Of course, most of you know what took place to make world history on March 16, 1916, but the successor to that early Curtiss JN-3, Jenny, also a special SR (Surveillance-Reconnaissance) aircraft, the Lockheed RS-71 Blackbird, also made its mark on aviation history.
NASA Model of SR-71 Touches down with Drogue Chute
While the Jenny flew into history by engaging in the first sustained U.S. combat operations using airplanes in March 1916, 74 years later, or 31 years ago today, the First Aero Squadron’s SR-71 Blackbird also flew into the history books. Here, below (only 00:24 sec. long), is the Blackbird flying very slowly with its landing gear extended for landing:
It was on March 6, 1990, that the SR-71 made the fastest flight by an airplane from Los Angeles, CA to Washington DC – in record-breaking time . . . and that record still stands unbroken to this date.
It made that flight in only 64 minutes!
Pilots Ed Yielding and Joseph Vida flew that transcontinental flight from Los Angeles, California, to Washington, DC, in a blistering 64 minutes – – – with an average speed of 2,144.8 MPH.
Here are some interesting facts along with several videos of that initially retired in 1990 First Aero speed machine, which was later put back into the skies by Congress in 1995, but later, in 1997, when it was finally cut from the USAF inventory by President Bill Clinton, effective in 1998.
Below is a short video (1:15 long) explanation at the Smithsonian SR-71 Display, but the moderator, Peter Jakab, Chief Curator at the Smithsonian Air & Space Center, made two misstatements. Can you detect either of them?
In 1976, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird broke the world’s record for sustained altitude in horizontal flight at 25,929 meters (85,069 feet). The same day another SR-71 set an absolute speed record of 3,529.6 kilometers per hour (2,193.2 miles per hour), approximately Mach 3.3. Both of these distinguished records still stand unchallenged.
And here’s Scott Willey, also at the Smithsonian, describing the coast-to-coast record (:45 sec.):
And, another video (1:13 long):
And now, some “sonic booms” behind several classic photos of the Blackbird in flight (:47 sec.):
If you’d like to see more about this all-time record-breaking flying machine, just enter “SR-71 Blackbird” in our FASF website’s search field to your right, and you’ll find much more interesting information, photos, and videos of the successor to the FAS Curtiss JN-3 of 1916. There are at least four other posts about this famous blackbird.
Here’s another short (5:21) video by a former Blackbird pilot, Colonel Rich Graham, on what goes into flying the speed machine.
New to that small cadre of aviation historians who have accurately and carefully chronicled the saga of the First Aero Squadron (FAS) is a gentleman – and aviator – from Albuquerque, NM, Daniel G. Sharpes.
We are happy to announce thatMr. Sharpeshas become an active member of the FASF!
Danhas done his research exceptionally well, and his colorfully descriptive style makes it an enjoyable experience to jump back in time to when American Air Power was born, right here in Columbus, NM, exactly 104 years ago this coming March 16, 2021.
Let’s learn a bit about this new article’s author:
Born down the street from the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dan Sharpes applied his interest in aviation to supporting the X-29, C-17, and Airborne Laser programs as well as several R&D efforts. His Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in aero-engineering enabled him to study the aerodynamics of forward-swept wings and v-tails. Dan retired in 2019 from his military and civilian duties and is currently pursuing a history degree as well as offering flight instruction in his personal Cessna 172.
So, without further ado, let’s followDan’s story of the adventurous days of the First Aero’s introduction to actual warfare, on March 16, 1916 . . . you will find a special PDF version of this story at the bottom of the page for easy downloading:
”The Failed Mission of the First Aero Squadron in Mexico”
By Daniel Sharpes
Webster, M.L. “Curtiss Flying Jennies Pursue Pancho Villa Across Northern Mexico,” (ref. 1)
In his January 2013 message to “Airmen and Airpower Advocates,” General Mark Welsh III wrote of how the United States Air Force provides “Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power” (ref. 2). But that has not always been the case. In the years before World War One, a time in aviation history that has long interested me, the initial deployment of U.S. military aviation revealed deficiencies that far outweighed capabilities. Though it was barely eight years after the Wright brothers made their first public flight, not only was it the airplanes of the First Aero Squadron that were put to the test but also the pilots, mechanics, and all the logistics needed to successfully augment Army operations outside the United States.
The squadron’s primary mission was “… to provide aerial reconnaissance for the six assigned cavalry regiments” (p. xi, ref. 3) of General Pershing’s Punitive Expedition. On March 9, 1916, Pancho Villa had attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 19, and President Woodrow Wilson gave orders to capture him dead or alive.
Captain Benjamin D. Foulois (ref. 4)
Three days later, the First Aero Squadron, led by Captain Benjamin D. Foulois (Fuh-LOY), was on its way. Unfortunately, less than five weeks after entering Mexico, the First Aero Squadron limped back to the U.S. Of the eight planes that departed, only two returned and, after landing, Captain Foulois burned both to ashes. To explore why the mission ended this way I will look at seven factors: (1) Army and Congressional support, (2) the mission the squadron was called on to perform, (3) the officers and men of the squadron, (4) the aircraft of the squadron, (5) their operating environment, (6) the maintenance and logistical difficulties, and (7) the challenges of flying in Mexico.
Each aspect will contribute to explaining why the 1st Aero Squadron failed to provide the ordered reconnaissance support.
