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History Mystery Answer.

The Army officer was Lt Benjamin "Benny" Foulois. In 1910, recognizing that the winter weather at College Park Mary land was not suitable for flying, the Army transferred its infant aviation activities to Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. Foulois was put in charge. Foulois being known as "the last of the first" comes from his being the last of the first group of pilots trained by the Wright Brothers. Unfortunately, Foulois also received the least amount of training as he had been sent to Europe for an aeronautical conference rather complete his flight training with the Wright Brothers. Until he was ordered to Ft Sam Houston, he had never soloed an aircraft. While at Ft Sam Houston, Foulois flew the Wright military plane which was designated "Signal Corps No. 1" (also known as Old Number 1). Today, Signal Corps No. 1 is on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Foulois describing his learning to "fly by mail" comes from his describing his corresponding with the Wright Brothers to ask them questions about how to fly.

In 1916, Francisco "Pancho" Villa led a cross boarder attack on tiny town of Columbus, New Mexico. In response to the attack, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the army to go after Villa. This expedition became known as the Mexican Punitive Expedition. Brigadier General "Blackjack" Pershing led the expedition. The 1st Aero Squadron, commanded by Capt B.D. Foulois, took part in the Punitive Expedition. Equipped with 8 "well-used" Curtiss JN3 aircraft, the unit fared poorly in the inhospitable environment.

Foulois would later be selected to serve as the Chief of the Army Air Corps in 1931. He served as the Chief from 1931 to 1935. During his tenure as Chief, he established the requirements for the aircraft that would lead to the development of the B-17. Foulois' tenure as Chief was mired by the Airmail Fiasco. Tasked in 1934 to deliver Airmail, the Air Corps proved unable to successfully complete the task. Poor training and poorly equipped aircraft resulted in 66 crashes and 12 deaths.

Use the following links to learn more about General Benjamin Foulois:

"Kept Alive by the Postman": The Wright Brothers and 1st Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois at Fort Sam Houston in 1910 https://media.defense.gov/2011/Apr/05/2001329937/-l/-l/0/110405-D-LN615-001.pdf

1907-1911 -- Signal Corps No. 1, the Army's First Airplane. httpy/www.afhistory.af.mil/FAQs/Fact-Sheets/Article/458960/1907-1911-signal-corps-no-1-the-armys-first-airplane/

A Preliminary to War: The 1st Aero Squadron and the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916 https://media.defense.gov/2010/Sep/28/2001329805/-1/-1/0/AFD-100928-064.pdf

Foulois and the U.S. Army Air Corps: 1931-1935 https://media.defense.gov/2010/Sep/24/2001330068/-l/-l/0/AFD-100924-038.pdf

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Publication:Air Power History
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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