Ken William Emerywas an early member of the FASF Board of Trustees and its official local Columbus, Historian.
The FASF has just learned that Ken died this past Wednesday, the 9th of February, at his Columbus, New Mexico home. He was 87.
Before retiring, Ken was a Cultural Resource Research Archaeologist. His avocation was US History.
Accordingly, he almost naturally spent countless hours thoroughly researching the operations of the US Army’s First Aero Squadron (FAS) during its campaign out of Columbus – and of its 11 young pilots’ lives.
By the time he had completed his studies, it was if Ken had become one of their closest friends, insofar as he knew so much detail about each of their lives . . . both in and out of the Army Signal Corps’ Air Service.
After retiring from Archeology, Ken and his wife, Sheila, regularly spent their summers living full-time in the Arizona wilderness near the old mining town of Globe, where they spent each day of the fire season manning a fire watch-tower in the Tonto National Forest for the USDA’s Forest Service. The couple had met while fellow undergraduate students at New Hampshire’s Plymouth State University. They also lived and worked in Syracuse, NY.
Sheila’s mother, Marjorie Thompson, had been an early American aviation pioneer and was a professional flight instructor before and during WWII. Sheilapassed away in 2020.
Ken was always actively volunteering and helping in Columbus Village affairs and served on the Village Historic Preservation Commission. In addition to contributing articles to the First Aero Squadron’s early newsletter, the AERODROME, Kenalso wrote stories for the New Mexico Desert Exposure monthly publication. Ken had completed all his post-graduate work in Archeology and only needed his oral exam to obtain his Ph.D. However, and typical of Ken,his love of the outdoors was so great, that instead of becoming a full-time academic, he chose to work for the US Forest Service.
The following is most of the surviving video (15 min) clip of Ken addressing the October 2014 Annual Convention of the League of WWI Aviation Historians at Monterrey, CA in which he described the exploits of the small handful of early US Army aviators that manned the indomitable Curtiss Jenny biplanes in a combat enterprise that lead directly to the development of the world’s greatest Airpower some 30 years later, during WWII.
Kenis survived by four grown children: Peter Emery of Farmington, NM; Holly Emery of San Jose, CA; Sasha Duffy of Santa FE, NM; and Andrew “Drew” Emery of Roslyn, WA. Kenand Sheilahad 7 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.
*Photo courtesy of long-time FASF member, FASF Photographer,Dave Clemmer.
The below video clip is 15 minutes long. It shows Kenaddressing the Annual Convention of the League of WWI Aviation Historians in Monterrey CA in 2009.
New to that small cadre of aviation historians who have accurately and carefully chronicled the saga of the First Aero Squadron (FAS) is a gentleman – and aviator – from Albuquerque, NM, Daniel G. Sharpes.
We are happy to announce thatMr. Sharpeshas become an active member of the FASF!
Danhas done his research exceptionally well, and his colorfully descriptive style makes it an enjoyable experience to jump back in time to when American Air Power was born, right here in Columbus, NM, exactly 104 years ago this coming March 16, 2021.
Let’s learn a bit about this new article’s author:
Born down the street from the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dan Sharpes applied his interest in aviation to supporting the X-29, C-17, and Airborne Laser programs as well as several R&D efforts. His Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in aero-engineering enabled him to study the aerodynamics of forward-swept wings and v-tails. Dan retired in 2019 from his military and civilian duties and is currently pursuing a history degree as well as offering flight instruction in his personal Cessna 172.
So, without further ado, let’s followDan’s story of the adventurous days of the First Aero’s introduction to actual warfare, on March 16, 1916 . . . you will find a special PDF version of this story at the bottom of the page for easy downloading:
”The Failed Mission of the First Aero Squadron in Mexico”
By Daniel Sharpes
Webster, M.L. “Curtiss Flying Jennies Pursue Pancho Villa Across Northern Mexico,” (ref. 1)
In his January 2013 message to “Airmen and Airpower Advocates,” General Mark Welsh III wrote of how the United States Air Force provides “Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power” (ref. 2). But that has not always been the case. In the years before World War One, a time in aviation history that has long interested me, the initial deployment of U.S. military aviation revealed deficiencies that far outweighed capabilities. Though it was barely eight years after the Wright brothers made their first public flight, not only was it the airplanes of the First Aero Squadron that were put to the test but also the pilots, mechanics, and all the logistics needed to successfully augment Army operations outside the United States.
The squadron’s primary mission was “… to provide aerial reconnaissance for the six assigned cavalry regiments” (p. xi, ref. 3) of General Pershing’s Punitive Expedition. On March 9, 1916, Pancho Villa had attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 19, and President Woodrow Wilson gave orders to capture him dead or alive.
Captain Benjamin D. Foulois (ref. 4)
Three days later, the First Aero Squadron, led by Captain Benjamin D. Foulois (Fuh-LOY), was on its way. Unfortunately, less than five weeks after entering Mexico, the First Aero Squadron limped back to the U.S. Of the eight planes that departed, only two returned and, after landing, Captain Foulois burned both to ashes. To explore why the mission ended this way I will look at seven factors: (1) Army and Congressional support, (2) the mission the squadron was called on to perform, (3) the officers and men of the squadron, (4) the aircraft of the squadron, (5) their operating environment, (6) the maintenance and logistical difficulties, and (7) the challenges of flying in Mexico.
Each aspect will contribute to explaining why the 1st Aero Squadron failed to provide the ordered reconnaissance support.
Support by the Army and Congress
What was the state of Army aviation in 1916 and how did it get that way? Todd Phinney, in “Airpower and Terrorism,” wrote,
“… in 1913, just three years prior to the Mexico campaign, when “[compared] to what other governments invested in their military air effort . . . the United States came in thirteenth in the world rankings.” (ref.5, p. 6)
Such a poor showing was due to a lack of support within the War Department (now the Department of Defense) and Congress. In his memoir, Foulois recalled,
“The War Department was in the process of estimating the budget for fiscal year 1916 when war broke out in Europe. An Army request for a little more than $1 million for the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was submitted to Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison, who promptly reduced the estimate by $600,000 and sent an estimate for $400,000 to the Congress. This was done at the same time that Germany appropriated $45 million; Russia, $22.5 million; France, $12.8 million; Austria, $3 million; and Great Britain $1.08 million. Even Italy had appropriated $800,000 for military aviation in its prewar budget. … The Congress … on March 4, 1915, only $300,000 was slated for military aeronautics.” (ref. 6, p. 118)
Further clipping the wings of the Aviation section were the staffing constraints put in place by Congress two years before Villa’s raid:
The public’s view of the mission (ref. 7, p. 25)
“One of the most troublesome provisions of the Act of July 18, 1914, was that specifying that only unmarried lieutenants of the line under thirty years of age could serve in the aviation section. The result was that the section was being filled with young, inexperienced second lieutenants, leaving no one with age and experience to command an aviation organization. Still, another irrational proviso was one that required an officer on aviation duty to return to troop duty as soon as he was promoted to the grade of captain …” (ref. 6, pp. 118-9)
Supporters of Army aviation clearly understood the situation. This editorial cartoon was published in Aerial Age Weekly on the same day First Aero Squadron aircraft began to arrive in Mexico (ref. 7, page 25).