Support by the Army and Congress
What was the state of Army aviation in 1916 and how did it get that way? Todd Phinney, in “Airpower and Terrorism,” wrote,
“… in 1913, just three years prior to the Mexico campaign, when “[compared] to what other governments invested in their military air effort . . . the United States came in thirteenth in the world rankings.” (ref.5, p. 6)
Such a poor showing was due to a lack of support within the War Department (now the Department of Defense) and Congress. In his memoir, Foulois recalled,
“The War Department was in the process of estimating the budget for fiscal year 1916 when war broke out in Europe. An Army request for a little more than $1 million for the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was submitted to Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison, who promptly reduced the estimate by $600,000 and sent an estimate for $400,000 to the Congress. This was done at the same time that Germany appropriated $45 million; Russia, $22.5 million; France, $12.8 million; Austria, $3 million; and Great Britain $1.08 million. Even Italy had appropriated $800,000 for military aviation in its prewar budget. … The Congress … on March 4, 1915, only $300,000 was slated for military aeronautics.” (ref. 6, p. 118)
Further clipping the wings of the Aviation section were the staffing constraints put in place by Congress two years before Villa’s raid:
The public’s view of the mission (ref. 7, p. 25)
“One of the most troublesome provisions of the Act of July 18, 1914, was that specifying that only unmarried lieutenants of the line under thirty years of age could serve in the aviation section. The result was that the section was being filled with young, inexperienced second lieutenants, leaving no one with age and experience to command an aviation organization. Still, another irrational proviso was one that required an officer on aviation duty to return to troop duty as soon as he was promoted to the grade of captain …” (ref. 6, pp. 118-9)
Supporters of Army aviation clearly understood the situation. This editorial cartoon was published in Aerial Age Weekly on the same day First Aero Squadron aircraft began to arrive in Mexico (ref. 7, page 25).
General Funston, who commanded General Pershing to take the First Aero Squadron into Mexico, is considering the U.S. Aviation Corps. From its neck hangs the sign, “Wings Clipped in Congress” and on its left leg is a ball and chain. Mexico’s volatility is represented by a simmering volcano and armed Mexicans can be seen along the ridge-line between the Rio Grande River and the volcano.
With support like this, the squadron faced an uphill struggle to succeed even before they arrived at Camp Furlong in Columbus, New Mexico.
The First Aero Squadron’s Area of Responsibility (ref. 3, p. xii)
“On 12 March, the Army ordered Foulois and the 1st Aero Squadron to deploy to Columbus in support of Pershing’s expedition” (ref. 8, p. 28). Seven days after Villa’s raid, Foulois and his deputy, Captain Townsend Dodd, made the first aerial reconnaissance by United States military aircraft ever made over foreign territory, the first of few successful missions. Orders came soon after that flight to deploy to Casas Grandes, about 125 miles south of the border.
This was the first of several deployments that would split up elements of the squadron, as shown in the map (ref. 3, p. xii). Each deployment required packing equipment and personal gear, driving on roads many today would consider rough even for off-road vehicles, setting up the squadron, and re-establishing operations. These moves, mandated to support the mission, kept any sort of consistent operational tempo from developing. The result was that efficient practices and procedures never had the chance to be established or mature.
This constant commotion is an important factor in understanding why the squadron failed in its mission.
The Officers and Men of the Squadron
To get reconnaissance information to General Pershing, Captain Foulois relied on 11 officers, 82 enlisted men, one civilian mechanic, and a medical officer with three hospital corpsmen. (ref. 6, p. 126). Not enough can be said in praise of the non-flying members of the squadron and their efforts to keep the airplanes in the sky. His officers, all pilots, were similarly dedicated. However, that could not overcome their aviation inexperience. If we were to judge Pershing and his pilots by today’s standards, at the time they left for Mexico, none would have passed a modern private pilot exam.
Their commander, Foulois, learned to fly using “… mailed instructions from the Wright Brothers in a Wright Model A (Signal Corps No. 1) biplane …” (ref. 3, p. 9).
Of the other eleven pilots, only one had night flying experience, a shortcoming that made itself known on the squadron’s first flight into Mexico.
Captain Foulois recalls:
“On the morning of March 19, I received telegraphic orders to move the squadron to Casas Grandes, a small town about 125 miles south of the border, for immediate service. By five-thirty that afternoon all eight planes were in the air headed for Ascension, about 60 miles to the south, where we planned to stay overnight. … By the time we reached Ascension, the sun had gone down and I could see only four planes in my formation. … By the time the fourth plane landed, it was dark.” (ref. 6, pp. 126-7)
That no other planes arrived at Ascension also speaks to their limited formation flying skills as several planes got separated from the rest. Planning and executing a cross country flight was another hard lesson not entirely learned by recent experience when, in the weeks before the Expedition, the squadron flew from Oklahoma to Texas. They got lost on the way.
Experience is the best teacher, but its lessons are often expensive and harsh. Fortunately, none of the aviators were seriously injured while deployed but the First Aero Squadron eventually lost all its planes.
The Aircraft of the First Aero Squadron
To give some perspective on the maturity of aviation, when the squadron deployed, not even eight years had passed since the Wrights made their first public flight in 1908. The industry in the United States hadn’t grown much since then for reasons outside the scope of this paper. That lack of maturity revealed itself in the planes they flew, Curtiss JN-3’s. One is on display at the Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico (ref. 9).
