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JBSA News
NEWS | Feb. 22, 2017

Foulois Facts: Commemorating the first military flight

By Steve Elliott 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

March 2 marks a monumental day in the legacy of aviation. On that day, 107 years ago, a young Army lieutenant named Benjamin Foulois made history when he piloted the Army's first aircraft, Signal Corps Aircraft No. 1, over Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

To commemorate the occasion at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, there will be several events held beginning at 11 a.m. March 2 at the base flagpole on Stanley Road. Retired Air Force Col. James M. Humphries Jr., a test pilot for the Air Force and Fairchild Aircraft Corporation, will be the guest speaker. Music will be provided by the Junior ROTC of Floresville High School’s “Cadet Chorale,” directed by retired Lt. Col. Steve Rakel. Posting of the colors will be b the Floresville ROTC unit’s Color Guard

 

The original Signal Corps Aircraft No. 1 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 factory in 1910.

A distinguishing feature was its front-mounted elevator. But Foulois made so many modifications in

consultation with the Wrights, including a tail-mounted elevator, that by the end of 1910 it resembled

a Model B.

Foulois graduated from the Army Signal School in 1908 and first learned to fly on the 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, 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 he was a "mail-order pilot" who had learned to fly through his correspondence with the Wright brothers.

 

March 2, 1910, Foulois climbed aboard the Army Airplane No. 1 at Fort Sam Houston and at 9:30 a.m. circled the field, attaining the height of 200 feet and circling the field at the speed of 30 mph. The flight only lasted for seven and a half 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 Foulois 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, 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 to 1918.

 

Foulois was in charge of the materiel division at Wright Field, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, from 1929 to 1930, and Dec. 20, 1931, became chief of the Army Air Corps. He retired from active military service as a major general Dec. 31, 1935. He died April 25, 1967.

 

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.