March 2013

The Aerodrome

The Journal of the First Aero Squadron Foundation

March 2013Columbus, New Mexico


The yearly First Aero Squadron Foundation election cycle has rolled through again.  At the Martha Portrait to use-042913January board meeting, Martha Skinner, pictured to the left, reported as election committee chair that all ballots were in and that they met the by-law requirements.

Re-elected was Bill Wehner; elected for their own terms following their appointments were Scott Schmid, Bud Canfield and John Orton.  Election of officers for 2013 followed.  Bill Wehner was re-elected President, Ric Lambart 1st VP, Jim Davis 2nd VP, Martha Skinner treasurer, and John Orton was elected Secretary, filling a position that has been vacant for over a year.

Reunion 2013

Your Board of Trustees is planning an informal get-together on March 9th 2013, to coincide with Raid Day commemorations by other groups in Columbus.  Reunion 2013 will also be our kickoff for the 100th anniversary of the organization of the original First Aero Squadron.  On March 9th 1916, Pancho Villa, with 300 to 500 irregulars, invaded the United States, crossing the border just west of Columbus and launched a predawn attack on the cavalry camp and the Village of Columbus.  Eighteen Americans, soldiers and civilians were killed, part of the town burned and looted, and a herd of horses was stolen from the military. Villa’s raid launched what President Wilson called a “punitive expedition.”

This year’s commemoration will feature the following:

8:00 AM – Breakfast at Martha’s B&B (cost: $8.00 per person, RSVP by March 8th). There will be introductions and and a short program.

10:00 AM – The Cabalgata (Spanish for cavalcade of horses and their riders) rides in parade from Mexico.

All Day – Snacks and lunch available from various food vendors on the plaza across from Village Hall and the Patio Restaurant on Broadway across from the Village Library.

1:00 PM – Raid Day Memorial Service at the Columbus Historical Society Reviewing Stand. There will be a brief program with a speaker.

2:00 PM – Raid Day Festivities at Pancho Villa State Park

Members and non-members alike are welcome at the breakfast.  All other activities are free.  Fly-ins are welcome: we will be monitoring 122.9.  Parking is available at zero NM zero. Bring your own tiedowns.  Also within 3 miles of the village are Hacienda sur Luna (paved) and First Aero Squadron, (dirt).  For further information on fly-ins, call Bill Wehner after March 1st at 575-531-7044.

Odds and Ends from the Board

Further payment, $2,500, on the note to Mrs. Pat Walsh, the former owner of the Aerodrome/Airport tract was authorized at the January meeting of the Board of Trustees.  A check has been issued to her, thereby reducing the debt to $7500.  We had hoped to make it for 4 or 5 thousand, but contributions by year’s end made that impossible.  Like everyone else, we are hoping that charitable giving will pick up again as the economy rebounds.

The annual board retreat will be held March 11th at the Deming Municipal Airport from 10 AM until 3.  All Advisory Board members are also invited.

We are still looking for an individual(s) to serve as bookkeeper and/or clerk.  Bookkeeping involves very basic journal entry (QuickBooks), light correspondence and billing.  The clerk would do minimal filing and record board minutes.

John Orton, newest FASF Trustee and Board Secretary

The board has asked Secretary John Orton to investigate the possibility of sponsoring an EAA Young Eagles program at zero NM zero, possibly in conjunction with the celebration mentioned below.

Columbus Air Force Days

A local citizen, Bob Cook, suggested a while back (with some tongue in cheek) that we as a society are fascinated by “bad men,” Billy-the-Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy types and the like.  Columbus has always been famous, or in some cases infamous, for the many interesting characters who have left their mark on our small community. It’s perhaps about time we took advantage of that and used some of these stories to lure tourists. Our very own restored airport, zero NM zero, (0NM0) was the stage for one such story.

Martin Willard Houltin had served in the Army Air Corps as a bomber pilot in WWII and in the ‘60s turned his skills to a very lucrative area: drug smuggling.  He and a small group of pilots who became known as the Columbus Air Force used the Columbus Municipal Airport as their home base.  Led by Marty Houltin, or “Whitey” as they called him, the Columbus Air Force boys were the pioneers in the use of light aircraft to smuggle narcotics (mostly marijuana) from Mexico.  A joint state/federal task force, code named “Operation Sky Knight” was mounted against the CAF and was finally successful in busting the group in October of 1973.  Lee Chagra, an El Paso attorney noted for his own drug adventures, ended up getting the pilots probation.

Houltin was widely considered one of the best small aircraft pilots of his time, praised even by the federal agents who pursued him.  He was arrested twice more and served 16 months in 1980; and having charges dropped in 1993 when it was disclosed that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s.  Whitey Houltin died in 1999, widely considered a local benefactor.

The members of the Columbus Air Force received notoriety from their arrests and were featured in the New York Times Magazine, Argosy, Popular Mechanics (!), and High Times, which featured Houltin as “The Flying Ace of the Dope Air Force.”  It is also alleged that the song Tree Top Flyer by Steven Stills, performed by Jimmy Buffett on the album Banana Wind, was about the Columbus Air Force and Marty Houltin.

What was then known as the Columbus Municipal Airport has been recently resurrected by the First Aero Squadron Foundation.  In fact, the field still retains the same FAA designation – zero NM zero – although it is now an unnamed private landing site.  In any case, can you imagine it as the locus of an annual celebration of the Columbus Air Force, headed by Jimmy Buffett?  How ‘bout a fly-in of antique airplanes, mariachi bands, hot rods, antique cars, Mexican and Tex-Mex food, a little rodeo action and a Cabalgata parade?  All of the foregoing soaked in Frontera-style margaritas chased by enchiladas and tacos?  What would it take to make something like this reality?  Does anyone out there know Jimmy Buffett . . . ?