The JN-3 on display at the Pancho Villa State Park, Columbus, NM (ref. 9)
Numerous problems with the aircraft became obvious very quickly:
“Each plane carried a different type of compass …” (ref. 10)
They “… could not fly over the 12,000-foot-high mountains, nor could they withstand the gusty winds, rain, hail and snow that were prevalent in the area.” (ref. 10)
“Their wheels bogged down in the deep sand, and the hot, dry air quickly dried out the wooden planes. Especially troublesome were the propellers, which delaminated in the dry heat … and only a propeller laboriously carved from dried native wood proved successful. The pilots soon learned to carry a spare propeller, stored in a humidity-controlled box strapped to the side of the fuselage, on every mission.” (ref. 10)
On one flight from the city of Chihuahua, when “Lt Dargue attempted to (take off), the top of the fuselage came off and he was forced to land.” (ref. 11, p. 195)” On another flight, as “… they attempted to take off, the top of the fuselage blew off, damaging the rudder.” (ibid., p. 196)”
The engines were unreliable. It was not uncommon that they failed in flight and over ground that often resulted in landings better called controlled crashes.
The propellers, so essential to flight, soon became a flight risk. The hot, dry air dried out the glue holding the laminated wooden blades together, making them useless for flight. Another kind of failure occurred twice, the first “… almost resulted in tragedy when one blade of his plane’s propeller flew off, immediately throwing his machine out of balance. The excess torque nearly ripped the engine from its mounting with only a few wires below the machine holding it in place.” (ibid., p. 196).
What a First Aero Squadron propeller looks like after failing in flight (ref. 12, p. 781)
It should come as no surprise that, of the eight JN-3’s deployed from Camp Furlong, only two returned about 30 days later. On their return, Captain Foulois stripped them of all useful parts and then burned them to ensure no one would be able to fly them ever again. It’s no wonder he recalls in his memoir,
“Pershing … said that he would have no quarrel even if my officers had expressed public disapproval of the old wrecks we had to fly. “They have already too often risked their lives in old and often useless machines which they have patched up and worked over in an effort to do their share of the duty this expedition has been called on to perform,” he wrote.” (ref. 6, p. 134)”
Without airplanes, the First Aero Squadron could not have existed. But with the planes they had, even the few successes they experienced were not enough to call their mission accomplished.
To say the environment in which they flew was brutal is an understatement. The planes, “…on account of their low power, could not climb fast enough in case of emergency, the Mexican atmosphere being so rare …” (ref. 7, p. 24f). Why was this? The density of the air at the altitudes they had to fly robbed the aviators twice. First, the propellers could not grab as much air as at the lower altitudes common in the U.S. This reduced the ability of propellers to create thrust. Then, the engines lost power as the reduced oxygen in that thin air meant less fuel could be burned. Hence, the engines could not make their rated horsepower.
Winds were another factor. They proved to be a threat to flight safety:
Though this photo was taken in Columbus, NM, the winds were just as dangerous on the ground (ref. 3, p. 151)
“… one of the airplanes crashed on landing because of high winds, injuring its pilot and damaging the airplane beyond repair.” (ref. 8, p. 29f)
More than thin air and high winds worked against the JN-3’s. Foulois recalled these circumstances:
“I looked up just in time to see Lieut. Tom Bowen get caught in a vicious whirlwind just as he touched down and end up in a pile of splinters and cloth. He suffered a broken nose, cuts, and bruises; the plane was a total wreck.” (ref. 6, p. 128)
“The dust in the air was so thick that the snow was actually brown by the time it hit the ground. … Between March 27 and 31 … we all encountered severe rain, hail, and snowstorms. By the end of our first ten days of operations, it was obvious that our six planes were incapable of fully performing the task assigned. Their low-powered engines and limited climbing ability with the necessary military load made it impossible to operate them safely in the vicinity of the mountains.” (ref. 6, p. 129)
The struggle of planes of the First Aero Squadron to fly in the high Mexican air made mission success just as much a struggle.
The Maintenance and Logistical Challenges
A squadron machine shop at Satevo, Mexico (ref. 3, p. 130)
The dedication and ingenuity of the seven men needed to keep each plane flying cannot be praised enough. To protect against damage from the sun, “wetted canvas tarps (were) draped over the engine and its propeller for protection from the sun.” (ref. 3, p. 47). Invention overcame necessity as “… Curtiss did not design the propellers for a hot, dry climate … the squadron developed a method for manufacturing its own propellers on site. American aircraft companies later used those techniques for all future wood propellers.” (ref. 8, p. 31). One of the tricks they used was to develop, in the field, an Airplane Propeller Storage “Humidor” (ref. 3, p. x). Just as the humidors used by the Albuquerque Isotopes keep the baseballs from drying out, the squadron’s humidor preserved the propellers, at least for a little while.
To keep them flying, however, the mechanics needed spare parts but the supply line for those parts proved to be shaky. For one thing,
Loading supplies needed in Mexico (ref. 3, p. 109)
“As the Squadron planned to maintain its own supply lines during the operation, it was assigned 12 trucks and one automobile for transportation purposes. However, all of these vehicles soon fell prey to either the demands of the Quartermaster Corps or the guns of Mexican bandits.” (ref. 13, p. 190).
