March 2012

The Aerodrome
The Journal of the First Aero Squadron Foundation

March 2012Columbus, New Mexico



Ken Emery is a member of the FASF Board of Trustees and its official Historian. Also by profession an archaeologist, Ken has done in-depth research into the operations of the original First Aero Squadron and lives of its pilots. The following article, written by Ken with research assistance from Dr. Roger Miller, USAF Historian, examines at the life and times of Joseph Carberry, one of the First Aero Squadron pilots.

Joseph E. Carberry1887 – 1961

Joseph E. Carberry was born on July 20, 1887 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He graduated from West Point in 1910 with honors and was posted to the 6th Infantry. Carberry was selected for flight duty in 1913 and ordered to North Island, California for training. He must have been adept because here he received his F.A.I. certificate #251 in July, and his M.A. (Military Aviation) rating in September. The Aero Club of America rated him an Expert Aviator on November 17, all in 1913. His J.M.A. (Junior Military Aviator) came on July 23, 1914 and he was placed on official flying status. Prior to this, though, he had already made contributions. In August, 1913, Lt. Carberry recommended that airfield symbols be used on maps to identify landing places. A “Y” was to mark a good landing field and a “V” for a possible field. Lt. Thomas Bowen, who subsequently became a flyer, was on a mapping assignment near San Diego and undertook to do the work. Standards weren’t terribly high. A “good” field had to have a runway at least 300 yards long in all directions, firm soil and no shrubbery over 2 ft. high. A “possible” field was a 250 yd. runway in one direction, at least 50 yards wide. Sandy soil was OK, shrubs couldn’t be over 3 ft. high and there could be no high obstructions around the field. A new army altitude record for two people was set on the December 26 1913. Lieutenant Carberry, with Lieutenant Taliafero as his passenger, reached 7800 ft. Three days later, with Lieutenant Seydel, observer, he won the Mackay Trophy. And, in 1915, with Captain Foulois as passenger, he established another altitude record: 11,690 ft.! The First Aero Squadron was reorganized in 1915 and included Lieutenant Carberry. He was sent to the Curtiss plant to evaluate the JN-2s that were being purchased. He flew one on June 4, 1915, but doubted that its rate of climb met the Army’s requirements, nevertheless he recommended that they be accepted. The JN-2s turned out to be woefully inadequate and Curtiss was forced to modify them into JN-3s.

Carberry was one of the 11 pilots who came to Columbus with the First Aero Squadron on March 15, 1916 and served in Mexico with the Punitive Expedition. By the end of April, the Jennies were worn out or destroyed and the squadron was back in Columbus where it would remain until August, 1917. Carberry, however, was given a new assignment. First Lieutenant Carberry took command of the Signal Corps Aviation Station, Mineola (later Hazelhurst Field) on July 22, 1916. It was the Army’s second flying school and was established to train flyers from the various state militias. The first group was from New York, and trainees from other states came later. Carberry was named Acting Aviation Officer Eastern Department in September, but didn’t assume that role until November. He held these positions until he went to France with the AEF for advanced flight training. Upon arrival in France, Captain Carberry became a member of a Board of Officers to make aviation recommendations. Colonel Edgar Russell headed the board which included, among others, Billy Mitchell and Townsend Dodd. Carberry served as recorder. The board convened on June 19, 1917 and on July 4, suggested the organization of tactical and strategic aviation for the AEF.

With his assignment to the board completed, Captain Carberry remained on General Pershing’s staff and was in charge of establishing airfields in France. By 1918, he was back in the U.S. as director of Air Service Instruction, and by June, the now Lt. Colonel Carberry was chief of Heavier-Than-Air training for the Air Service. As such, he reported that the lack of coordination between aircraft production and the training program was his greatest problem. Advanced, specialized and technical training was severely hampered by shortages of engines, spare parts and high performance planes.

Joseph Carberry apparently suffered an illness (influenza?) during or after this time for, in 1919, he left the Army General Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas for Rockwell Field, San Diego. He retired from the military in 1924 and in 1933 moved to Arcadia, California. He died in Los Angeles on November 12, 1961 and is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

Joseph Eugene Carberry1887 – 1961
Born: Waukesha, Wisconsin
Died: Los Angeles, California
Served: US Army   1910 – 1924
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Signal Corps Aviation Station, Mineola, Long Island, New York
Director of Air Service Instruction
Chief of Heavier-Than-Air Training
Mackay Trophy

 The Ubiquitous “Jenny”

Curtiss JN-2

Up to just before the time of the Villa raid into the United States at Columbus, US military aircraft were open bay biplanes powered by a pusher configuration. The pilot sat ahead of the engine on the lower wing. The fuselage as we know it today was nonexistent. Wright airplanes were launched from a wooden track, the landing gear being little more that parallel skids. The “modern” European style craft had neither brakes nor tail wheel. The pilot affected a stop by pulling back on the elevator control, hoping to dig the tail skid into the ground. Landing fields of the time, or aerodromes, were simply squares of open land where a pilot could launch into the wind and land the same way.

