May 2010

**Be sure to read Ken Emery’s Short Bio of Benny Foulois beginning page 2**


      Dr. Roger Miller, sponsored by the Air Force, staged a first class performance on Saturday, April 24th in the Exhibition Hall in Pancho Villa State Park.  Miller is a respected historian and author, and Deputy Director of the AF Historical Office. Trustee Ric Lambart, working with the park’s John Read to put the program together, counted close to 120 people in the audience- the largest attendance ever at a PV program.  Among the guests were Steve Watson, Archivist at Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque; Miriam O. Seymour, Tucson, aviation historian and author; and John Deuble, Albuquerque, Southwestern historian and author.

Also attending were Advisory Board Chair Jim Greenwood, Green Valley AZ.; and Advisory Board Members Pete Adolph, Albuquerque; Bob Worthington, Las Cruces; Lyn Benedict; Roswell; and Tom Willmott, Santa Fe.  The speaker and Advisory Board Members with wives and guests were treated to a luncheon by the trustees at the local Three Salsa’s Restaurant following the program.

Dr. Miller’s presentation explored the early deployment of the First Aero Squadron and the creation of Camp Furlong (now Pancho Villa St. Pk.), and its overall contribution to the Punitive Expedition.  Featured were a number of illustrations and maps that have recently come to light.

The end of April, Village Magistrate Javier Lozano took your President on a tour by foot of our property, actually acquired the last day of March.  We were able to identify the southeast corner of the property in the middle of a fence line in chest-high desert brush, although by that time this writer was ready to call in the Medivac.  With luck, this represents the start of getting a landing strip bladed out of the mesquite.

     Steve Watson, it should be noted, has donated about 2 dozen copies of a document important to you serious aviation historians.  It is: Logbook of Signal Corps No. 1, the US Army’s First Airplane, by Benjamin Foulois (later 1st Aero Commander), edited by Meghan Cunningham.  This 52 page book was published in 2004 as a part of the Hundredth Anniversary of Flight by the Air Force History and Museums Program.  The book is well illustrated and has an excellent introduction by the editor. The books, while they last, are available from the Foundation for a donation of $10, including postage and handling…

     Significant changes have come to the Board of Trustees.  Charter Trustee Pete Oesper had been serving as an interim treasurer when James Efferson offered his services to the Foundation.  Efferson, who has a history with non-profits, most recently was Treasurer for the Village of Columbus and had served as Human Services Director for New Mexico’s largest winery.  Oesper approached the board with the suggestion that he resign, and that the President appoint Efferson in his place.  Pete has given freely of his time and experience and while board members were vocal in not wanted to lose him, the reluctantly accepted his resignation, and James Efferson was appointed to fill Oesper’s unexpired term.  Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, the Board next appointed Pete to the empty, non-board position of Parliamentarian.  Oesper, an engineer, heaved an audible sigh of relief as he handed the books over to his successor.

     One of our esteemed historiansKen Emery (Jim Davis in DC being the other) has written a well researched and very readable article about he First Aero Squadron for the April issue Desert Exposure Magazine.  We would heartily recommend that you Google it up when you have a few minutes.  It is great background and well worth the time.  The Desert Exposure website has Ken’s story: First in Fighting Fight  Ken has written numerous other stories about the colorful days of the FAS and its men, so just go to the Desert Exposure websiteand enter “Ken Emery” in their search field near the top of their home page, and you will end up with all of Ken’s stories.

We are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.  The last two Board meetings saw the local Trustees connected by live feed with Webmaster Kris Lethin in Seldovia, Alaska via Skype voice and video.

     Member Dick Chevalier of Windsock Airpark, Columbus, has just been accredited to Photographer’s Row for the Atlantis Shuttle Launch.  Dick is a stringer for the Deming Headlight; he flies an RV-6A.

Benjamin Delahauf Foulois, December 9, 1879 – April 25, 1967

     This brief biography is by Ken Emery of the FAF Historical Committee

General Foulois started his military career as an enlisted man in the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars.  While in the latter, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the 17th Infantry on February 2nd, 1901.  He was promoted to 1st Lieut. on October 16th, 1906, and to Captain, Aviation Section Signal Corps, July 23rd, 1914.  His aviation duties began in 1908 and continued until his retirement, December 31, 1935.