The aviators were able to work around this liability, ferrying supplies in the empty observer’s seat. Those supplies that didn’t fit in the forward cockpit were, as shown, tied to the outside of the planes! (ref. 14, p. 52)
Foulois described another of the difficulties:
“During the entire Mexican campaign, one of the most frustrating conditions under which we operated was the refusal of the Carranza government to let us use the railroads for transportation or visit the villages for supplies. The available motor-truck and pack-train supply were far from adequate, to put it mildly.” (ref. 6, p. 129)
Ingenuity and creative techniques are key to success but doing more and more with less and less does not result in being able to do anything with nothing. If an army marches on its stomach, airplanes fly with their parts. An unpredictable supply line compounded the squadron’s lack of success.
The Challenges of Flying in Mexico
Before any flight can occur, a pilot needs to know two things: where they are and where they are going. Again, Foulois wrote,
“We went down there to perform a service we knew nothing about, with no maps and with no knowledge of the situation whatsoever.”
Using their maps to plan a mission from San Geronimo, Mexico (ref. 3, p. 49)
The one map that there was of the area was next to useless. It was made by the Mexican Central Railroad in the late 1880s (ref. 8, p. 29). The First Aero Squadron adapted and overcame by putting the camera intended for reconnaissance to another use:
“Owing to the lack of topographical maps for Chihuahua, Mexico, the squadron’s aircraft photographed the terrain with aircraft-mounted Brock Automatic Aerial Cameras. These sequential, glass-plate negatives were enlarged and printed on paper; and then they were pieced tougher to form a mosaic map.” (ref. 3, p. 49)
Planning a Reconnaissance Mission, San Geronimo, Chihuahua, Mexico, April 1916 National Archives. Working in barely primitive conditions, they developed the negatives and printed maps in the field.
The Mexicans themselves presented another challenge. There were three groups, those fighting for Villa, those fighting for Carranza (who had asked President Wilson for help in capturing Villa), and the non-combatants. All of them opposed the American presence in Mexico. On a diplomatic flight to Chihuahua City, Foulois was captured and taken to jail by a mob who wanted to kill him. I leave it to the reader to learn of his adventure from his memoir (ref. 6). More than once mobs threatened to destroy aircraft that had landed away from their bases and on at least four occasions the ‘non-combatants’ used First Aero Squadron vehicles and their operators for target practice. Not only that, but the forces supporting Carranza were also seen as threats. One of the successful reconnaissance flights showed that rumors of his forces moving to attack a smaller US Army column were just that, rumors.
Hostility from those the US was trying to help has its modern parallel. Both then and now, it made success hard to achieve.
Todd Phinney, in his thesis, nicely summed up the situation of the First Aero Squadron:
“Untested aviation procedures, maintenance problems, crashes, a hostile climate, and an indigenous population proved formidable obstacles.” (ref. 5, p. 6).
These obstacles were so significant that on April 20th, Foulois and the squadron were ordered back to Columbus. After barely a month of operations, their mission was ended.
Though the First Aero Squadron did fail to consistently provide reconnaissance information to the Punitive Expedition, their failure led to significant positive outcomes:
“… the War Department and Congress increased the FY 1917 aviation budget from the initial April 1916 request of $1.2 million to $13.9 million, which the president signed into law on 29 August 1916.” (ref. 8, p. 32)
The technological shortfalls revealed in Mexico were documented and presented to aeronautical engineers and scientists at a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1917 (ref. 15). Those lessons learned were taken back to the airplane designers and manufacturers to improve the safety and performance of the next generation of aircraft.
The experience gained by the aviators and maintainers of the First Aero Squadron was applied less than a year later in France as part of the American Expeditionary Force.
There is no shame in failure but there is shame in failing to learn from it. The disappointments experienced by the First Aero Squadron were learned both by the Army and Congress. As a result, the banner of the First Aero Squadron can proudly be included as a part of an Air Force that today provides “Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power.”
What is believed to be the original Standard for the First Aero Squadron (ref. 16)
For those of you who would like to either download or read the original PDF version of Dan’s narrative and be able to use the PDF’s navigating tools, we’ve included the PDF copy right below for your convenience.
Thanks to Tuan Tamvan and his YouTube series, we get the opportunity to watch the incredible F-22 Raptor do things heretofore unimaginable. Prior to this fighter’s entry into the new 5th Generation class of air weapons, the faster the fighter, the less maneuverable it was. But this new machine turned those old rules of combat expectations on their ears. And it is not just fast, but it can cruise supersonically without the use of its afterburner! It can fly straight up and then hang there as though a helicopter, then choose to slide backward and yet still controllably maneuver while in that “slide.”
But enough chatter, it’s time to see this all for yourself.
Don’t forget to keep your speakers turned on and to use this video’s hi-res imagery at your full-screen setting. Tuan’s video is only about 11:00 minutes long.
Former FASF 1st VP and now Trustee, Dr.Kathleen Martín, emails from Alabama to remind us that exactly 117 years ago today, the Wright Brothers made their first successful Flight in their heavier-than-air flying machine.
With that event in motion, one thing led to another, and here we are in celebration of not just that historic 1st flight, but also of what it brought about in Columbus, NM, some 13 years later, when American Airpower was born during the Punitive Expedition, in which Dr. Martín’s grandfather, William E. Jones, was one of the U. S. Army’s soldiers!
Kathleen quotes from the Writer’s Almanac of today:
On this day in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright had their first successful flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers picked Kitty Hawk because it was full of sand dunes that would cushion crash landings and it had high winds to help get the plane off the ground.