The Jenny originated in the fertile mind of Benjamin Thomas. Thomas, an Englishman who had been a designer for Great Britain’s Sopwith Aircraft, was hired by Glenn Curtiss to push the envelope of Curtiss’ military offerings. The JN-1 and JN-2 appeared in 1915 and eight “dash 2s” were eventually purchased by the Signal Corps for use by the First Aero Squadron. The first of these was accepted in May of 1915 with the remaining seven delivered by the end of June. The Thomas design had definite Sopwith features including staggered wings and a long, narrow fuselage with a tractor engine and prop, the latest in aeronautical design.

At the tender age of 17, Thomas became an apprentice engineer with Vickers’ Sons and Maxim, airplane builders whose works were in Erith, UK. In 1912, aged 21, he was employed as assistant chief engineer with the just organized Sopwith Aviation Co., at Kingston-on-Thames. A year later he met Curtiss who was visiting the Sopwith plant on his way to Moscow where he was hoping to do business with the Russians. Curtiss was so impressed by the young Thomas that he convinced him to accompany him on the remainder of his trip. Apparently, the basic shape of the Jenny was formed as they crossed the Channel, and Curtiss commissioned Thomas to design the plane that was to become the JN-1; he returned home and did so through a mild winter in a tent in his family’s front yard. (Ah, youth!)

1st Aero and the Jenny

After several mishaps and crashes by First Aero pilots, Curtiss agreed to “remodel” problem areas in the machines and to replace the crashed # 46 & 47 with two new aircraft, # 52 & 53. The refurbished aircraft were then designated JN-3. Eight JN-2s were built for our military; the six original survivors and the two demolished in wrecks. Apparently, the replacement two JN-3s were purpose-built, and to be absolutely accurate, #45 was never fully modified, for it retained the Dash 2 tail until the end. In any case, the First Aero Squadron, Capt. Benny Foulois in command, brought 8 JN-3s to begin operations at Columbus.

At the time of arrival, their equipment consisted of eight JN-3s (Signal Corps numbers 41 through 45, 48, and 52 and 53), 10 trucks and one automobile. Two trucks were added in El Paso bringing them to about one-half of their authorized equipage. By the end of March, two of the craft had been destroyed in crashes, and by the time the squadron had been on the border for two months it had lost six of its eight Jennies and the remaining two (#45 & 53) were so tired they were eventually destroyed. Events along the border and in Europe were beginning to affect thinking in Washington, so much so that by the end of April, 1916, Congress decided to appropriate $500,000 to the Aviation Section. Replacements for the JN-3s were quickly ordered by the Signal Corps.

Flying the Jenny

A postwar official report estimated that 95% of pilots produced by the US for WWI touched the controls of the Curtiss airplanes at one time or another. Another source said that the ubiquitous trainer buried more pilots than were lost to the enemy. I have not flown the Jenny myself, nor do I have any desire to after listening to the accounts of pilots who have flown them, ranging from enthusiastic to hair-raising. Cruise was around 60 to 65MPH, with a stall occurring just 20MPH slower — a very narrow operating envelope. By contrast, the current Cessna 172 sports an +/-80MPH envelope. It was a large airplane by contemporary single engine standards, under-powered and demanding of the flier’s full attention. Its wingspan was almost 44′ (the 172 is 36′ — with just one wing); the gross weight was about the same as a 172, but payload was only about 550 lbs.

Judging from contemporary reports, there was no one who foresaw the success or longevity of the JN-3’s eventual successor, the JN-4D Jenny, which was America’s primary aircraft contribution to the World War I effort and the #1 favorite of the barnstormers who roamed the country following the conflict. Curtiss produced only 8 of the JN-3s for the Army, but over 8000 JN-4Ds were turned out during the war — and that does not include the license-built Canadian equivalent, the “Canuck.”

(Part of the above was liberally cribbed from notes by our FASF Advisor, the late Jim Greenwood.)

Additional readingJenny Was No Lady, by Jack R. Lincke (Norton); and Flying the Old Planes by Frank Tallman (Doubleday).

Elections: 2012 Trustees and Officers

Election results were announced by the Nominations Chair, Martha Skinner, at the January Annual Meeting. Trustees Jim DavisKen EmeryRic LambartMartha Skinner and Gene Valdes were reelected. Officers then elected were:

Bill Wehner, President Ric Lambart, 1st Vice President Ken Emery, 2nd Vice President Martha Skinner, Treasurer

Trustee Kris Lethin submitted his resignation and announced his move back to full time Alaska residency. Kris has agreed to serve on the Advisory Board, but his presence as a Trustee will be missed greatly. Ric Lambart has agreed to take the webmaster job at least temporarily. Scott Schmid was appointed as a trustee at the February meeting. Scott is a business owner in Deming NM.

