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NEWS | March 3, 2010

Military, civilians celebrate 100 years of military flight at Fort Sam Houston

By Tech. Sgt. Matthew McGovern Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

Servicemembers and civilians remembered 100 years of military flight during the Foulois Centennial Military Flight Celebration March 2.

The celebration honored Maj. Gen. Benjamin Foulois, a Signal Corps pilot who flew the "Wright "B" Flyer" aircraft. In his honor, a demonstration of two Wright "B" Flyer replicas were watched by the more than 1,500 in attendance at the MacArthur Parade Field at Fort Sam Houston.

On March 2, 1910, this parade field was where General Foulois made his first take-off, solo flight, and landing and after four flights, his first crash. He survived.

"General Foulois marked Fort Sam Houston and this great city of San Antonio as the birthplace of military aviation 100 years ago," said Army Maj. Gen. Russell J. Czerw, the Fort Sam Houston commander. "Since then, we all know it's been amazing what we have done in military aviation and today we value so very much the air transport and air superiority. It's essential to obtaining our military objectives."

During the celebration, one of the Wright "B" Flyers, called the "Yellow Bird," taxied in front of the spectators as the other similar "Brown Bird" made several passes 1,000 feet over the crowd.

Don Gum, the Wright "B" Flyer "Yellow Bird" pilot, one of only five such pilots, has flown several other aircraft but said flying this aircraft is a different kind of experience.

"With other airplanes you have a reference out front, you have instruments," Mr. Gum said. "In (the Wright "B" Flyer) there is nothing around you, no cockpit; it's beautiful, you can see directly below you."

During the ceremony, sitting next to Mr. Gum in the "Yellow Bird," was Amanda Wright Lane, the great grandniece of Orville and Wilber Wright, the two Americans who invented and built the world's first successful airplane.

"It's nice to be related to a history that is still happening as we're standing here today, and it's so relevant for young people," she said. "There are so many things that touch our lives that aviation has brought to us: the space program, huge advantages in agriculture, medicine, business, travel and military. Some of the great leaps we've taken in the past 100 years have somehow been directly related to aviation research."

One young person in the crowd, Ryan Terry, a four-year-old spectator, said the Wright "B" Flyer was much different than the airliners he is used to.

"I wouldn't want to ride in (the Wright "B" Flyer) because it doesn't have any walls or roof and if I rode in it I would get wet," said Ryan.

Weather definitely factored in for the pilots of the original Wright "B" Flyer, which weighed slightly more than 1200 pounds and was powered by a 35 to 40 horsepower engine and had cruise speed of 40 MPH. The replica "Brown Bird" that flew over the ceremony was updated with a 225 horsepower engine and has a cruise speed of 55 MPH.

Not long after the "Brown Bird" flew over the ceremony, a centennial salute fly-over honoring General Foulois, wrapped up the aerial show. The fly-over included four F/A-18 Hornets; four T-38 Talons; and three Army National Guard helicopters, an HH-60 Blackhawk and two AH-64 Apaches.

"One hundred years ago, when Uncle Will realized he cannot turn away from solving the problem of human flight, he wrote these words, 'I am afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man,'" Ms. Lane said. "It is my hope that Texans and the rest of us here on earth never recover from the disease that was Uncle Will's and Lieutenant Fouliois'. And the symptoms are the desire, the curiosity and the romance that keep us looking to the skies."