The plane was unpredictable, he couldn’t plan out his moves, and he relied purely on instinct to adjust the plane up and down. Within a few moments, he overcompensated, nearly flipped the glider over, and shouted to his brother, “Let me down!” Suffering months of spin-outs, broken struts, blackened eyes, and crash landings, the brothers left Kitty Hawk early. On the train back, Wilbur told his brother, “Not within a thousand years will man ever fly.”
Thanks to dear and close friend of Jim’s, Dave Clemmer, also an early member of the FASF, we now have this new moving special Tribute to Jim.
Daveattended Jim’sfuneral, too, of which he’s included some of the photographs in which he captured Jim’sfriends and family.
Simply click on the following photo of Jim, to enjoy a nostalgic photo-journey through much of Jim’smemorably accomplished life. If it weren’t for Dave’sphotographic collection, we’d have come up all too short of photographs of Jim, if for no other reason but that Jim was usually to be found behind, rather than in front of the cameras.
Make sure to have your speakers turned on because Dave musically scored this special Tribute.
Thanks again to Dave for the fine Tribute to Jim and for also supplying a number of photographs taken of Jim that we’d not seen before. Below is one taken of Jim while a young man on active duty with the Air Force during the Korean War.
In 1961 Jim established the FAA Administrator’s CommandPost. In his leadership role, he was called upon to personally brief several U.S. Presidents on critical FAA issues, and it was Jimwho developed Command and Control techniques still in use throughout the international aviation community to this day.
Except for a special assignment to help develop a modernized air traffic control system, he remained in Washington until his government retirement in 1990.
During his tenure with the FAA, Jim’steam, as an around-the-clock FAA presence, responded to some 20,000 annual contingencies; including major air disasters, aerial hijackings, and other emergencies that required immediate Federal response.
While still with the FAA, but even more active after his retirement from the agency, Jimpersonally videotaped many of aviation’s unsung pioneers. It was always difficult to imagine this extremely energetic and active chronicler of aviation history as being retired. It is now more than difficult to accept that he is no longer even among us.
[If you’d like to view the below photographs in full HD quality, simply click on them]
Jimflying his Cessna 172 over the cemetery in which he was buried on 11/27/20 – Photo by his friend, Ken Peppard
Aerial view by Ken Peppard of Alberene Cemetery, in which Jim was interred on Friday 11/2720
Since retirement as that “Government Clerk,” Jim continued to fly his own personal airplane, (seen above) often using it to commute between his home on the East Coast and his local Columbus New Mexico Private Airpark residence – only a few miles north of the Historic First Aero Squadron Airfield he did so much to help preserve – and protect – for posterity.
Today, his dear and long-time friend and colleague, Dave Clemmer, also an early FASF member, called to give us the sad news of Jim’s final departure.
L to R above: Ken Hyde and Jim Davisposing in front of the Wright Flyer, much like the actual aeroplane first flown by the U.S. Army’s fledgling Air Branch in 1909, only 6 years after the Wright Brother’s first successful heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, NC. The “Flyer” was built by Ken’sgroup: The Wright Experience: If you look closely, you will see a functional yellow-colored Curtiss JN4, built by Ken’s group. This photo was taken by Jim’s friend, Dave Clemmer.
Those of us here at the FASF who were privileged to both know and work with Jimwill never forget his uplifting spirit and hearty sense of humor. His love of aviation and its history did more than one might imagine to help instigate the moves it took to get the FASF off and running as an educational and historical non-profit enterprise – – – one that, soon after its founding, was able to both secure and protect for prosperity the small New Mexico Airfield on which American Air Power began its illustrious climb to world-wide dominance – – – the same Airfield which also instigated the rebirth of American Civil Aviation, which had all but died after the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight in December of 1903.
Here is but one of Jim’s shorter videos. It’s about the first engine start of the Wright Brother’s 1st U.S. Military Flyer replica, built by some of Jim’s close friends. You can enjoy hearing Jim’s voice as he moderates the event on the video. In the brief video clip, Jimnotes the short appearance of his good friend, Dave Clemmer, who just notified us of Jim’spassing.
L to R: Tom Strickland, Jim and Ken Peppard (who helped Dave Clemmer with this memorial post). All three of them are standing by the specially made “CENTENNIAL OF FLIGHT” cake, on the memorial of that Centennial occasion.
With no exaggeration, without Jim’s vital help and positive energy, we would most likely not have either the FASF – – – or this website – – – nor would your webmaster be writing of this loss of our cherished and dearest friend.
Above, L to R: Dick Roe and Jim aboard his airport “Harley Davidson” cart.
May God rest his soul, and may we never forget his dedicated public service. We will certainly not forget how honored we have been to have had Jim’s indefatigable help and unbridled enthusiasm to help us establish this historical public enterprise, with its many meaningful contributions to aviation history, and its manifold collection of colorful memories, many of which are of Jim himself.
Our prayers and deepest sympathy go out to Jim’s wife, Sharon, his wonderful family, and his many friends across the country and abroad.
God bless you, Jim.
Click right HEREfor a newly released special Tribute to Jim by his close friend, and long-time FASF member,Dave Clemmer.
¹ Your webmaster had to change the full name of the FAA because he’d mistakenly first called it the Federal Aeronautics Administration! Calling me politely out on that error, was reader and old friend of Jim’s, Ken Peppard.
