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JBSA commemorates anniversary of first military flight

By Steve Elliott | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | March 2, 2018

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

On a morning one guest speaker said would have made for great flying weather, Joint Base San Antonio celebrated the 108th anniversary of the first military flight made by Army Lt. Benjamin Foulois at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston on March 2, 1910.

The man who helped usher in the dawn of military flight called himself a “mail-order pilot” who had learned to fly through his correspondence with Orville and Wilbur Wright.

The original Signal Corps Aircraft No. 1 flown by Foulois was a Canard biplane with a four-cylinder Wright 30.6-horsepower engine driving two wooden propellers via a sprocket-and-chain transmission system. “Old Number One,” America’s first military airplane, was an earlier machine than the Model B the Wright Brothers began building in their Dayton, Ohio, factory in 1910.

“As we pay tribute to Lt. Benjamin Foulois, we remember that regardless of what happened, he overcame his fears and kept getting back in the cockpit, even after numerous crashes and bumpy landings,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commanding general of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, who gave the closing remarks. “I’m sure he had some idea of what the strategic value what military flight would be. We owe the beginning of military flight to Lt. Foulois here at Fort Sam Houston.

“Lt. Foulois was a visionary and absolutely the right man for the job,” said retired Rear Adm. David “Deke” Philman, the event’s guest speaker. “A day like today would have been a perfect morning for him to have taken that first flight. In his memoirs, Foulois mentioned that he had ‘misgivings’ on that flight – probably coming from the fact that he didn’t know how to land!”

Foulois made four flights that day, crashing on the last flight due to a broken fuel pipe. The premier flight became known as the “birth of military flight,” and Foulois became known as the “father of military aviation.”

“I made my first solo, my first landing and my first crackup – all in the same day,” Foulois noted of his historic day.

An extensive biography of Foulois is available online at http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/Biographies/Display/tabid/225/Article/107091/major-general-benjamin-delahauf-foulois.aspx.