
purpose. Many of the early Concorde SST covers were
carried by passengers.
Flown souvenirs from important events which
contributed to the development of aviation. Usually
not official. Most carried on pathfinder flights
(predating the opening of official airmail routes).
Flight made for specific purpose
Flight service intended primarily to advance late
mails with another transport service. See
Star Route Services
U.S. contracts made for the transportation of mail
between post offices not served directly by normal
rail, water or air transportation, and which are
dependent on an office so served for mail receipt
(also: “Experimental Flight”)
Flight made to assess the viability of a proposed or
projected commercial flight route.
Flight made prior to introduction of regular service
on a new route (for crew familiarization).
Cover mailed to evaluate efficiency of airmail
delivery system. Example: Test cover sent via new
airmail service by competing airline of another
nation during the development period.
Flight with intermediate stop(s) enroute to
destination without change of aircraft.
Foreign origin mail accepted for airmail service
pursuant to an international treaty or agreement
providing for rates and compensation.
(also: “Test Flight”)
Flight made to evaluate aircraft or system.
Cf. Proving Flight.
Cover flown trans-ocean twice en route to its
U.S. Government Flight
mail services conducted under federal authority by
the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army, the Post Office
Department, or other federal bureau in pioneering
subsequent commercial airmail route within the
United States. Usually used for the U.S. airmail
flights of the period May 15, 1918 - August 31,
German dirigible airship built by Count Ferdinand
von Zeppelin; his company, Luftschiffbau Zeppelin;
or its related (e.g., Goodyear Zeppelin) or
successor companies (e.g., Deutsche Zeppelin
Not carried on any aerial flight, but related
to an aero or astro event or anniversary.
Aero Event: Airship visit, air exhibition,
new aircraft introduction, visit by major aviation
Astro Event: Launch, mission performed in
Note: Presence of airmail postage stamps is not
conclusive evidence of being flown. Attention and
consideration must be given to the dispatch point
and destination, availability of airmail services,
alternative means which may have been used, transit
time (if evidenced), airmail postal rates, and other
evidence of the circumstances, conditions and
I wish to thank the following
aerophilatelists for their contributions in the
development of this glossary:
Alexander S. Newall
Frans J. van Beveren
Dr. Richard H. Saundry
Jonathan L. Johnson, Jr.
Classes of Combination Covers - Frans van Beveren
Frans van Beveren, an eminent aerophilatelist
of the Netherlands, introduced his concept of
"combi-cover" in 1990 as:
Combi-cover: Cover which clearly shows dual
means of transport.
Six different classes of combi-covers were
In 1994, van Beveren revised the base
Combi-cover: Airmail cover which has received other
official postal markings indicating dual means of
transport, excluding first flight cachets.
Fourteen different classes of combi-covers are listed:
1. Airmail service for entire (or most of the) route
not yet available or no corresponding
connection flight, making surface transport faster.
a. Complete handstamped cachets or printed
showing the flown stage.
b. Cachets with manuscript insertion by
postal officials for destination.
Other postal strikes showing air transport on part
of the mail route.
2. Obliterated airmail labels or other
aero-indications marking the end of the flown route.
3. Missed connection between postal airplane and
surface transport or connecting flight.
Mail showing dual transport by airmail and surface
means (e.g., sea or rail) by post office cachets,
cancellations or other markings. (Original
5. Postal markings and/or added postage due to
insufficient postage paid for entire airmail service
(fault of sender). (Original
6. Airmail service available, but less expensive alternative
service providing satisfactory delivery time used. (Original Class C).
7. Mail flown over full route with special postal markings
showing connecting flight. Examples: Feeder flight,
airfield route cancels, "via" route indications, and
airline cachets or labels.
Propaganda for airmail. Examples: Cachets on flown
9. Mail with O.A.T. (onward air transmission) or AV2
markings, including hand written.
10. Mail with "missent" postal markings (postal
11. Interruption of postal service due to unforeseen
a. Mail delayed, but not effected in
condition or amount.
b. Officially sealed mail damaged in mail
from crash or fire, preferably accompanied by postal
service explanation or with special postal markings.
d. Mail returned to sender due to politics or
12. Censored mail (including currency
13. Airmail between warring nations
through neutral channels. Includes under-cover mail.
14. Miscellaneous not classified above. (Original
While these classifications of “combi-covers” are informative or
instructional, they are not widely accepted or even
recognized and should not be utilized in
descriptions or exhibits. They are provided to give
a picture of the range and scope of several types of