Yours truly had both his son, Eric,and daughter, Catherine, solo on their fourteenth (14) birthdays. It was in a sailplane, making it a legal event. (One must be 16 to solo a powered aircraft.)
I did this, based upon my own experience soloing an airplane (not a glider), back in 1944, when I was 15 (I’d fibbed about my age), and while the comparative social chaos of WWII was still a convenient reality.
That kind of experience one doesn’t readily forget, it’s the kind that can easily etch into one’s mind a great emotional and joyous thrill, one that can also readily render one’s life forever – and beneficially – lifted.
I don’t know anyone who’s been privileged to have had this unique experience help shape their life who hasn’t felt changed for the better – – – from that day forward.
For some reason, one of the greatest and virtually universal personal changes wrought, is that of a significant upsurge in the soloing flight student’s self-image, and self-confidence. That, along with the sheer thrill from the immense sense of freedom in one’s hands, is unforgettable.
At the least, I felt obliged that my own children should have that same exhilarating adventure.
In any event, this (below) TEDx video event features a young lady, Leah Ochs, who was encouraged to make this University of Nevada presentation by one of our Nevada based FASF members, aviation authors, and one of our FASF news scouts, Tiffany Brown.
Tiffany’sown maternal grandmother, Trixie Ann Schubert, was an aviator, acclaimed journalist – and an active member of the 99’s, the International organization of women pilots – – – whose first president was Amelia Earhart.
Before her untimely death in 1965 at only 42, Trixie had been busily writing a new book,”WORLD FLIGHT,” the almost completed rough transcript of which was discovered in Tiffany’smother’s attic. This unexpected family discovery instigated a new quest for Tiffany.
As she worked to piece together her grandmother’s manuscript, Ms. Brown began the tedious process that led to her own first published book. But, to learn more about that you’ll need to read that recently published work: “Fate on a Folded Wing.”
Surprisingly, I met Tiffany by way of having been a dear friend of that same grandmother, Trixie Ann Schubert, who tragically perished in a 1965 airplane crash, along with the internationally recognized globe-circling aviator, Joan Merriam Smith. This tragic accident that took these extraordinary young women’s lives is very much the topic of Tiffany’srecently published book. It helped her come to know her own grandmother, who had been killed many years before Tiffany was even born.
The extreme care with which Ms. Brown researched not just her own grandmother’s life, but that of Joan Merriam – and the events leading up to, and then after the test flight ended in the crash, is impressive. I read Tiffany’snew book when it was still fresh off the presses, and found it both fascinating – and almost impossible to put down. Like her own grandmother, a principal subject of the book itself, Tiffany is clearly a creative word-crafter in her own right.
The book has already garnered a five star rating on Amazon.
A major focus in Tiffany’s book, her grandmother, Trixie Ann, was an exceptionally gifted woman. Before her death in 1965, she had (and the following is a quote from Tiffany’s book) an amazingly varied career in writing: ” . . . editor of a weekly newspaper, radio announcer, news writer for The Milwaukee Journal, AM, FM and TV stations, an aviation columnist, and as a freelance correspondent in America, Europe, Asia and Africa.” Trixie had also raced internationally and in the famous All Women Transcontinental Air Race (popularly known as the “Powder Puff Derby”) here in the states.
Well over half a century later, thanks to the Internet, and long after Trixie Ann had died, one of Trixie’s three children, Heidi (Schubert) Syslo (who I had last known as only a sub-teenager), and who I had not seen, nor heard anything about, since her mother’s death, suddenly and most serendipitously popped back into my life.
Heidi became an active member of the FASF.
She had grown up, married, and become a mother.
One of Heidi’s children was none other than, Tiffany Brown.
Tiffany’s own life exhibits some of the very traits that made her own grandmother such an extraordinarily talented and accomplished woman.
So, without further ado, let’s see why your daughter should learn to fly and airplane (12:09):
Remember: Audio turned on, and why not go to full screen to enjoy this short presentation?
William “Bud” Canfield, gave us his final goodbye this past weekend. He had retired as the FASF Corporate Secretary and Chairman of its Elections Committee just five years ago.
Bud was born on March 13, 1938, in Connorsville, Wisconsin, and he and Jeanewere married for 45 years.
Budworked as a Dairy Farmer and Tractor and Implement Technical Specialist in Wisconsin, until 1989, when he and his wife, Jeane, moved to Columbus, NM, where he took a position as a State Park Ranger, later retiring, after several promotions, as a State Park Manager.
Long fascinated by aviation, although not a pilot himself, Bud, eagerly answered the call for assistance when the FASF first opened its doors in 2007. Over his active years, Bud became close friends with a number of aviation enthusiasts and active pilots across the country.
After retiring from the State Parks, he took over as President of the “Friends of Pancho Villa State Park,” the local Park’s Docent group. To help assure that his fellow citizens had a library of which they could be rightfully proud, Budchipped in as a long-time volunteer with the Columbus Library, whose wife, Jeane,was the library’s Director, until retiring in the Summer of 2015. Both the Canfields simply couldn’t really retire, but continued to be extraordinarily active in their adopted community of Columbus.
As though not deeply enough engaged in his new community, Bud ran for, and was elected as a member of the Columbus Village Council, where he served as a Councilman for a number of years. His wife, Jeane, was also a Village Trustee.