General Funston, who commanded General Pershing to take the First Aero Squadron into Mexico, is considering the U.S. Aviation Corps. From its neck hangs the sign, “Wings Clipped in Congress” and on its left leg is a ball and chain. Mexico’s volatility is represented by a simmering volcano and armed Mexicans can be seen along the ridge-line between the Rio Grande River and the volcano.
With support like this, the squadron faced an uphill struggle to succeed even before they arrived at Camp Furlong in Columbus, New Mexico.
The First Aero Squadron’s Area of Responsibility (ref. 3, p. xii)
“On 12 March, the Army ordered Foulois and the 1st Aero Squadron to deploy to Columbus in support of Pershing’s expedition” (ref. 8, p. 28). Seven days after Villa’s raid, Foulois and his deputy, Captain Townsend Dodd, made the first aerial reconnaissance by United States military aircraft ever made over foreign territory, the first of few successful missions. Orders came soon after that flight to deploy to Casas Grandes, about 125 miles south of the border.
This was the first of several deployments that would split up elements of the squadron, as shown in the map (ref. 3, p. xii). Each deployment required packing equipment and personal gear, driving on roads many today would consider rough even for off-road vehicles, setting up the squadron, and re-establishing operations. These moves, mandated to support the mission, kept any sort of consistent operational tempo from developing. The result was that efficient practices and procedures never had the chance to be established or mature.
This constant commotion is an important factor in understanding why the squadron failed in its mission.
The Officers and Men of the Squadron
To get reconnaissance information to General Pershing, Captain Foulois relied on 11 officers, 82 enlisted men, one civilian mechanic, and a medical officer with three hospital corpsmen. (ref. 6, p. 126). Not enough can be said in praise of the non-flying members of the squadron and their efforts to keep the airplanes in the sky. His officers, all pilots, were similarly dedicated. However, that could not overcome their aviation inexperience. If we were to judge Pershing and his pilots by today’s standards, at the time they left for Mexico, none would have passed a modern private pilot exam.
Their commander, Foulois, learned to fly using “… mailed instructions from the Wright Brothers in a Wright Model A (Signal Corps No. 1) biplane …” (ref. 3, p. 9).
Of the other eleven pilots, only one had night flying experience, a shortcoming that made itself known on the squadron’s first flight into Mexico.
Captain Foulois recalls:
“On the morning of March 19, I received telegraphic orders to move the squadron to Casas Grandes, a small town about 125 miles south of the border, for immediate service. By five-thirty that afternoon all eight planes were in the air headed for Ascension, about 60 miles to the south, where we planned to stay overnight. … By the time we reached Ascension, the sun had gone down and I could see only four planes in my formation. … By the time the fourth plane landed, it was dark.” (ref. 6, pp. 126-7)
That no other planes arrived at Ascension also speaks to their limited formation flying skills as several planes got separated from the rest. Planning and executing a cross country flight was another hard lesson not entirely learned by recent experience when, in the weeks before the Expedition, the squadron flew from Oklahoma to Texas. They got lost on the way.
Experience is the best teacher, but its lessons are often expensive and harsh. Fortunately, none of the aviators were seriously injured while deployed but the First Aero Squadron eventually lost all its planes.
The Aircraft of the First Aero Squadron
To give some perspective on the maturity of aviation, when the squadron deployed, not even eight years had passed since the Wrights made their first public flight in 1908. The industry in the United States hadn’t grown much since then for reasons outside the scope of this paper. That lack of maturity revealed itself in the planes they flew, Curtiss JN-3’s. One is on display at the Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico (ref. 9).
The JN-3 on display at the Pancho Villa State Park, Columbus, NM (ref. 9)
Numerous problems with the aircraft became obvious very quickly:
“Each plane carried a different type of compass …” (ref. 10)
They “… could not fly over the 12,000-foot-high mountains, nor could they withstand the gusty winds, rain, hail and snow that were prevalent in the area.” (ref. 10)
“Their wheels bogged down in the deep sand, and the hot, dry air quickly dried out the wooden planes. Especially troublesome were the propellers, which delaminated in the dry heat … and only a propeller laboriously carved from dried native wood proved successful. The pilots soon learned to carry a spare propeller, stored in a humidity-controlled box strapped to the side of the fuselage, on every mission.” (ref. 10)
On one flight from the city of Chihuahua, when “Lt Dargue attempted to (take off), the top of the fuselage came off and he was forced to land.” (ref. 11, p. 195)” On another flight, as “… they attempted to take off, the top of the fuselage blew off, damaging the rudder.” (ibid., p. 196)”
The engines were unreliable. It was not uncommon that they failed in flight and over ground that often resulted in landings better called controlled crashes.
The propellers, so essential to flight, soon became a flight risk. The hot, dry air dried out the glue holding the laminated wooden blades together, making them useless for flight. Another kind of failure occurred twice, the first “… almost resulted in tragedy when one blade of his plane’s propeller flew off, immediately throwing his machine out of balance. The excess torque nearly ripped the engine from its mounting with only a few wires below the machine holding it in place.” (ibid., p. 196).
What a First Aero Squadron propeller looks like after failing in flight (ref. 12, p. 781)
It should come as no surprise that, of the eight JN-3’s deployed from Camp Furlong, only two returned about 30 days later. On their return, Captain Foulois stripped them of all useful parts and then burned them to ensure no one would be able to fly them ever again. It’s no wonder he recalls in his memoir,
“Pershing … said that he would have no quarrel even if my officers had expressed public disapproval of the old wrecks we had to fly. “They have already too often risked their lives in old and often useless machines which they have patched up and worked over in an effort to do their share of the duty this expedition has been called on to perform,” he wrote.” (ref. 6, p. 134)”
Without airplanes, the First Aero Squadron could not have existed. But with the planes they had, even the few successes they experienced were not enough to call their mission accomplished.
To say the environment in which they flew was brutal is an understatement. The planes, “…on account of their low power, could not climb fast enough in case of emergency, the Mexican atmosphere being so rare …” (ref. 7, p. 24f). Why was this? The density of the air at the altitudes they had to fly robbed the aviators twice. First, the propellers could not grab as much air as at the lower altitudes common in the U.S. This reduced the ability of propellers to create thrust. Then, the engines lost power as the reduced oxygen in that thin air meant less fuel could be burned. Hence, the engines could not make their rated horsepower.