Foulois was ordered to Fort Sam Houston TX with Signal Corps Airplane #1 to teach himself how to fly.  At this point he had received less than an hour of instruction from Wilbur Wright and had not soloed.  He did so on March 2nd, 1910, making four flights in a Type A Wright flyer.  These included his first solo takeoff, first solo landing, and first solo crash!  He was truly a “mail order pilot” for, as problems arose, he requested and received instructions from Wilbur by mail.

Over the next two years, he improvised and made modifications to the Flyer, such as replacing the skids with wheels, adding a seatbelt, and using a radio while airborne.   On March 3rd, 1911, he and Philip O. Parmalee made the first official military reconnaissance flight in conjunction with a ground exercise.

After duty at Fort Leavenworth and Galveston, he went San Diego’s Signal Corps Aviation School where he assumed command of the First Aero Squadron in 1914.  After stops in Ft. Sill OK and Fort Sam Houston, on March 15th, 1916, the squadron became a part of Pershing’s Punitive Expedition, flying out of Columbus NM.

He left 1st Aero in September, 1916, and after stops at Ft. Sam Houston and Washington DC, where he developed the plans to build an air force to support the AEF’s three million man army, he was assigned Air Service Chief on November 17, 1917. Inevitably, he clashed with Billy Mitchell, whom he replaced.  Mitchell, by all accounts, could be an irascible sort, strong willed and highly opinionated.  Having come from a privileged background, he may well have ‘looked down’ on Foulois’ more modest heritage.  He referred to Foulois’ staff and perhaps Foulois himself, as ‘carpetbaggers.’   Since Benjamin Foulois was not exactly a shrinking violet himself, their clashes continued until Mitchell’s court martial in 1925 and resignation in 1926. Their mutual dislike was unfortunate because on many issues regarding the development of and use of the Army’s air arm, they tended to agree.  Their cooperation could have aided the eventual development of the Army Air Corps.

After the war ended, Foulois helped draft the air clauses of the treaty of Versailles.  After an appearance before the Senate Military Affairs Subcommittee where he testified with unflattering bluntness toward the Army General Staff and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, he returned to Europe as a military attaché.  There he accumulated a large amount of aviation intelligence from German sources. He hoped that it would be put to use by the U.S., but complained later that it never was.

He became commander of Mitchell Field, NY in 1925 and in 1927 became Assistant Chief of the Air corps.  He became Chief of the Air Corps on December 19, 1931.   During his command, the development of long range bombers (B-17’s and B-24’s) began.  Also, during this time, the “Air Mail Fiasco” of 1934 occurred.  Previously the mail was carried by commercial airlines, but an ongoing dispute with the Government led President Roosevelt to ask Foulois if the military could do the job. Foulois said, “Yes”, thinking that there would be time to prepare but, a week or so later, the mail was dropped in his lap.  Between February 19, 1934 and May 17, 1934, 1.5 million miles were flown by Air Corps pilots who lacked training, funding, equipment and experience.  There were many fatal crashes, and the image of the Army Air Corps suffered accordingly.

Foulois was caught in the middle of a political battle between commercial aviation, Congress and the military.  His previous adversarial position with now-President Franklin D. Roosevelt probably didn’t help!

Major General Benjamin D. Foulois retired from the Army on December 31, 1935, quietly with no parade, fly-by or farewell from the general staff.

Jim Greenwood has said, “…Benny Foulois was one of the most under-rated individuals ever to command the U.S. Army Air Service (later Air Corps).  “(He) first envisioned the concept of military airpower when he was the Army’s only aviation, long before Billy Mitchell had ever learned to fly.  And it was Foulois and (Col. Edgar) Gorrell who came up with the idea of strategic bombardment, not Mitchell.”

General Foulois was the U.S. Army’s first, and for a time, only pilot and ended his career as Chief of the Air Corps. During that time he observed and helped implement huge changes and was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the U.S. Air Force today.

Vital Statistics

Born:              Washington, CN

Died:               Andrews AFB

Buried:           Washington, CN

Served:           U.S. Army, 1898-1935

Rank:             Major General

Commands:    1st Aero Squadron; Chief of Air Service, AEF; Asst. Chief of

            Air Corps; Chief of Air Corps

Awards:         Distinguished Service Medal

                        French Legion d’nonneur (commander)

                        Order of the Crown of Italy (Grand Officer)

                        Congressional Air Force Medal of Recognition

                        Enshrined in Aviation Hall of Fame

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