Additionally, Bud was an early active volunteer with the Columbus Historical Society, which took over the abandoned and run-down relic of the old Columbus Railroad Depot, and then restored it the the pristine condition in which visitors to Columbus now see it and enjoy its many historical artifacts and memorabilia of the infamous Pancho Villa Raid back on March 9, 1916, which event permanently put the small Village on the World Map. If anything significant has happened in Columbus over the past 30 years, it will be difficult not to find that Bud was right in the center of the action.
He was an enthusiastic collector of, and an historical expert on antique agricultural vehicles and implements, as well.His personal collection of antique agricultural equipment is impressive and could easily prime a new museum dedicated to such early American mechanical farming implements.
Any of the below photos of Bud or Jeanne may be seen in full hi-resolution by clicking on them.
Here they are, as usual, volunteering to raise money for the Deming Animal Shelter at an Antique Car Show in 2015
An accomplished musician, this long-time Trustee was rarely found far from his trusty guitar, either, regularly performing around the SW New Mexico area with various bands, or just soloing various country-styled ballads and country western music, often accompanied by his wife Jeane, with whose voice he loved to harmonize.
Down below, thanks to our Aerodrome Editor and local musician,July McClure,you can hearBudsinging two solo pieces of country music . . . and one with his wife,Jeane,JulyandWilly Jones.
Bud played a vital role in helping the FASF produce its first successful special event, when Dr. Roger Miller, USAF Deputy Historian, was especially flown out to Columbus from USAF Headquarters in Washington, DC, to make his highly successful 2010 presentation about the First Aero Squadron’s history making role in the Punitive Expedition.
After retiring from the FASF Board of Trustees, where he had served as an Officer, Budcontinued to help the FASF, when he agreed to join the Board of Advisors, where he remained active until only a few years ago, as its Official FASF 1916 Airfield Director.
Here, below are a few shots over the past two years showing Bud and his local involvement in Columbus and FASF Sponsored events:
L to R above: Dev Olliver, FASF Photographer; Jeane andBud Canfield(FASF Advisor); Retired UAL Capt., author and FASF reporter, Nancy Aldrich, Wayne Le Blanc; Leslie Bronken; Alma Villezcas; Jeff Smith, atty. and FASF Business supporter;and and Adelaide Bennett. This wasMay 2018at FASF member, Ivonne Romero’s fabled Pink Store in Palomas, Mexico.
Jan 2019: John Read’sRetirement celebration at the Columbus Pancho Villa State Park (PVSP) 1916 Recreation Hall: All are active FASFers! – – – The PVSP Friends’ Group Officers: July McClure (Treasurer), Elly and John Read, Maria Rangel (Secretary), Todd Montes (President – & US Postmaster for Columbus), Budand Jeane Canfield, former PVSP Friends’ Group officers and organizers.
Budsings “Fox on the Run” with his wife, Jeane, July McClure and Willy Jones.
In these as yet unpublished photos below we see Bud serenading retirees in nearby Deming, New Mexico.
L to R: Col. Norman Rice, Col. Alan Fisher and Mrs. Ulla Rice chat before lunch.
The most photographed and publicly acclaimed bomber used during WWII is without question, the B-17 Flying Fortress, but there was another less known, yet equally vital heavy bomber used during that global conflict, one which is too often disregarded, but which also played a critical part in the Allied Victory: the mighty LIBERATOR, the B-24, in its many variants.
At yesterday’s luncheon of the Daedalians at the El Paso Club in downtown El Paso, thanks to arrangements by Col. Alan Fisher, the flight’s members (all are FASF members!) learned of that LIberator’s exploits, and of Steve Watson’s (below right) father, Frank S. Watson, who was one of those select Army Air Force pilots chosen to fly that Liberator in the European Theater.
Steve Watson starts his presentation about the 467th Bomb Group and his father’s role.
Steve’s dad was one of the lucky aviators who came home safe and sound at the war’s end. Frank flew the B-24 for the 467th Bombardment Group. A short 7:00 video of film made about the 467th was shown to the Daedalians along with many personal photos of Steve’s father’s career from his earliest years through the war and then, back at home, when the hostilities ceased. Below you can watch a short 9:00 minute long film made of the 467th’s own “Witchcraft” Liberator
Remember, to see any photograph full size, simply click on it.
And for better viewing, don’t hesitate to open the videos to full-size, too.
L to R above: Larry Spradlin, Virg HemphillandJerry Dixon.
Prior to WWII, the main Ford corporation manufacturing factory at Willow Run, was a Ford owned farming operation, where young men learned to use Ford tractors to produce various crops on the 80 some acre area outside Detroit, Michigan.
Just prior to entering the war, the Army contracted with Ford to mass produce the B-24 heavy bombers on an unbelievable scale, finishing one every hour. This unbelievable production lasted throughout the conflict’s duration. The mass production genius of the Ford Motor Car Company was surely one of the country’s major assets, one that clearly helped the Allies achieve their final victory.
When it was built, it became the largest such airplane manufacturing facility in the world. Two basic operations took place inside its walls: 1) Manufacturing the airplane’s parts, and; 2) assembling the final product. In addition to making the airplane, which was designed by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation of San Diego, CA., Ford also manufactured the large radial air-cooled engines that powered the ship.