Winds were another factor. They proved to be a threat to flight safety:
Though this photo was taken in Columbus, NM, the winds were just as dangerous on the ground (ref. 3, p. 151)
“… one of the airplanes crashed on landing because of high winds, injuring its pilot and damaging the airplane beyond repair.” (ref. 8, p. 29f)
More than thin air and high winds worked against the JN-3’s. Foulois recalled these circumstances:
“I looked up just in time to see Lieut. Tom Bowen get caught in a vicious whirlwind just as he touched down and end up in a pile of splinters and cloth. He suffered a broken nose, cuts, and bruises; the plane was a total wreck.” (ref. 6, p. 128)
“The dust in the air was so thick that the snow was actually brown by the time it hit the ground. … Between March 27 and 31 … we all encountered severe rain, hail, and snowstorms. By the end of our first ten days of operations, it was obvious that our six planes were incapable of fully performing the task assigned. Their low-powered engines and limited climbing ability with the necessary military load made it impossible to operate them safely in the vicinity of the mountains.” (ref. 6, p. 129)
The struggle of planes of the First Aero Squadron to fly in the high Mexican air made mission success just as much a struggle.
The Maintenance and Logistical Challenges
A squadron machine shop at Satevo, Mexico (ref. 3, p. 130)
The dedication and ingenuity of the seven men needed to keep each plane flying cannot be praised enough. To protect against damage from the sun, “wetted canvas tarps (were) draped over the engine and its propeller for protection from the sun.” (ref. 3, p. 47). Invention overcame necessity as “… Curtiss did not design the propellers for a hot, dry climate … the squadron developed a method for manufacturing its own propellers on site. American aircraft companies later used those techniques for all future wood propellers.” (ref. 8, p. 31). One of the tricks they used was to develop, in the field, an Airplane Propeller Storage “Humidor” (ref. 3, p. x). Just as the humidors used by the Albuquerque Isotopes keep the baseballs from drying out, the squadron’s humidor preserved the propellers, at least for a little while.
To keep them flying, however, the mechanics needed spare parts but the supply line for those parts proved to be shaky. For one thing,
Loading supplies needed in Mexico (ref. 3, p. 109)
“As the Squadron planned to maintain its own supply lines during the operation, it was assigned 12 trucks and one automobile for transportation purposes. However, all of these vehicles soon fell prey to either the demands of the Quartermaster Corps or the guns of Mexican bandits.” (ref. 13, p. 190).
The aviators were able to work around this liability, ferrying supplies in the empty observer’s seat. Those supplies that didn’t fit in the forward cockpit were, as shown, tied to the outside of the planes! (ref. 14, p. 52)
Foulois described another of the difficulties:
“During the entire Mexican campaign, one of the most frustrating conditions under which we operated was the refusal of the Carranza government to let us use the railroads for transportation or visit the villages for supplies. The available motor-truck and pack-train supply were far from adequate, to put it mildly.” (ref. 6, p. 129)
Ingenuity and creative techniques are key to success but doing more and more with less and less does not result in being able to do anything with nothing. If an army marches on its stomach, airplanes fly with their parts. An unpredictable supply line compounded the squadron’s lack of success.
The Challenges of Flying in Mexico
Before any flight can occur, a pilot needs to know two things: where they are and where they are going. Again, Foulois wrote,
“We went down there to perform a service we knew nothing about, with no maps and with no knowledge of the situation whatsoever.”
Using their maps to plan a mission from San Geronimo, Mexico (ref. 3, p. 49)
The one map that there was of the area was next to useless. It was made by the Mexican Central Railroad in the late 1880s (ref. 8, p. 29). The First Aero Squadron adapted and overcame by putting the camera intended for reconnaissance to another use:
“Owing to the lack of topographical maps for Chihuahua, Mexico, the squadron’s aircraft photographed the terrain with aircraft-mounted Brock Automatic Aerial Cameras. These sequential, glass-plate negatives were enlarged and printed on paper; and then they were pieced tougher to form a mosaic map.” (ref. 3, p. 49)
Planning a Reconnaissance Mission, San Geronimo, Chihuahua, Mexico, April 1916 National Archives. Working in barely primitive conditions, they developed the negatives and printed maps in the field.
The Mexicans themselves presented another challenge. There were three groups, those fighting for Villa, those fighting for Carranza (who had asked President Wilson for help in capturing Villa), and the non-combatants. All of them opposed the American presence in Mexico. On a diplomatic flight to Chihuahua City, Foulois was captured and taken to jail by a mob who wanted to kill him. I leave it to the reader to learn of his adventure from his memoir (ref. 6). More than once mobs threatened to destroy aircraft that had landed away from their bases and on at least four occasions the ‘non-combatants’ used First Aero Squadron vehicles and their operators for target practice. Not only that, but the forces supporting Carranza were also seen as threats. One of the successful reconnaissance flights showed that rumors of his forces moving to attack a smaller US Army column were just that, rumors.
Hostility from those the US was trying to help has its modern parallel. Both then and now, it made success hard to achieve.
Todd Phinney, in his thesis, nicely summed up the situation of the First Aero Squadron:
“Untested aviation procedures, maintenance problems, crashes, a hostile climate, and an indigenous population proved formidable obstacles.” (ref. 5, p. 6).
These obstacles were so significant that on April 20th, Foulois and the squadron were ordered back to Columbus. After barely a month of operations, their mission was ended.
Though the First Aero Squadron did fail to consistently provide reconnaissance information to the Punitive Expedition, their failure led to significant positive outcomes:
“… the War Department and Congress increased the FY 1917 aviation budget from the initial April 1916 request of $1.2 million to $13.9 million, which the president signed into law on 29 August 1916.” (ref. 8, p. 32)
The technological shortfalls revealed in Mexico were documented and presented to aeronautical engineers and scientists at a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1917 (ref. 15). Those lessons learned were taken back to the airplane designers and manufacturers to improve the safety and performance of the next generation of aircraft.
The experience gained by the aviators and maintainers of the First Aero Squadron was applied less than a year later in France as part of the American Expeditionary Force.
There is no shame in failure but there is shame in failing to learn from it. The disappointments experienced by the First Aero Squadron were learned both by the Army and Congress. As a result, the banner of the First Aero Squadron can proudly be included as a part of an Air Force that today provides “Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power.”
What is believed to be the original Standard for the First Aero Squadron (ref. 16)
For those of you who would like to either download or read the original PDF version of Dan’s narrative and be able to use the PDF’s navigating tools, we’ve included the PDF copy right below for your convenience.
Long discussed and requested, it finally came to pass: The FASF presented its history, and how that history resulted in the actual creation of Holloman Air Force Base (HAFB), all our other Air Bases, Army Airfields and U.S. Naval Air Stations across the world, and, in fact, left virtually no place on earth unaffected by both the military and civilian aviation era that was born in Columbus, NM in 1916 and 17.
