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NEWS | Feb. 17, 2017

JBSA commemorates first military flight

By 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs


Thursday, March 2 marks the 107th anniversary of the first military aerial flight taken by Army Lt. Benjamin Foulois when he boarded the “Signal Corps ‘Aeroplane’ No. 1” and circled Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston’s MacArthur Parade Field.

To commemorate the occasion, there will be several events held at 11 a.m. March 2. Retired Air Force Col. James F. Humphries Jr., a former test pilot for Air Force and Fairchild Aircraft Corporation will be the guest speaker. Music will be provided by the Junior Air Force ROTC of Floresville High School’s ‘Cadet Chorale’ directed by retired Lt. Col. Steve Rakel. Posting of the colors will be by the Floresville ROTC unit’s Color Guard.

Foulois graduated from the Army Signal School in 1908 and first learned to fly on Army Dirigible No. 1, a lighter-than-air engine-propelled airship. He later participated in the trials of the Wright Flyer with the Wright brothers. During the trials, Foulois was on board in the observer’s seat of the Wright Flyer with Orville Wright and clocked the airplane’s landmark 10-mile flight time that qualified that airplane for acceptance into the Army.

In February 1910, then-Lieutenant Foulois was transferred to Fort Sam Houston with a team of enlisted men known as his “flying Soldiers” and the Army’s only airplane, “Army Airplane No. 1.” Here, he learned to fly it himself, aided by instructions in letters from the Wright brothers. Foulois said that he was a “mail-order pilot” who had learned to fly through his correspondence with the Wright brothers.

Then, on March 2, 1910, at Fort Sam Houston, Foulois climbed aboard Army Airplane No. 1, and at 9:30 a.m., circled the field at a speed of 30 mph, attaining an altitude of 200 feet. The flight only lasted for 7 1/2 minutes. 

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 he became known as the “father of U.S. military aviation.” 

“I made my first solo, my first landing, and my first crackup – all the same day,” Foulois said.

Foulois was relieved from flying duties in July 1911, and returned to aviation duty with the Signal Corps Aviation School at North Island, San Diego, Calif., in December 1913. He later commanded the lst Aero Squadron in Mexico during the campaign to arrest Pancho Villa in 1916. 

He served as chief of air service, Air Expeditionary Force, in France from 1917 to1918. Foulois was in charge of the materiel division at Wright Field in Ohio from 1929 to 1930, and on Dec. 20, 1931, became chief of the Army Air Corps. Foulois retired from active military service Dec. 31, 1935. He died April 25, 1967.