Unlike its famous automobiles and trucks, which contained some 15,000 to 16,000 parts, each Liberator contained more than 1,225,000 parts! As each craft was completed, it was then ground and flight tested right at Willow Run’s huge airfield, an airport facility with enough concrete in its runways and taxiways to make a highway over 125 miles long. Each of the 4 Ford produced air-cooled and super-charged engines produced 1200 HP. The normal crew consisted of ten men. The ship carried 4 tons of bombs, and over five thousand rounds of machine gun ammunition to arm its defenses. At high altitude, the Liberator could cruise over 300 MPH and had a range of over 3,000 miles.
Below is a 7 min. wartime film made of the extraordinary mass-production the made the Liberators.
Unlike its sister heavy bomber, the Flying Fortress, the Liberator had a modern tricycle landing gear, which made it substantially easier to land and handle on the ground. Another interesting fact about the Willow Run plant was that there were always over 100 bombers being assembled under the huge roof. Under that vast roof, there were also some 42,000 assembly workers busily putting these then modern aircraft together.
Adjacent to the Willow Run plant, a large school was set up, and before the war’s end, over 50,000 students had been graduated with all the highly technical skills needed in the Willow Run Plant. There was a teaching staff of more than 100 instructors to get that task successfully completed.
Additionally, a large warehouse was also built nearby, to store the vast array of components that went into each bomber, from sheet metal, bolts, rivets and stringers, to complex aircraft instruments and radio gear. Each airplane had more than 4,000 rivets holding on its lightweight aluminum outer skin. By the war’s end, Willow Run had produced over 8,685 Liberators!
Additionally, another 9,815 more B-24s were built elsewhere, for a grand total of 18,500Liberators produced across the country for use during the war.
L to R above: Larry Spradlin, Cols. Bob Pitt and Flight Captain, Mario Campos,and Virg Hemphill.
L to R above: Cols Mario Camposand Alan Fisher, watch as Presenter, Steve Watson, spreads out his wide assortment of WWII souvenirs touting the 467th Emblem and other related logos.
L to R. Col. Norman Riceand his wife, Ulla, and guest, Dick Heath.
Colonel Mario Campos, Flight Captain, calls the meeting to order.
Colonel Camposintroduces the Speaker, Steve Watson, for the day.
Steve Watson starts his presentation about the 467th Bomb Group and his father’s story as a B-24 Pilot in WWII.
Watch as Tom Taylor, a surviving B-24 pilot from WWII, gets back into the only still flying Liberator, to once again take control of the famous bomber off the South Carolina coast.
There is good reason for this. While it is hardly one of our latest 5th Generation jet fighters (such as the F-22 ‘Raptor’ and F-35 ‘Lightning II‘ ), it is likely nevertheless one of the most popular of all jet fighters still in active service among America’s Allies, most of whom happily continue to operate this extraordinarily versatile and highly maneuverable ship. Powered by only a single jet engine, unlike the F-22 and other popular and more powerful 4th generation fighters, such as the F-14 or F-15, the F-16 is a record-setter from almost any perspective. You sometimes hear this fighter called the “Fighting Falcon,” but it’s far more popularly known by its actual users as the “Viper.”
The F-16 was first manufactured my General Dynamics, but later, in 1993, turned over to Lockheed, which merged with Martin Marietta, to become Lockheed-Martin. Still made for our Allied customers, yet no no longer ordered by the USAF, who first put it into use an astounding 44 years ago, in 1976, this amazing fighter is still very actively used by the USAF!
Also, keep in mind that this new (1976) fighter was quite unusual for this reason alone: The 1st test prototype mode, the YF-16 was one of the first planes in the world have an all fly-by-wire (FBW is a system that replaces the conventional manual flight controls of an aircraft with an electronic interface.) control system. Unlike conventional controls, it didn’t have any direct mechanical connection between the stick and the control surfaces. The YF-16 instead used electronic sensors to read the pilot’s stick inputs and then transmitted that—with computer interpretation—to hydraulic actuators that moved the control surfaces the appropriate amount.
Your webmaster regularly attends graduations of new USAF Viper pilots at nearby Holloman AFB (HAFB), Alamogordo, NM, to take part in graduation ceremonies of their still very active Viper Training School, which clearly remains one of the reasons you hear and see so much about this highly maneuverable fighting machine on our FASF posts.
But let’s take a look at some informative video clips of this remarkable jet, starting with a 4 minute 28 second tour of its ground-breaking cockpit innovations:
[Don’t hesitate to watch any of these video in full-screen mode for maximum viewing quality]
Next, below, is a 9:35 long video of this machine in action, from a cockpit viewpoint. In this video experience you’ll see some quick aerobatic maneuvers that include some high “G” turns, in which you’ll notice how the pilot resorts to some strong and heavy breathing in order to avoid browning or blacking out from the heavy “G” loads that result. Here’s the Viper Demo Team’s Major Craig “Rocket” Baker having fun showing off his Viper. The “G” forces were so great in his final steep climb pull-up, that his cockpit mounted “Go Pro” camcorder stopped recording.
Next, below, we have a 6:36long gander at the USAF’s Thunderbird Demonstration Team at work. Notice that, today, the Thunderbirds still fly this 44 year old jet as their aircraft of choice.
And, lastly, let’s watch this 9:48 long clip of the Viper do its thing during last year’s Air combat exercise Red Flag 19-1, at Nellis Air Force Base (NAFB), with F-16 Vipers from the 64th Aggressor Squadron, other fighter jets, and some good cockpit video. Filmed during Red Flag 19-1: January 26 – February 15, 2019.