May 2011

The Aerodrome
The Journal of the First Aero Squadron Foundation

May 2011Columbus, New Mexico


Columbus in the Headlines – Edgar Gorrell – Board Retreat – Loss of Two Trustees – Emery to Address Nat’l Group

The FASF Board of Trustees meets the second Monday of the month at the Columbus Library, at 6 PM.  The next meetings will be June 13th and August 8th.  (We usually skip July and have been known to do the same with August.)

The dusty, fly-blown little village of Columbus NM made the national news again in March.  It’s not that we object to national notoriety – goodness knows that anything that draws attention to the drugs, violence and illegals here on the border should be welcomed.  No, it is another thing completely when the mayor, police chief and assorted and sundry relatives are arrested for illicit activities; the kind of publicity we could well do without.

On March 10th, in the early morning following the annual remembrance of those killed in Pancho Villa’s raid of 1916, ATF and other government alphabet soup agencies swooped (literally) down on this tiny crossroads to serve warrants and arrest 12 of our citizens, esteemed and otherwise, amid the detonation of flash-bangs and the roar of helicopters.  Well, it was pretty exciting, I can tell you!  In the weeks following bail was denied to 10 of those being held on firearms trafficking charges; only the two women arrested were released on bond.

Mayor Eddie Espinosa’s reign has not been without controversy.  Since he was elected five years ago, the village has had eight (or is it nine?) police chiefs and close to a half-dozen treasurers.  Several employee lawsuits are pending alleging all sorts of misbehaver.  Depending on whom you ask, anywhere upwards from $125,000 to $420,000 is missing in various funds, including the Cemetery Board and the Volunteer Fire Department.  The Historic Preservation Commission recently asked for access to tourism funds accumulated in village coffers from a local pillow tax, in order to refurbish the 1917 Old Columbus Jail.  The fund was estimated to contain around $13,000.  When the mayor got around to talking to the commission about it, there was only about $300 left…

Unfortunately, the village has a long history of “official” problems.  Long-time residents can only shake their heads and shrug.  “What else is new?” they ask.

Early in our development, the First Aero Squadron Foundation determined not to seek aid  from the Village of Columbus, or any other government body.  We wanted our Foundation to be a boot-strap operation, with our fate determined by the membership, not some set of bureaucrats.   Except to ask that the village trustees enact an airport zoning ordinance for us (turned down, by the way) we have asked nothing of officialdom.  A part of this determination derived from several of our board’s experience as members of the village Historic Preservation Commission.  Fortunately, First Aero Squadron property is entirely outside the village limits so we can continue to have an arms length relationship.

On March 25th and 26th the Board of Trustees met at their own expense in retreat at the Black Range Lodge, a bed and breakfast at historic Kingston NM.  In attendance were Advisory Board members Pete Adolph and Tom Willmott; and Trustees Martha Skinner, James Efferson, Kris Lethin, Ken Emery, and Bill Wehner.  Leading the retreat was Past President Gene Valdes.  The attendees set priorities for the year and outlined ways to accomplish them:

Debt retirement

Sources: Aviation-related foundations; partnerships with other organizations (museums, associations, etc.); corporate sponsorships; donations; sale of goods relating to the FAS; and grants.

Membership expansion

Campaign within existing membership; speaker’s bureau events; maintain family memberships; follow up with non-renewing memberships; develop contacts with area aviation organizations; develop trial membership program; expansion and upgrade of newsletter.  Discussion of the newsletter (The Aerodrome) included: increasing frequency; reformat to 11 ½  by 17single fold on colored stock; use two columns instead of one; include bios and photos of Advisory Board members, etc.;  include an events listing; include membership thermometer; list gifts and bequests; create a memorials section for deceased members.

Advisory Board

Adolph and Willmott will assume the duties of co-chair. It was recommended that the Advisory Board review  issues and make their own recommendations; and the Advisory Board continue to expand as needed.

Sadly we are about to lose two of our most valued trustees.  Treasurer James Efferson proffered his resignation due to continuing health problems, and Secretary Sharan Maxwell is planning to move back to California with her husband in order to be closer to family.  It is a grand understatement when I say we will miss their talents greatly.  James is a thorough professional whose input has been valued by all the board.  I have had the pleasure of working with Sharan for almost 10 years: she has been without peer.

So, both Secretary and Treasurer of this organization are, or will shortly be open.  If you live within an easy drive of Columbus and would like to be involved in some exciting times, let me know.  We’ll leave the light on…

In October, Historian Ken Emery will lead a small delegation to Monterey CA to address a national group interested in WWI aviation.  We’ll have more on that in the next issue of The Aerodrome.

A quick inventory reveals that we still have a couple of signed prints of Jennys Over Columbus by renowned aviation artist Peter Westacott.  Also available is a new border adventure novel by this writer titled Tracking Julie Stensvahl.  (There is a review of the book on Amazon.)  If bought from the author, $2.00 of the purchase price ($11.95 + S&H) will go into the First Aero Treasury.  Further info?  Email this writer at


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.