Yours truly had the privilege of presenting the unique First Aero Columbus history of how American Air Power was born during the Punitive Expedition of 1916, and of how American Civil Aviation was contemporaneously also re-born – – – and in the same place.
Thanks to a special invitation of the base’s Operation Group’s Commander, Colonel Jeff “Tank” Patton (left above), an FASF member, his troops had the opportunity to learn many new things about their own, the nation’s, and the Air Force’s actual history.
49th peronnel file into the HAFB Theater to hear more about their history. Photo by Col. Patton. The woman in the center left front row corner is the HAFB Historian, Martha Whipple.
Among the estimated 400 some odd airmen at the Base Theater on Tuesday of this week, only a small handful actually knew of this part of their history, the very history it is the mission of the FASF to help protect and preserve for future generations.
Colonel Patton is the Commander of the 49th Operations Group at Holloman. His Group maintains and manages Air Combat Command’s most complex and diverse airfield and airspace operations, with three live-fire air-to-ground ranges and more than 58 thousand square miles of military operating airspace.
The Group also supports remotely piloted aircraft (“RPA“), the deadly MQ-9 Reaper,” Air Education and Training Command’s F-16,German Air Force Tornado flight training, Joint test operations, and NASA, while providing combat ready Airmen for worldwide combat commitments. There are several RPA MQ-9 Reaper photos at the end of this post.
Here are some photos of this week’s event:
Colonel Patton (R) Discusses the program as Lambart (L) listens. This photo is courtesy of Lt. Colonel Trevor “Phantom” Merrell, the 49th operation Group’s 9th Attack Squadron Commander.
Lambartpointing to one of the FASF Power Point Slides during his presentation. Photo by Col. Tank Patton.
Lambartduring the lecture. This and the below photo were also taken by Lt. Col. Trevor “Phantom” Merrell.
Col. Patton presents Lambart with the special commemorative “Challenge Coin” of the 49th Operations Group in appreciation to the FASF for its presentation.
Here are some photos of the MQ-9 Reaper RPA’s and F-16 Vipers used by the 49th:
MQ-9 “Reaper” remotely piloted aircraft are lined up in the 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron hanger at HAFB. Taken by J. M. Eddins, Jr.
MQ-9 Reaper Firing an air to ground missile. USAF photo
The sun rises over an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Courtesy of J.M. Eddins, Jr.
A Reaper crew at their work-station ‘cockpit. From thousands of feet above the terrain, the Reaper crews can focus in on targets with incredible sharpness, often with enough magnification to read license plates on vehicles. USAF photo.
Thanks to the untiring efforts of our 1st VP, Jason Adams, the FASF now has its own local NM State Historical Marker firmly planted near our historic 1916 Airfield, which, as Columbus Mayor Bruce D’Salas’official business card proudly states: is “The Cradle of American Air Power.”
Let’s take a photographic look at the sequence of actual physical events that took place before the two-year long process of obtaining state approval for the Historic Marker was successfully completed.
The entire lengthy process took place under the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Department of Culltural Affairs. The Department’s web pages describe the process involved: “The markers happen through a strong partnership among the Historic Preservation Division, the Cultural Properties Review Committee, New Mexico Department of Transportation – and the public.”
All of these agencies and groups must have been queried and counselled in order for such a Historical Marker to be approved, and then finally contructed for the site it represents. As you might imagine, Jasonhad a big task in hand to get this objective reallized, and it took no small amount of patience to weather the long process involved in the achievement. But, today, we now have this marker in place, with its own highway tourist/visitor pull-off parking area so that passing motorists can conveniently pull off state Highway 9, right in the town of Columbus itself, to safely read both sides of the sign’s historical inscription.
Remember: Just click on any photo below to see it in full-size and hi-resolution!
L to R: Miguel Garcia,of Deming, NM, and Baltazar Granados, who actually hails from Columbus, are with the New Mexico Department of Transportation (DOT), and did the original site survey work for the new FASF Historical Marker.
Migueland Baltazarpose by their truck before commencing the survey work. The FASF billboard marking the 1916 airfield is behind them to the left.
Here is Baltazar measuring the dimensions for locating the new Marker Sign. Highway 9, in the forefront, has a steep drop-off shoulder closer to the Airfield, so these men had to find the nearest place where the shoulder was relatively flat, so that passing motorists might easily park their vehicles when they go over to read the Marker Sign. These men began this stie work almost exactly one (1) year ago!
Here we see the men from the P&M Sign Company Team working to erect the new sign, which was made by their firm under contract to the state of New Mexico. P&M makes most of these historical marker signs for New Mexico. They are located in picturesque Mountaiinair, NM. This work was completed by them this past September
Here are the actual text portions of the two-sided Marker, which clearly point out the historical information regarding the location’s importance. This sign is heavy-duty and completely weather proof.
The P&Mteam halfway through to completion. L to R: Larry Archuletaof Las Vegas, NM, Marcos Tavera ,Charles Padilla, and Andrew Lopez, all three from Mountainair, NM
Here is the front side of the sign, with page one of the story facing to the West.
And here, above, is the back side of the Marker, facing East towards El Paso, Texas. You can see by the construction of the Maker that this ediface is both sturdily made – and situated.
L to R: FASF celebrants of the new Sign’s Official Dedication: Columbus Mayor Bruce D’Salas,Airfield Director, Bob Wright; Long-time FASF member and just-retired Manager of the nearby Pancho Villa State Park, John Read; FASF Treasurer, Alma Villezcas; Bill Madden, Airfield Site Chairman; Fritz Wagoner, Airfield Survey & Artifact Team; and Historical Marker Committee Chairman, 1st VP of the FASF, Jason Adams, and his daughter, Chloe. All four of the FASF members on the right side of the sign are from Las Cruces, NM. At the left in photo, TheMayorand Bob Wrightare from Columbus, and John Read and Alma Villezcasare both from Deming, NM.
L to R: Background are Bill Armendariz – Editor in Chief of the Deming Headlight newspaper, Maria Jimenez of Casas Grandes, Mexico, and Alma Villezcas, FASF Treasurer; in foreground are (L to R) July McClure, FASF Aerodrome Editor and John Readretired Mgr. of Pancho Villa State Park.Before his retirement last month, Johnmade all the arrangements for the upcoming RAID DAY events at the local New Mexico State Park.
This past Friday, key members of the 2019 Raid Day Planning Committee met at the famous Palomas, Mexico “PINK STORE” (longtime commercial supporter of the FASF!) to discuss the upcoming annual RAID DAY event in Columbus. The below photos capture most of the participants.
The majority of the group are all long time active members of the FASF.