2012 Donors – Thank you very much!

Up to $99

James Bayer
Eddie Booth
Bob Coats
Jim Davis
Peter Emery
Friends of Pancho Villa State Park
Dr. J. William Gotcher
Larry Benedict
Sharan Maxwell
George Mock
John Moore
Michael Owen
John Pugliese
Scott Schmid
Stephen Watson
Carl Zimmerman

$100 to $199

Oscar Bayer
Julia Cheshire
Dave Clemmer
John Deuble
James Efferson
Richard Hallion
Don Harrell
Al Hobelmann
Peter Hobelmann
Mary McClain
Stuart Meerscheidt
Ken Peck
Martha Skinner
Gene Valdes

$200 to $499

Pete Adolph
Ken Emery
William Lafferty
Bill Wehner
Jim Wildharber
Tom Willmott

Over $500

Dorothy Benham
Kris Lethin

[If any donor’s name was left off inadvertently, please notify Bill Wehner (575-531-7044) as soon as possible.]

May 12th Program Features Steve Watson

Military historian and writer Stephen F. Watson will be the featured speaker in a National Historical Month program at Columbus’ Pancho Villa State Park. Watson, a member of our First Aero Squadron Foundation Advisory Board, is the Archivist at the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s History Office at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Steve is currently working on a biography of Colonel Roy Kirtland, namesake of Kirtland Air Force Base and a temporary commander of the Provisional First Aero Squadron in 1913. He is also co-authoring a work on the separation of Army aviation from the Signal Corps, to which the aviation unit was first attached in its infancy. The book is tentatively titled “Rivalries, Scandals and War: Establishing the U.S. Army Air Service, 1908-1918.” Steve Watson’s presentation will headline the third in a series of annual Foundation presentations and the second offered jointly with Pancho Villa State Park. If you would like to join us that weekend, email or call Bill Wehner at (575) 531-7044 or email Overnight accommodations are available here in Columbus; contact Martha Skinner at

We invite you to spend that weekend in Columbus or Deming. Historic tours can be arranged for both Friday and Sunday, May 11th or 13th, but it is absolutely essential that we have at least 3 days lead time. It has been our habit to treat fly-in and drive-in guests with hospitality if folks will let us know their travel plans. Limited tie downs are available at Hacienda Sur Luna Airpark, but transportation will be available only with advance notice to the phone shown above. Traffic in the area monitors 122.9. Nearest fuel is available at Deming, 30 miles to the north.

Work to Begin on Airstrip Restoration

One of the First Aero Squadron Foundation’s primary goals as stated in its charter is to restore the airfield where the First Aero Squadron was based during its historic mission following the 1916 invasion of the United States by the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. As readers already know, the Foundation now owns 60 acres which encompasses a significant part of that early airfield and the subsequent military and then commercial airfields which eventually overlaid the original base of operations for the First Aero Squadron. Most recently, at its Board of Trustees retreat this March, the FASF Board approved an agreement with a local licensed contractor to restore a 2,300 feet runway on the site of the original Aerodrome. Now to be clear, in the days of the Punitive Expedition which followed the Pancho Villa raid, there were no runways for the Curtiss biplanes to take off from and land on. The original “airfield” was simply a pasture.

In April 1916, the U.S. Army took possession of the field and erected at first canvas and then metal hangars for the aircraft and installed other amenities. However, there was still no runway as such—simply a field that had been cleared of brush. When Columbus’ Camp Furlong was shut down in 1923, there were still no modern runways although both military and civilian aircraft continued to use, at least on an intermittent base, the Aerodrome. After civilian use increased by 1928, a group of local citizens eventually laid out and constructed what was, for its day, a modern airport complete with both east-west and north-south runways. All these improvements were directly on the site of the original primitive airfield where those first intrepid pilots took off from and landed their Jennies. The last reported use of the civilian Columbus airport was in 1979. Over the ensuing years, the airport facilities fell into complete despair and ruin. The foundations of those airport structures are all that remain. The runways themselves were reclaimed by the Chihuahua Desert and became overgrown with thorny mesquite bushes, yuccas, and various varieties of cactus inhabited by rattlesnakes, scorpions, jackrabbits, coyotes and other desert denizens.

The FASF, acknowledging the history of the land and the continuity of its use by aviation from 1916 to 1979, will now restore the original east-west runway and make it available for use by civil aviation as a private airstrip. The airstrip restoration is an expensive venture and the Foundation is asking for donations to help us with restoration expenditures. All donations will be acknowledged and are tax-deductible as the First Aero Squadron Foundation has 501(3)(c) non-profit status. No FASF board member, advisory board member or general member receives any salary or other monetary benefit whatsoever. All are volunteers. All donations go directly for the stated purposes of helping our organization restore, maintain and preserve for future generations the historic “Birthplace of American Military Aviation.”

Any amount will help. You can send a check or money order made out to the First Aero Squadron Foundation, PO Box 1516, Columbus, NM 88029. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call Board Chair Bill Wehner at (575) 531-7044 or you can contact him by email at The airstrip restoration will begin in early April. We can’t wait for the first plane to land on the restored runway!

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