So far the FASF “Buy an Acre Campaign” has proven more than worth the effort. It has helped the FASF complete its first major step towards preserving the historic U.S. Army Airfield in Columbus, NM, the very location from which the United States launched its first sustained combat operations; the Airfield from which – and on which – the veritable Jennies evolved from the unstable, underpowered and dangerous first experimental J-2 models to the final better developed and much more proven JN-4 models. This process, almost 100 years ago, involved the highly talented group of First Aero Squadron airmen, both Pilots and Ground Crews, who proved themselves able to innovate and perfect those initially dangerous flying machines.
Remember – every one of the first eight Jennies delivered to Columbus had crashed within two weeks of first being deployed. We have to thank those early brave and intrepid airmen under, then Captain Bennie Foulois’ leadership, for not throwing in the towel. If it weren’t for their indefatigable “can do” spirit, the rebirth of the American Civil Aviation Industry might not have also begun on that dusty airfield which the current mostly civilian FASF team have worked so hard to obtain – and preserve: All in memory of the immensely significant achievement that took place in this tiny SW New Mexico town – and of the heroic pilots that made the accomplishment possible.
By 1917 that final JN-4 model Jenny proved a reliable and stable enough airplane to justify being put into mass production. In the next few years over 8,000 of them were manufactured here and in Canada and they were used to train over 12,000 young new military aviators from both the Army and Navy, most of whom went over to fly in the dangerous skies over Europe in World War I.
So, more than three years into the “Buy an Acre Campaign,” and 9 long years since its founding, the First Aero Squadron Foundation (FASF) has finally obtained titles to all the land encompassing the historic 1916 Airfield just Southeast of downtown Columbus, NM, only about 30 miles South of Deming, NM, which sits astride the I-10 transcontinental Freeway. The project to buy the final 160 acres needed to make up the entire 220 acres of the famous airfield was finally closed this past week, as the titles to all the final acreage in the Airfield were turned over to three of the FASF’s Executive Officers at an informal ceremony in the Offices of the Luna County Abstract & Title Company, in Deming, NM, which had been chosen to handle the escrow proceedings for the Foundation and the land’s sellers.
On March 16, 1916, only one week after the fiery surprise raid on Columbus by Mexican rebel leader, Pancho Villa’s troops, which killed 18 innocent Americans and devastated the small town, 8 rickety and barely flyable and highly experimental U.S. Army “Jenny” biplanes took to the air from the same primitive desert airfield now safely back in the hands of the FASF.
Again, this soon to be centennial event signaled the first official launching of U. S. Military aircraft in sustained combat. The United States Army leaders in both Washington and in Columbus did not know if the new flying machines would even prove at all useful in their punitive mission against the Villistas, but it was decided that they must now be tested.
On the 12th of next month (March 12, 2016), the town of Columbus will celebrate that memorable aviation event, which helped make their town the Birthplace of American Air Power – the greatest airborne military juggernaut in today’s dangerous world.
Most of the efforts of the FASF since its inception 9 years ago have been directed toward acquiring the land necessary to protect and preserve for posterity the relatively small airfield that launched America’s first Aero Squadron into its first combat engagement.
For those of you readers not familiar with the FASF’s long-range goals, they include the construction of a replica of the 1916 Airfield Flight Line (where the Jennies were parked, serviced and stored out of the elements and inside their individual hangar tents) and then a specialized Museum dedicated to preserving and showing the airplanes that operated before World War II. Additionally, the FASF hopes to have some genuine replicas built of those early Jenny airplanes, and to fly them regularly around the local area, even possibly giving rides to visitors. It is also anticipated that the Museum (along with its Flight Line) will become active teaching facilities for the area’s young Elementary and High School students.
As did the acquisition of the First Aero Squadron Airfield, the next FASF projects will not appear in just a year or so, either, but will also take time – and a great deal more money. This is why the “Buy an Acre” Campaign will continue on into the near future, but will take on another name, now that the initial objective of the land acquisition has been achieved. More capital will be needed to further improve the Airfield and to design and build the Memorial Monument to honor both those young brave airmen who flew the Jennies from Columbus as well as those who helped raise the money to make this memorialization dream become a reality.
If you would like your name or that of a loved one, or someone else you’d like to honor in perpetuity on the prominent monument’s engraved plaque, then please help the Foundation by contributing at least $250 or more to help make the FIRST AERO SQUADRON MEMORIAL come to life. Your donations can be sent by making a check for $250 or more out to the FASF and by then mailing it to PO Box 1916, Columbus, NM 88029. Many local residents of both Columbus and Deming have helped get us this far, so please seriously think about joining them in this quest to help put Columbus and Deming even more substantially on the history and “To See” visitor maps of the United States!