This year the memorial event, which commemorates the disastrous raid on the town of Columbus, NM, by Mexican Revolutionary General Francisco “Pancho” Villa, a tragedy which took the lives of some 18 innocent Americans, will fall on a Saturday, March 9th.
Some 1500 of the Villistas (as Villa’s troops became known) attacked the sleeping village under cover of darkness that fateful day. In response to this attack, then US President Wilson ordered US Army General “Black Jack” Pershingto organize the “Punitive Expedition” as a means of capturing or destroying Villa in retaliation for the attack. It was this Expeditionary force that gave rise to the first US Military deployment in sustained combat circumstances of two new weapons: The Airplane and the Motorized ground vehicle.
Thus, the incident saw the launching of the World’s Greatest Air Power in the small rural community of Columbus, NM. There will be many events taking place on RAID DAY, from public historical presentations at both Pancho Villa State Park and at the Columbus Library.
FASF President, Ric Lambart, will conduct a slide and video presentation at the Library at 9:30 AM entitled “How Pancho Villa Saved the United States.” Three historian experts on the Raid will make their presentations starting at 1:00 PM at the Pancho Villa State Park Recreation Hall.
The traditional RAID DAY Cabalgata Binacional, where horsemen (and women) from deep in Mexico ride into Columbus to join with hundreds of American riders, coming down from the North, will begin to enter the Village Plaza at approximately 11:00 AM.
The Columbus Historical Society (CHS), under the leadership of local Historian, Richard Dean (whose grandfather was one of the civilians killed by the Villistas), will also hold its own traditional solemn Memorial Service at the Society’s Depot Museum at 10:00 AM.
The joining of the Mexican and American riders is an annual gesture of the peace and goodwill now in effect between the two nations. All throughout the town, there will be vendors supplying Mexican and American food. There will also be entertainment by local musicians, such as the FASF’s own July McClure, along with Mariachi bands, and traditional Mexican folkloric dancers. There will be much to see at this always well-attended event.
In background (L to R),, John Read discussing plans with July McClure and Headlight Editor,Bill Armendariz.
L to R above: John Read speaking with (standing) Raul Martinez, Cabalgata Parade Marshall and CEO of the Pancho Villa Development Corporation. The Pink Store waiter is speaking to Norma Gomez, RAID DAY and CABALGATA EVENT organizer and Columbus Chamber of Commerce Secretary. July McClure is enjoying her lunch and Bill Armendarizgets some event information from Norma.
The above photo of the planners was taken by Bill Armendariz. L to R: Ric Lambart, John Read, Raul Martinez, JulyMcClure, Norma Gomez, Alma’s visiting guest from her home down in Mexico, Sra. Maria Jimenez and Alma Villezcas in the foreground.
Today, only three days to go before retiring as Manager of New Mexico’sPancho Villa State Park (PVSP) in Columbus, one of the FASF’s earliest and most active members and enthusiastic supporters, John Read (at left), was honored at a surprise celebration, held at his beloved Park in Columbus, the very spot which once housed U.S. Army troops under General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing, during the famous Punitive Expedition of 1916 and 1917. High resolution still photographs and video follow story down below . . .
Camp Furlong 1916-17 Recreation Hall
Today’s celebratory event was actually held in the very same “Recreation Hall” (at right) in which U.S. Army infantry, cavalry, and Signal Corps Aviation troops held their various recreational activities over a century ago. The Army Fort and Garrison at Columbus became known as “Camp Furlong.”
Since arriving in Columbus, Mr. Read has maintained a continuous presence in all FASF activities, often helping the Foundation put on various presentations for the general public, and acting as one of its principle historical consultants.
General “Black Jack” Pershing
He supported and even hosted the very first public event put on by the FASF, when the United States Air Force (USAF) flew its then Deputy Historian, Dr. Roger Miller, out to Columbus to put on the group’s very first public History sell-out extravaganza.
It was New Mexico’s interesting employment opportunities and the excitement of the Southwest that initially drew the Readsfrom their home in Tampa, Florida to New Mexico. WhenJohnarrived at Columbus, in 2008, his first task was to become the Park’s new Heritage Educator. Prior to his arrival in Columbus, John first worked as a Park Ranger at the Roswell NM State park.
Although Read’s major during college was in the Sciences, and notwithstanding his years of teaching science in Florida, he nevertheless became a dedicated student of history, in particular the history of those events which surrounded Columbus during those years just prior to our entry into the “War to End All Wars,” better known today as WWI, in Europe.
Aside from his heavy workload at managing the New Mexico PVSP operation, John has still continued his love of Science, foraging into advanced theoretical physics concepts, such as Quantum Mechanics and String Theory, and he has also become in income producing YouTube presenter of New Mexico High Desert Exploration and Aventure Videos.
It was during that Punitive Expedition that the United States first engaged its fledgling, and as yet unproven Army First Aero Squadron, in sustained combat. And, of course, it was this very history-making development in Columbus, over a century ago, that led to the small Mexican border town’s becoming the “Birthplace of American Air Power,” and the “Rebirth Site of American Civil aviation,“ as well.
However, it was not just this history that captured Mr. Read’s interest, but the entire series of related historic events that arose out the Columbus engagement in that historic Punitive Expedition.
Let’s take a quick glance of some of John’smore notable contributions, which so greatly enhanced the PVSP’s status as a historical site and local landmark for visitors and history buffs:
He created 1st website for the Pancho Villa State Park Friends (Volunteer Docent) group
Expanded and helped re-organize for more effectiveness, the PVSP Friend’s Group
Obtained large donation of new historic Expedition Artifacts for display in the exhibit Hall
Got donations of numerous original 13th Cavalry Army Uniforms from the Expedition
Acquired large collection of impressively mounted new Photo Plaques re the Raid
Promoted + sold many FASF souvenirs to park visitors, to help PVSP Friends’ funding
Created and marketed numerous other Expedition and “Raid” gifts for tourists
Got for display a valuable US 48 star Flag used by the expedition in Mexico in 1917-17
Acquired from Pancho’s grandson (Mex. Atty) for display, aluminum death mask of Villa
Put on display an actual artillery shell found in Mexico from the Expedition’s action there
Got donation of Bill Rakocycollection (SW Historian/Artist & Writer) exhibit for display
Sold numerous new donors to make exhibit donations to the Park for its prized collection
Coordinated historical education “Staff Rides” (Field Trips) for USA Sgt. Majors Academy
Regularly coordinated USA Sergeant Majors Academy “Staff Rides” (Field Trips) thru PVSP
Did research: why PVSP was named after the Mexican Revolutionary who raided the US*
Greatly expanded the Park’s fostering and promoting of large Antique Car Show each year
Managed and orchestrated huge “Raid Centenniall” extravaganza in 2016, which featured:
A large group of 13th Cavalry Reenactors from all across the United States
Had Congressman/FASF member, Steve Pearce present US Capitol Flag to the FASF
Arranged Special FASF Presentation to the overflow crowd of Centennial visitors
Otherwise coordinated hundreds of enactors and others for successful Centennia
Here, for your enjoyment, are some of today’s photos . . . click to see full high-resolution view
Some of guests line up to get their event lunch
Guests begin to assemble in the Camp Furlong Recreation Hall to hear John’sretirement ceremony
L to R in foreground: Park volunteers, Dave and Marlene Ferguson, Josephine Gosiak, Shirley and Steve Schou, and with their backs to cameral, PVSP Friends’ VIPs, Jeane and Bud Canfield
L to R facing camera and standing: FASF Aerodrome Editor, July McClure, John Read, and seated, Maria Rangel, FASF member, Ted Williams(turned toward John and a park volunteer) and Bud Canfield, long time FASF Advisor.
