August 2010

Where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are headed: a report to the membership.

Where we are– While this group is officially only 2½ years old, a few dedicated souls have been working on saving the aerodrome and the memory of the men of the First Aero Squadron for almost 4 years.  The first ‘meeting’ of the group was in the local pool hall because the community center had become unavailable.  Almost 30 attended; all in favor of the project but one.  Immediate Past President Gene Valdes rode herd on incorporation, IRS clearance as a 501(c)(3), and registration with the State of New Mexico.  This process alone took almost a year.  The purchase of 60 acres in the Columbus Historic District, containing a portion of the old Columbus Airport and reported to contain a part of the old aerodrome as well, was negotiated with the New York owner in less than 60 days.  We were able to borrow the $50,000 purchase price from private individuals in less than 60 days, then the lawyers took almost a year to allow the dream to become reality.  I spent the best part of 50 years in the small business world where deals were turned around in days.  It is not like that in the world of non-profits, I have come to discover.  There are a number of reasons, of course, but eventually patience wins (that’s what folks keep telling me).

Using documents recently uncovered by Air Force Historian Dr. Roger Miller, John Deuble of Albuquerque has been able to pinpoint the actual boundaries of the aerodrome with a high degree of certainty.  Under the watchful eye of trustee Ken Emery, this last month a registered surveyor located the corners of our recent purchase.  I am extremely gratified to report that we now not only own a portion of the old aerodrome, we also own a major part of what once was the Columbus Airport. The upshot is that we, in effect, control both important historic aviation sites.  (See website for map locater.)

We have been able to raise $50,000 for the purchase of parcel #1, but, of course, we are committed to pay back that amount to the lenders over the next 5 years; we have about $8200 in the treasury at this point after paying the surveyors.

Where we are headed – The next step could be to the return of the parcel to aviation use, that is, we could go ahead and clear brush and grade at least a temporary landing strip.  The Village of Columbus has been reluctant to act on our request for airport zoning; this action on our part would demonstrate our determination to move ahead.

The orientation of Parcel #1 would allow us to install NE/SW strip of about 2000 feet in length.  We have at least two former airport/FBO operators who have volunteered themselves in a construction effort.  As usual, however, there are a couple of items to deal with- not the least of which is money.  Also, since this is a historical site, we will almost certainly be required do a certain amount of archeology before we can start work on a permanent landing field.  We are about to start investigating State of New Mexico requirements in this area, as well as what grants might be available.   Once again, money. SO, a big question right now is: do you know anyone – corporation or individual – who might be willing to at least partially sponsor the return of this site to flying status? (As you know, donations to us – money or materials – are tax deductable.)  Your dues are what keep us running on a day to day basis.  We need to increase our membership base in order to be able to function effectively and to take on projects like creating a temporary airstrip.  Are you willing to help out?  As a part of this newsletter there is an application form.  Please pass it along to someone who might be interested in this project.  The brutal fact is that in this economic climate, we cannot survive without new members.

This is a project where each of you make a difference… this place matters!

Also new on the web site is Trustee Jim Davis’ YouTube interview of this writer about the recent purchase of Parcel #1 as we stand in the middle of that property with the wind whistling through the mesquite around us.

Jim Davis and I were privileged to be among the small crowd of friends, relatives and other well-wishers at the birthday party given for Advisory Board Chair Jim Greenwood on the occasion of his 90th. Greenwood’s efforts over the years have been an inspiration for those of us involved in trying to save the aerodrome.  Happy birthday, Jim, and many more!  Jim has been an aviation executive, FAA Assistant Administrator, pilot and writer of note; he’s now steering an Alzheimer’s project in Tucson.

Thanks to each and every one of you.  Bill Wehner – reach me at wehner@vtc.net

The following, by historian Ken Emery, is another in the series of articles about members of the original First Aero Squadron:

Townsend Foster Dodd

March 6, 1886 – October 5, 1919

The First Aero Squadron arrived in Columbus with two Captains; Unit Commander Benjamin Foulois and Townsend Dodd.  Captain Dodd was already recognized as an achiever among his fellow pilots.  In 1913, he set a non-stop duration of flight record in a Burgess H Model (244 miles in four hours and eighteen minutes).  He and Lt. S. W. Fitzgerald won the Mackay Trophy for reconnaissance in 1914 and in 1915, he set a temporary record by flying up to 4,000 ft. Also in 1915, he flew the first night flight: 30 minutes.  It is significant that when Captain Foulois led the squadron into Mexico, he chose to fly with Dodd.

Townsend Dodd graduated from the University of Illinois in 1907 with a degree in Electrical Engineering.  He joined the Coast Artillery Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1909, then transferred to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps in 1912.   June, 1913 found him with the First Aero Squadron in San Diego.  He remained with this unit into its deployment to Columbus and Mexico.  He flew with Foulois on the Air Services’ first tactical reconnaissance over hostile territory on March 15, 1916.  He served as either pilot or observer during the squadron’s tour in Mexico and replaced Foulois as Squadron Commander in September, 1916.

His link to Foulois continued when he replaced him as Departmental Aviation Officer in San Antonio on March 19, 1917.  Dodd Field, the original flight field there (and later during WWII a POW camp) was named in honor of Townsend Dodd on May 10, 1928.

General Pershing selected Dodd to be the Aviation Officer of the American Expeditionary Force in 1917 with rank of Lieutenant Colonel.   He served as such through June 30, then became the first chief of the Supply Section.  He was promoted to Colonel on August 14. 1918.

He took command of Langley Field in July, 1919.  He was to represent Langley in the First Transcontinental Reliability and Endurance Test when, on October 5, his DH-4 crashed near Bustleton Field, PA and he was killed.  He had been married but six months and left no descendants, but there are monuments to his life.  In addition to Dodd Field, there is a mile long Dodd Boulevard and Dodd Hall at Langley AFB.  There are two American Legion Posts named for him.  Colonel Townsend F. Dodd Post No. 130 is at Langley.  Post 0344 Townsend F. Dodd is in his hometown of Anna, Illinois.

There is a beautifully written, poignant bio of him available via the internet.  In it, Brenda Phelan said, “Townsend Dodd did nothing that spectacular in his mind, as with all great men, he preferred to give credit to other men.  Stating that the success of his record breaking flight was due to his passenger, who kept an eye on the engine, turned the map, and was always alert and ready at any information for which he asked.  There were thirteen aviators at the beginning of the Aviator Corp, many of them died as a result of experimentation with their new flying machines.  I could sense from their letters to each other and their families they were very much aware of their possible fate.  These men were truly testing unproved ground.  And as with so many record breaking feats many men came after to beat these records and Townsend Dodd became a footnote in history.”

This shouldn’t happen… the First Aero Squadron Foundation is determined to keep the memory of Townsend Dodd and his fellow aviators alive so that their sacrifices and achievements won’t be forgotten.

Townsend F. Dodd

Born:            Anna, Illinois
Died:            Philadelphia, PA
Buried:         Arlington National Cemetery
Served:         U. S. Army, 1909 – 1919
Rank:            Colonel
Commands:  First Aero Squadron, Aviation Post, Fort Sam Houston (3rd Aero Squadron), Langley Field
Awards:        Mackay Aviation Trophy, American Medal of Merit, Distinguished Service Medal

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