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Ceremony Commemorates First Military Flight

By Minnie Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, March 8, 2006 – Fort Sam Houston commemorated the 96th anniversary of the first military flight March 2 at the base's main flagpole, the same site where U.S. Army Lt. Benjamin Delahauf Foulois boarded the "Signal Corps 'Aeroplane' No. 1" and circled the fort.

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Air Force Gen. William Looney III, commander of Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and Lt. Col. Sandra Miarecki, chief of flight operations at Brooks City-Base, Texas, place a memorial wreath during the March 2 ceremony commemorating the 96th anniversary of the first military flight. Photo by Minnie Jones

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Two vintage Stearman aircraft introduced the late morning ceremony with a flyover followed by the ceremony's guest speaker, Air Force Gen. William R. Looney III, commander of nearby Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

"It's great to be here with you today to commemorate this great day, not only in aviation history, but in our nation's history," Looney said as he addressed the crowd, which included senior military officers from across the services.

In his address, Looney retraced the steps that Foulois took on the way to making aviation history, noting that Foulois had only flown as a passenger in the Wright Flyer for 54 minutes with Orville Wright prior to flying the Army's first plane. Through his determination to fly, Foulois made the country what it is today in regards to its superiority in air and space power, Looney said.

"I was asked what I see in the future for air and space power, and where are we going to go now, and my answer: as far as you can imagine," Looney said. "That was what Benjamin Foulois imagined back in 1910 when he strapped himself on that airplane with just an imagination of what was in the realm of possible. Today we honor him, his courage, his boldness, his sense of adventure, his dedication to his country, his willingness to follow orders, no matter the peril he may have placed himself in.

"But what we really honor is that spirit, because not only does it reside within the memory of Benjamin Foulois, it resides within each and every one of us who have embraced this concept of air and space power and what it can do for the nation and where it can take us," Looney continued.

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.

During his speech at the commemoration event, Looney also remembered other pioneers who led the way in aviation history, including Henry "Hap" Arnold, Theodore "Spuds" Ellyson, William Moffett, and Carl "Tooey" Spaatz. "What a magnificent group of human beings who have brought us to this point. I'm only excited about how much further we will travel in the years to come," he said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Sandra Miarecki, chief of flight operations at Brooks City-Base, Texas, asked the audience to stand for a moment of silence as she and Looney placed a wreath at the granite landmark that marked the birth of military aviation.

(Minnie Jones works at the Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Public Affairs Office.)

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Benjamin D. Foulois

Click photo for screen-resolution imageIn 1910 Benjamin D. Foulois was sent to Texas with a Wright Pusher to establish the embryo of what developed into the U. S. Army Air Corps. He had to teach himself to fly with the assistance from the Wright Brothers in a series of letters. In a career that spanned six decades, Foulois designed the first airplane radio receiver, scouted Pancho Villa's rebels from an open-cockpit Curtis JN3 and demonstrated that the airplane was no longer an experiment or novelty, but a practical tool with many military applications. U.S. Air Force photo  
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