L to R: July McClure, John Read, Maria Rangel, Ted Williams, Bud and Jeane Canfield.
L to R above: Guest of honor,John Read and his wife, Elly Read.
New Mexico State Park employees and staff, along with guests, listen to event MC and Park Regional Manager, Evaristo Giron, as he descried John Read’snumerous achievements during his tenure as the PVSP manager.
John and Elly Readlisten to Mr. Evaristo’s praise of John’s many accomplishments as Park Manager.
L to R: Evaristo Girontells crowd of some more of John’s achievements as Johnwaves one of his thank you cards with its many grateful anc congratulatory signatures.
FASF ALL!– – – and also PVSP Friends’ Group Officers: July McClure (Treasurer), Elly and John Read, Maria Rangel(Secretary), Todd Montes (President – & US Postmaster for Columbus), Bud and Jeane Canfield, early PVSP Friends’ Group officers and organizers.
Guest of honor, John Read, with his principal long-time support staff Park Rangers:, L to R:Junior Martinez and Martin Nunez.
John Read with long-time friend and one of FASF organizers and its Webmaster, Ric Lambart
A happy new retiree and his bride about to savor their hard earned new life without so much daily responsibilities.
John Read’s New Mexico State Park’s Recognition for Outstanding Service Commemorative Plaque.
CLICK HERE to see John Read’streatise on the strange story behind park’s Pancho Villaname.
Ever wonder why, unlike all other U. S. Navy Officers, Naval aviators always wear brown, rather than the normal black shoes? Well, FASF Aviation News Scout, and former U.S. Marine Corps Pilot, Jerry Dixon, (at Left) once again discovered another intriguing piece of U. S. Navy historical trivia.
The piece Jerrydiscovered was found on a U.S. Navy Aviation Blog site, appropriately enough called “The Brown Shoes Project!” This story, which is indirectly, also a peek into U.S. Naval aviation itself, was written by retired USN Pilot, LCDR William Estesin his letter to Pat Francis:
“Naval aviation officially began 08 May 1911 with the first order of a “Flying Machine” from the Wright Brothers. (See the photo immediately below, of the U.S. Navy’s version of the Wright Flyer – Model B) This purchase also included aeronautical training of naval personnel who would become the first naval flight instructors who would be the founders in spearheading Naval aviation as we know it today.
Please keep in mind that our First Aero Squadron was also based here at Rockwell Field shortly before it moved back East to Texas, and then on to Columbus, NM, for its role in the Punitive Expedition. The initial cadre of First Aero Squadron Pilots had been stationed at Rockwell field, as well.
Early photo of the U.S. Navy’s Model B of the Wright Flyer.
To train these future naval aviators in the new Wright Brother’s flying machine, Rockwell Army Airfield was commissioned to be the first U.S. Military Flying School.
Above is a 1914 aerial photograph of San Diego’s Rockwell Army Airfield, the nation’s first full-time Flight School. Although it is now called simply, North Island Naval Air Station, by its current sole occupant, the U.S. Navy. You should notice that there are no runways in evidence. This is because runways, as such, had not yet even been invented!
The new airfield was located on the northernmost island (see photo above) of the island chain in San Diego, California. It was decided that it would be jointly shared with the Navy as the most suitable airfield site in the local area, an area chosen because the flying weather was some of the most consistently good flying weather to be found anywhere in the U.S.
In October 1935, the entire Rockwell Field facility was transferred to the Navy by presidential executive order of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The last Army units departed in 1939. Later, the Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to dredge the channel immediately to its East, and to also fill in the island’s low areas, leveling the island chain’s surface. accordingly, the name “North Island” emerged as Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. See a current photo just below to see how it now appears.
2017: U.S. Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. This photo is taken looking to the South. The Bay, which was dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers, is to the left above. The current U.S. Navy Submarine Station San Diego, is immediately out of this picture’s bottom, across the channel’s inlet to the Pacific Ocean, the the right above.
Memorial Commemorative Plaque at Rockwell/North Island NAS, San Diego, CA
First Aero Squadronpersonnel with their Burgess Model H No. 26 at North Island in 1915
Now, quoting Commander Estes: “Six commission officers were selected from the surface fleet as the first student Naval aviation aviator trainees to be taught by these naval flight instructors.
These pioneer naval aviator trainees coming from the surface fleet wore uniform low quarter, square-toed, black rough out leather shoes which served best on the coal-burning ships, which commonly produced great quantities of black soot from the ship’s stacks.
Arriving for duty at the North Island Air Field for training flights, the six students experienced a foreign environment of brown dust on the soft surface air field. They found themselves being constantly required to remove the dust from their black shoes, which was irritating enough to cause them to look for a better alternative to this shoe cleaning nuisance.
In the midst of their training, while often times funding their own petrol expenses, the six discussed alternatives to their problem, deciding that brown shoes might serve best to solve their problem with seniors who were putting what they felt was too much into uniform appearances. With that, all six decided that brown high top shoes with brown leggings was their solution. On a Saturday morning, the six located a cobbler shop on 32nd Street in San Diego, California whom they commissioned to produce same at a time and price they could live with.
Upon taking custody of their prize a short time later, the test of practical use of their new Brown Shoes and acceptance from their senior cadre members became a function of time.
Within a few days, the practicality of the Shoes of Brown proved to be an acceptable solution to the student aviators. The six then met to discuss how to bring about change of the uniform regulation to include the Brown Shoes and high top leggings as distinctive part of the aviators permanent uniform.
With some discussion on how to approach their proposal, they concluded that a petition to bring about change for a distinctive aviators uniform would best serve their plight.
A few days later, they met to compose a petition which would later be approved and endorsed by their seniors and forwarded to the Navy Bureau for consideration.
On 13 November 1913, the Navy Bureau signed approval to the uniform regulations to include The Shoes of Brown with Brown high top leggings as part of the permanent uniform for Naval Aerial Aviators.
U.S. Navy officers with Black Shoes.