We are now investigating what it would take to actually put together “Columbus Air Force Days.”  We invite your input.

Bill Wehner

Book Musings

One of the most enjoyable pilot past-times is to sit down from time to time with a good book involving aviation. Here are a couple that I just finished reading:

First, Over the Front, by Stanley Walsh; published by Author House 2011, 287pp. soft cover

Stan Walsh has pulled off a very difficult task in this book about a young flyer up to his ears “over the front” in WWI.  Walsh has used his unique access to the letters of Lt Billy Schauffler (provided by daughter Kate Schauffler Hawkins) to paint a picture not only of Lt. Schauffler himself, but of his part of the AEF, and of the young men who flew planes like the Jenny, the French AR-1 (Ancient Rattletrap), and the SPAD.  He lets Billy, who writes rather well, tell his own story from service on the border with the First Aero Squadron to the conclusion of the Armistice, only interjecting editorial comment when necessary for continuity.  The skill of the editor/author is evident in how he keeps himself out of the way of the story line while managing to introduce it, tie it together and bring it to a conclusion with careful commentary.  Walsh follows Schauffler’s correspondence by chapters on family members and friends, the airplanes they flew, and on key players in Billy’s war.

Billy enjoyed his border duty with First Aero, although he described Columbus as “…the most God-forsaken place on the face of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or any other desert place.”  It was an opinion shared by many.  From there, First Aero was “rushed” to Europe to fight a dirty, bloody war.  Schauffler was transferred to the 90th Aero, promoted and proceeded to lead his reconnaissance squadron to an enviable record.

Billy Schauffler was perhaps typical of men barely out of their teens who went to war and still managed to fight and survive with some idealism still intact; a distinctly different read than might be found in books like Elliott White Springs’ War Birds (see below).

Stanley Walsh served as a navigator/bombardier in B-26s in WWII, then worked as a civil engineer on aviation projects around the world, including Dulles International.  Today he produces adventure/travel films, is a member of the League of WWI Aviation Historians, The Explorers Club and The First Aero Squadron Foundation.  The book is available from the author, 4215 Miraleste Drive, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275.

War Bird, the Life and Times of Elliott White Springs, byBurke Davis; University of North Carolina Press, 1987, 267 pp.  Amazon,$9.80 ( new).

This is a definitive biography of Springs, not to be confused with Spring’s own book, War Birds, the Diary of an Unknown Aviator.  War Birds spawned a whole genre of books and movies over several generations, most in the noir style.  It is probably must reading for the WWI  aviation buff; it stands in contrast to the straight forward story told in Stanley Walsh’s book, above.

Aside from the authorship of War Birds, Elliott White Springs was best known before WWII for his outrageous (according to some) national ads touting his company’s Springmaid sheets and linens.  What most don’t know is that he was also a polymath who wrote poetry, short stories and novels, an excellent pilot, astute businessman and promotional genius.  He fought FDR’s liberal New Deal tooth and nail, and union organizers even harder; yet his mills turned a handsome profit despite (or because of) his generous wage and fringe benefits.  He had a schoolboy’s sense of humor, and was often dismissed as a playboy, but his visionary and hands-on approach to cotton goods manufacture made his mills the most successful in the country in spite of the Depression.  A good, well researched read about a genuine American character.


Bill Wehner writes from his hangar home near Columbus, NM.  For the latest Columbus happenings, Google up ColumBUZZ.  Bill can be harassed at

Letter from New Member:  Terry Drew

I’ve been meaning to get this letter off to you for a couple of months now. As you can see, I would like to join up and also included is a donation to the cause. My grandfather sold 50 horses to the Army and had to deliver them to railhead (Deming? Or Columbus? I don’t know). He was 17 at the time and was from Bridger, Montana. The Army told him he could join up if he was 18. He said, of course, he was 18 so into the Army he went. The Army put him to work as a horse tender and cook’s helper. This kept him in camp and he got to know the pilots and help work on the planes. He was flying by the end of the operation and as Word War I broke out, he was put to work as a pilot instructor, where he spent most of WWI. He never flew any missions but was in France at the end of the war. He flew a desk for about another year in France before he was sent home for discharge as Sergeant Major, Army Air Corps. He later flew as an instructor at Pearson Field in Washington. Finally, after getting banged up in a crash, my grandmother said ‘That’s it! No more flying. You have a family to raise.’ I am a 67-year-old, third generation pilot. See what my grandfather started!”

Fascinating story, Terry! Welcome to the FASF. Thanks so much for your very generous donation.

Meet Board Member

Jim Davis

In a masterpiece of understatement, Jim Davis’ personal business card reads “Retired Jim Davis Portrait 2013Government Clerk.” Actually, Jim (seen at left) worked in almost every area of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), including Tower Controller. When Jim retired, he was chief of the FAA Rapid Response Team. His responsibilities included responding to every major aircraft crisis, including reporting to the FAA Administrator and the President.  Jim is an active pilot, an aviation historian, and maintains homes at his Airpark in Columbus and also in Washington, DC.


The Foundation still has a good supply of First Aero Tee Shirts available. They are high quality, 100% cotton, bright, gold colored Hanes Beefy Tees with the logo in front over the pocket. On the back are the words “GROUND CREW” in large letters. The shirts are available in M, L, XL and XXL. (We can also obtain the shirts in Small for you but it will take a little extra time). We are selling the shirts for $25 plus $2 for shipping. The money that we make on the shirts helps retire the debt on the property we own. You can order the shirts by phone (575-531-7044) or email:


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