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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Oops. It looks like the Postal Service is selling a T-shirt with a Russian plane on it.

Harry Lehman is a secluded government aerospace engineer and an airmail antiquity buff, a compound that renders him uniquely suited to make a rather shocking accusation: The U.S. Postal Service has been selling a commemorative U.S. airmail T-shirt that highlights a Russian airplane on it.

And in case you’re questioning, no, the Russians have never delivered U.S. airmail. They may read our mail, but they’re not supposed to deliver it.
Harry, 76, lives in Fairfax County, Va. His parents ran Beacon Field Airport, an airstrip on Route 1 that was an emergency runway for first airmail leaders. He obtained the gray T-shirt from the USPS online shop. When he received it, he immediately noticed that the plane depicted under the word “Fly!” bears a remarkable resemblance to the Tupolev Tu-95, a Soviet strategic bomber known in the west as the Bear.

Harry emailed the Postal Service, which maintained it was a “generic style commercial aircraft” and pointed out that the Bear doesn’t have windows all along its fuselage.
Harry signed back acknowledging that and saying the plane on the $17.95 shirt is a Tu-114, the civilian version of the fearsome Soviet plane. He never got a response, so I got concerned.
This is what USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer addressed to me in an email:
“The T-shirt image was chosen by a private third party vendor, not the U.S. Postal Service, working stock imagery and was not meant to be thoughtful of any particular aircraft model. The plane in the design is an understanding of a business airliner. It could be the dealer was studying to use a kind of [a] stock image of a Douglas DC-4 Skymaster which carried U.S. Mail and was depicted on a 1946 U.S. Air Mail stamp. The Tupolev Tu-114 has nothing to do with the U.S. Postal Service. The wing pattern and angle are changed when connecting the two planes.”
A lot is hanging on that “it could be the merchant was looking” to use a DC-4. The USPS wouldn’t let me talk to the vendor — or tell me the vendor’s name — so I couldn’t ask a rather basic question: Where exactly did you get that stock art? But let me point out some points of comparison between the DC-4 and something I will call “the T-shirt flat.”
The DC-4 has a comparatively small tail that is rounded at the top. The T-shirt plane has a large tail that is accurate at the top.

The DC-4 has wings whose leading points stick out straight from the fuselage. The T-shirt bird has wings that are swept back.
But the main signs are the propellers on the T-shirt plane. There are quite definitely two on each engine.
“Only the Russians built a double, counterrotating propeller plane,” replied Harry, who in his 33-year career worked on such U.S. aircraft as the F-14, the F-18 and the F-35. “I bet if some of the Air Force people and Navy aviators saw this they would go, ‘You’ve got to be joking me.’ ”
I sent the images to my father, who in his two decades in the Air Force flew many types of airplanes, as both a teacher pilot and a surveillance pilot over Vietnam.
“Yep,” Dad emailed back. “Looks Russkie to me.”

The Tu-114 was a big plane in its day, the pride of the Soviet Union. Its twin-turboprop motors enabled it to fly fast and far. In September 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev landed at Andrews Air Force Base in one.
“When it reached down with a puff of blue smoke, there was a gasp of awe from the standing crowd at its size,” signed the New York Times.
Harry gets it ridiculous that at a moment when Russia is set on messing with our country, the Postal Service has been trading a shirt emblazoned with a plane of our Cold War foe.
Where’s the vetting?
The rest of the T-shirt doesn’t produce much trust. Following the airplane are the terms “United States Post Service.”

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