This change carried itself through World War II to 1944 while logistically, the brown shoes were not in production due to priority war efforts. However, in stock supply would be issued and the wearing of same was still authorized. At the end of the war in 1945, production of brown shoes was again continued and issued until July 1976.
Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., USN, was a two term CNO from 01 Jul 1970 to 01 Jul 1974. An Admiral from the surface navy (Black Shoe) had a desire for significant change within the Navy and its policies. With that, one of his initiatives was to end an era of Naval Aviation with the removal of the Brown Shoes from the Navy.
With the stage set, at midnight on July 1, 1976, the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations), by instruction to Naval Uniform Department of NMPC (Naval Military Personnel Command), ended an era in tradition of naval aviation distinction and pride. “A Naval Aviation tradition came to an end when Brown Shoes were stricken from the Officer’s and Chief’s uniforms. The tradition distinguished the Brown Shoe Navy of the Aviators from the Black Shoes of the Surface Officers.”
U. S. Naval Aviator, a Commander, in Khaki Uniform – but with an aviator’s traditikonal Brown Shoes
In September 1979, I was assigned to TRARON Ten as a T-2B/C “Buckeye” flight instructor (The Dirty 100) at NAS (Naval Air Station) Pensacola, Florida. With my keen interest in history, I began initiatives to resurrect The Shoes of Brown as part of the permanent uniform for Naval Aviation in the same spirit as those in lead who first set the initiative.
With several cross-country flights to the Naval Archives at NMPC in Washington DC, I researched for the original aviators petition in an effort to author, in kind, the same which would be reborn at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, the Cradle of Naval Aviation.
Receptive and in support of the Brown Shoes initiatives, Captain Jude J. Lahr, USN, Commodore, Training Air Wing 6, gave the “Thumbs Up with a Sierra Hotel” for same.
With that, I drafted a petition which was headed by and reads: “RESURRECTION OF THE BROWN SHOES – WHEREAS, In the course of history of Naval Aviation, the “SHOES OF BROWN”, first adopted in November 1913, have held a position of revered, cherished esteem in the hearts of all those associated with Naval Air, second only to the “WINGS OF GOLD”, and – WHEREAS, in the course of human events it becomes necessary to recognize an overwhelming desire to return the esprit of heritage amongst the cadre of AIRDALES (The affectionate name Navy personnel use to describe their Pilots and aviation support crews), now – THEREFORE, let the feelings be known that we the undersigned, all duly designated NAVAL AVIATORS, NAVAL FLIGHT OFFICERS, FLIGHT SURGEONS and FLIGHT PHYSIOLOGIST, do hereby affix our signatures and designators to this petition calling for the immediate change to the Naval Uniform Regulations which would allow the “SHOES OF BROWN” to once again take their rightful position below the “WINGS OF GOLD.“
The first and most fitting to sign was Captain Jude J. Lahr, USN followed by senior CNET cadre members to include Captain Robert L. Rasmussen, USN, parent Commanding Officers (NASP, NASC, NAMI, NAMRL) and other command seniors, mid-grades and juniors alike and was unanimously received and signed as presented.
Numerous requests from commands throughout the United States, foreign ashore activities and carriers on the line requested the petition be sent them for signing via telephone, message and post mail.
Upon completion of my shore tour, I was then assigned to USS MIDWAY (CV-41). I continued initiatives with the Brown Shoes petition after receiving a “SH” approval from Commanding Officer, Captain Charles R. McGrail, Jr., USN. After an overwhelming receptive Carrier Air Wing 5 and ships company cadre, Captain McGrail later signed out the petition in Red with “forwarded Most Strongly Recommending Approval” to the CNO/NMPC on commands letterhead stationery with a personal note.
LCDR William Estes, USN Retired Aviator and Resident of Salzburg, Austria, “Flew West” on October 12, 2013. A memorial was held in his honor at Pensacola NAS, FL.
Following my 2.5 year Midway tour, I returned to Training Air Wing 6 as a T-2C Buckeye flight instructor with TRARON Ten. On the morning of 12 Sep 85, while airborne on a APM/Spin Hop with a student, I received a UHF radio call from the squadron duty officer (SDO) to “BUSTER” return to base with no explanation. On return to squadron spaces to meet with the SDO, the Skipper escorted me to his office where he moments later received a telephone call from SECNAV, The Honorable John F. Lehman, Jr. (a Tailhooker himself) who congratulated me as being the spearhead in Resurrecting the Brown Shoes back to the “AIRDALES” (affectionate name given by the Navy to its aviation crew members) of U. S. Naval Aviation. SECNAV (Secretary of the Navy) Lehmaninformed me that he was going to announce that month, the return of the Brown Shoes at the 1985 TAILHOOK Convention and that he wanted to personally authorize me to be The First to wear the “Coveted Shoes of Brown” before his announcement.”
Long time Editor of the First Aero’s AerodromeNewsletter, July McClure, (at left) made two home runs yesterday at the Columbus Fire Department’s Annual Open House event. The two awards caught July by complete surprise, which made the recognition that much more special. Fire Chief, Andres Ramos (at right), presented July with a special award in appreciation of her continuous thirty-three (33!) years of volunteer service with the Fire Department and community of Columbus, New Mexico. July is a Captain in the Columbus Fire Department.
The Fire Department facilities are just West of the historic 1916 First Aero SquadronAirfield.
Next it was the FASF’s turn, as this writer had the honor and privilege of presenting July with a special FASF Recognition (for volunteer service) Certificate of Appreciation for her years of work as both the Editor-in-Chief of the Aerodrome Newsletter, and for her role as official Recorder of Board of Trustee Meetings, not to mention her hours of work at various public events helping the FASF staff its exhibition booths. July is a woman of diverse talents, one with which Columbus has been blessed for well over thirty-five years.
Born in Washington, DC, of parents who were both professional musicians, and whose Dad, Jimmy, was also a US Naval Aviator, she was then was raised in Colorado, where she went on to obtain her Bachelor’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology. But the call of entertainment was too strong, and she quickly joined a cross-country touring orchestra as both an instrumentalist and vocalist, which included a gig in a West Coast radio comedy show.
When she later married, and moved to Columbus, her profession changed to that of a Journalist, where she ended up working as a full time staff reporter for both the Deming HeadlightNewspaper and the Desert Winds Magazine.
However, Ms. McClure never lost either her interest in acting – or music – continuing her second career as an actor, appearing at least once almost every year in various theatrical productions. July also owns the esteemed Tumbleweed Theaterin downtown Columbus, and regularly performs as a musician across SW New Mexico, most often as a member of the Spring Canyonband, which features Dev Olliver of Columbus and Paul Smith of Deming..