Edgar Staley Gorrell1891 -1945

by Ken Emery

Edgar Gorrell was born in Baltimore, Maryland, graduated form West Point in 1912 and was assigned to the infantry with whom he served two years in Alaska.  He joined the Air Service in 1915 and attended flight school at North Island, San Diego.  Upon graduation in June, 1915 and receiving his Junior Military Aviation certificate in July, he was posted to the First Aero Squadron.

Edgar arrived in Columbus in March, 1916 with his squadron.  He flew (and endured) in Mexico along with his fellows and contributed as both pilot and observer.  Perhaps his major contribution was his criticism of the quality of the Curtiss JN-2/3 Jennys and the conditions the squadron faced

A newspaper reporter, Webb Miller, wrote a scathing article for his paper which was picked up by papers all over the nation.  With Washington in a dither, an investigation ensued.  Only Gorrell admitted to having spoken to Miller.  Apparently, it didn’t hurt his career for soon he was enrolled at MIT where he obtained a Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering.  The revelation of the sad state of the Air Service helped to persuade Congress to appropriate funds for more and better equipment.

Gorrell left Columbus for MIT in September, 1916.  When he graduated the next spring, he was stationed in D.C. as an intelligence officer in the Aeronautic Division.  Ordered to France in June, he became part of Gen. Pershing’s staff and on August 15, 1917 was appointed the first Chief of the Technical Section, Air Service, AEF.  By December, Edgar was Chief of Strategical Aviation.  While filling these two roles, Gorrell wrote Bombardment Plan for the Air Service, AEF in 1917.

This plan followed closely the plan proposed by the British for the Royal Flying Corps.  It called for the development and use of long range bombers to attack the enemies’ heartland; the manufacturing and distribution center and transportation infrastructure as well as tactical bombing against front line troops.  It detailed priorities and requisites that should be followed for successful campaigns.  He followed this up with a second paper, “The Future Role of American Bombardment Aviation”.  These ideas, though enthusiastically accepted by Pershing, Foulois, Mitchell and others, weren’t implemented due to lack of bombers and time.  The Armistice intervened and Gorrell’s papers were shelved.

On conclusion of WWI, Gen. Patrick, Chief of Air Service, AEF, ordered his personnel to forward reports of their own and their units’ activities during the war to Colonel Gorrell (he had become a colonel on October 28, 1918. at age 27).  Patrick wanted to know what had been learned by the Air Service.  He ordered everyone to do this prior to their going home!  Some reports were well done; others hastily prepared.  The SecondArtillery Aerial Observation School at Souge (France) even resorted to a form letter!  Gorrell compiled and edited all this information during 1919.  “History of the Air Service, AEF” has 282 volumes and is commonly called “Gorrell’s History”.

Edgar Gorrell resigned from the Army in 1920 and joined the Nordyke and Marmon Co.  In 1925, he became associated with the Stutz Motor Car Co.; he later became President of that firm in 1929.  (While at NorthIsland, Gorrell drove a Studebaker.  Roy Brown, a fellow student, had a Stutz Bearcat with bucket seats four huge cylinders, each with four valves, and made a lot of noise!  (One wonders if Edgar might have been a little envious so later “bought” the company.)  Stutz stopped production in 1935 and Gorrell was elected the first president of the Air Transport Association of America in 1936.  He held this post until his death.

During these years, he headed an investment company that he founded in D.C. and served on several government commissions.  One of these, the “Army Air Service Investigating Commission” was formed to look at the future of the Army Air Corps.  Among the members were Benjamin Foulois, Jimmy Doolittle and Hugh Drum.

Gorrell’s time in the military was short but he made some serious contributions.  His History speaks for itself, an epic work.  The earlier papers that he wrote concerning “strategic bombardment”, though not put into effect in WWI, were not forgotten.  Before WWII most of his ideas were included in the Army Air Corps Tactical Manual.  Major General Laurence S. Kater called Gorrell’s strategic bombardment plan the “earliest, clearest and least known statement of the American conception of the employment of an air power.”

Edgar Gorrell died in Washington, D.C. in 1945.  At his request, his ashes were scattered over West Point from a military airplane.

Edgar S. Gorrell1891 -1945
Born: Baltimore, Maryland
Died: Washington, DC
Served: U.S. Army (1912 – 1920)
Rank: Colonel
Chief of the Technical Section of the Air Service, AEF
Chief of Strategical Aviation for the AEF
Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (Great Britain)
Civilian Life
President of Stutz Motor Car Co.
President of Air Transport Association of America

(picture missing)
WAC Depiction,1976

(chart missing)
As shown on this World Aeronautical Chart from 1976, Columbus airport had changed from a public field to a private-use landing strip.  The First Aero squadron field is located about at the top of the R in the “restricted” symbol.  Columbus Stockyards airport is still there, but in largely unusable condition.

Leave a Reply