She often joins up with other local entertainers such as Bud and Jeane Canfield (Bud is one of the First Aero Advisors) and Deborah (“Dev”) Olliver, who’s photos of July from yesterday appear below. Dev, herself, is in another of yesterday’s photos, seen chatting with Columbus’ new Mayor,Bruce D’Salas. July has also served a number of times as an elected member of the Columbus City Council and consistently remains active in area politics. The following photos depict yesterday’s Open House Events at the Columbus Fire Station facilities.
HTo see any photos in full HD resolution, simply click on them H
July,as left, opens her FASF Achievement Award as Ric Lambartlooks on.
FASF Award for Oustanding Echievement given July McClure at Columbus Public Event on May 5, 2018
Ricreads the Award’s Inscription to the audience as July looks on.
L to R above: Captain July McClure, trying to read the Fire Department’s Award Inscription as Former Fire Chief, Pablo Montoya, looks on and Presenter, Fire Chief Andres Ramos, reads the Award’s text to the crowd.
Captain McClureproudly shows the Award to the audience.
The Emergency Air Ambulance Helicopter landed on the City Baseball Field across from the Fire Station so the public could tour it up close.
View of one of entrances to the Fire Station – Below the Blue Canopy seen through the doorway, is where some of the volunteer Fire Fighters worked over the grill to prepare the event’s barbeque main course.
View of some of the many pies and cakes prepared by the public, which were auctioned off to the highest bidders as a way to raise money for the Fire Fighters.
The Emergency Native Air Ambulance flight Crew enjoys the event’s food: At left is Teresa Nystrom, Flight Paramedic; center is Billi McNary, Flight Nurse, and the Helicopter’s Pilot, Manny Garcia, is at right. Their Air Ambulance Helicopter is stationed at the Deming Airport. Their presence at the Volunteer festivities was courtesy of NATIVE AIR AMBULANCE, an AIR METHODS COMPANY.
Part of the crowd of visitors.
More of the guests enjoy their meals.
Additional visitors arrive and search for dining table space.
L to R: New Columbus Mayor, Bruce D’Salaschats with FASF Photographer, Dev Olliver.
L to R above: Chief Ramos watches as Battalian Chief, Walter Simpson (who also received a Service Award), cuts into the Fire Department Cake, and Captain McClure and Assistant Fire Chief, Pablo Montoya, also look on.
Remember to turn up your volume to hear the above video!
The United States Air Force flew Dr. Roger G. Miller to Columbus, New Mexico, to deliver this 58 minute presentation in commemoration of the Birth of American Air Power. Dr. Miller’s fascinating slide show included many before unseen 95-year-old archival photographs taken in Columbus during the launching of America’s first sustained military aviation operation.
This Army aircraft engagement was part of the legendary “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico sent out of Columbus in retaliation for the nighttime March 9th, 1916 raid on the town by Mexico’s revolutionary General Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his troops. Before Villa’s three hour attack was over, he had lost almost a quarter of his some 400 men to the fierce American gunfire that ensued from the local Army garrison’s soldiers, but many buildings had been burned to the ground by the invaders and 18 U.S. soldiers and civilians had been slaughtered.
Not only was the retaliatory Army campaign considered the launching of what is now the world’s greatest Air Power, but many give the military engagement credit for instigating what also became the leading civil aviation power in the world. While the early Columbus aircraft deployment is best known for its military contribution, the subsequent entry of the United States into Europe’s World War I had a great deal to do with the postwar explosion of civil aviation in the states as well.
Why? Because the veritable Curtiss “Jenny” biplanes used out of the Columbus airfield were mass-produced by the United States and Canada for several years during WWI in order to train thousands of young American and Canadian men to be military pilots. The Great War was soon concluded in 1918, and because the thousands of Jennys were no longer needed, they were quickly sold by the government as surplus at the end of that deadly conflict.
Many young Army and Navy pilots, who were fortunate enough to come home intact from the bloody fields and skies above Europe, had fallen in love with the exciting experience of flying and they enthusiastically purchased the surplus biplanes for as little as $200. It was these sturdy “Jenny” aircraft that quickly became the backbone of U. S. civil aviation, as they were soon profitably carrying “Airmail” for the Federal Government. They were also flown all across the states from the Atlantic to the Pacific by the ex-military pilots in what has become known as the American “Barnstorming” era.
It was these same Barnstorming young pilots who gave thousands of Americans their first taste of flying aloft in their noisy open-cockpit machines, which in turn helped incite America’s love affair with powered flight. It was only a matter of a few more years before some of these young aviators were able to convince the government to subsidize their use of newer and larger aircraft to carry passengers between cities. Because there weren’t yet enough passengers willing to forgo their trips by the much safer railroads, the new “Airline” entrepreneurs cleverly also bid to carry the U.S. mail on their passenger planes. It was this federal subsidy to carry the airmail that enabled the fledgling airlines to turn a profit. Thus began what also soon became the world’s leading civil aviation “power.”
Dr. Miller’s presentation is a colorful and exciting introduction into that great historical military experiment which is considered to be the Birth of American Air Power. Although the Wright Brother’s are universally given credit for the first successful powered flight in 1903, the United States quickly fell behind the Europeans in aircraft innovation and development. In fact, while the veritable “Jenny” airplane made a fine flight training aircraft (over 8,000 of them were mass-produced), it proved no match for any of the military airplanes used in the Great War, resulting in the Curtiss Jenny biplane being restricted to non-combat pilot training in the United States and Canada. When our pilots arrived to battle the Germans in that bloody conflagration, they were compelled to fly either the significantly superior French or British flying machines.
Soon after the end of hostilities on the Continent, however, things quickly changed, with the lessons of the “war to end all wars” taken to heart, American aircraft manufacturers sprung up around the country in a fierce competition to produce better, safer – and faster – airplanes. The U. S. soon leapt ahead of the European nations in its capacity to produce genuinely safe modern airplanes – – – for both civilian and military purposes. And, with virtually no lapses, the United States has successfully maintained that position of world leadership in both aviation and its evolution into space flight.
This video would not have been possible without the great assistance and hours of effort put in by the following local Columbus FASF members: John Read, now Pancho Villa State Park Chief Ranger; Allen Rosenberg (a founding member of the FASF!) and Larry Miller, who worked together doing the videography; former FASF Trustee and Secretary of the Board, Bud Canfield and his wife, Jeane, who handled all the catering for the entire event, and Wayne and Debbi Evans, who handled all the vehicle parking duties. This presentation by Dr. Miller was the first public program staged by the FASF and it was a true sell out. The attendees soon filled the small auditorium and spilled out into the main Exhibit Hall. Last, but not least, of course, was the fascinating presention by our guest, Dr. Roger Miller, USAF Deputy Historian and the USAF, which made his visit possible.
THANKS AGAIN TO:
Roger, John, Allen, Larry, Bud and Jeane, and Wayne and Debbi!