THE FIRST AERO SQUADRON
COLUMBUS NEW MEXICO 1916
DAY ONE - THE CRADLE OF US MILITARY AIRPOWER
The original painting hangs in the office of the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force in the Pentagon.
It depicts Day One of US Military offensive aviation operations
Print size: Overall 33" x 27" Image size: 28" x 23"
Original painting 40" x 30"
Signed by PETER R. WESTACOTT and authenticated with the Westacott studio embossing stamp.
COLUMBUS New Mexico is a quiet small town three miles north of the U.S. - Mexico border. Though not widely known, it is also the site of the first 'operational' air base in U.S. military history. Now a national historic place, the role of Columbus in shaping U.S. airpower cannot be overstated.
Just before dawn on March 9th, 1916, Pancho Villa's guerrillas stormed over the international boundary and sacked Columbus and its military outpost, Camp Furlong. The raiders took 18 American lives. This elicited immediate response. That attack changed the course of U.S. military strategy forever.
Within a week, General John 'Black Jack' Pershing and 6,000 troops were pursuing Villa deep into Mexico. His 'Punitive Expedition' was accompanied by motorised vehicles and eight Curtis JN-3 'Jennys' of the 1st Aero Squadron. It marked the first time a U.S. military tactical unit, had ever been deployed and tested in actual combat.
Captain Benjamin 'Benny' Foulois the pioneer aviator, who rose from infantry private to chief of staff of the Army Air Corps, was then in command of the 1st Aero. Foulois was a visionary. He saw the aeroplane not only as a military weapon of mass destruction, but also as a practical machine for time-saving, business travel and for many other commercial and industrial applications,
The 1st Aero belonged to the U.S. Army Signal Corps' Aviation Section, progenitor of today's United States Air Force. Despite environmental and mechanical problems that beset the squadron, use of the JN-3 and its variants
( the N-8 and R-2 ) during the unsuccessful Mexican campaign, served a catalyst for accelerated development of military and civil aviation generally.
Open cockpit JN-3 biplanes were powered by the legendary 90-hp Curtis OX-5 water cooled V-8 engine. Lessons learned on the Mexican missions led to an improved, more advanced version of the aircraft, the JN-4D, this was also equipped with the venerable OX-5. Meanwhile Europe was already ablaze in a war. America would soon enter.
Thousands of World War 1 pilots trained on the 'Jenny' and its Canadian cousin, the 'CanucK'. Almost 9,000 JN-4Ds and 15.000 OX-5 engines were built during the war and later, many were sold as surplus for as little as $50 each, enabling hundreds of barnstorming ex-military pilots, to bring aviation to the public doorstep. In the 1920s, the OX-5 would propel a whole new range of aircraft.
Artist and aviator PETER R.WESTACOTT's commemorative painting, commissioned by John Zimmerman, President and CEO of Aviation Data Service Inc, (Avdatainc.com) captures the high drama of Columbus in 1916 as JN-3s take flight. Columbus is indeed the 'Cradle of American Airpower'
It is no exaggeration to say that the modern American air transport system, can trace its roots to the famed Curtis 'Jenny' and the ubiquitous OX-5.
Founder and Chairman
Avdata Inc. Wichita KS
THE FIRST AERO SQUADRON FOUNDATION
On March 9, 1916, the United States was invaded by forces under the command of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Villa and his troops attacked both civilians and the military outpost in the small border town of Columbus, New Mexico. Eighteen Americans were killed before the Villa rebels were turned back.
In response, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the American military, the so-called “Punitive Expedition,” to cross into Mexico to locate and destroy Villa and his fighting forces. Accompanying the US ground forces, which grew to almost 10,000 men, was a small detachment of US Army airplanes which were based at a landing field outside of Columbus. This deployment of the First Aero Squadron, flying Curtiss “Jenny” biplanes, was the first use of US Army (now Air Force) airplanes in a U.S. military campaign. Their Columbus-based operation was, in effect, the birth of the United States Air Force.
Who We Are
In 2007, a group of aviation enthusiasts and other interested citizens met to discuss what might be done to protect the site of the original landing field and flight line where the First Aero Squadron was based in 1916/17. While the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was threatened by ever expanding residential and commercial development. It was even listed as one of most endangered historic sites in New Mexico.
In 2008 the group formed the First Aero Squadron Foundation (FASF) with the mission of securing, preserving and restoring the historic Aerodrome. We are a New Mexico non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation: Donations are tax deductible. We have a 9-member governing Board and an Advisory Board of national experts in military, history, civilian aviation and the arts. We have over 160 members nationwide. All our Board members are volunteers.
What We Have Done So Far
In 2009, the FASF purchased 60 acres of the historic site, comprising part of the original 1916 Aerodrome as well as the old Columbus Municipal Airport, itself steeped in history. Thanks to the dedication of the Board and our Friends, we own this land free and clear. In 2012 we graded a 2,600 runway on the site of the original Columbus Municipal Airport east-west runway which had become overgrown with mesquite, cacti and other desert plants. In 2013, we acquired access to and an option to buy the 160 acre parcel to the east of the first 60-acre parcel. With both parcels under FASF control, the entire original landmarked historic site is now protected. We are no longer on anyone’s endangered list!
With the historic site secured, our next step is to build a Commemorative Monument to honor all the intrepid early airmen and their crews who pioneered the beginnings of American air power. We will reconstruct the original 1916 Aerodrome and build a museum to house a representative selection of early World War I and pre-World War II aircraft.
Part of our mission is education. We hold presentations to inform the public—including future pilots and historians—of our early aviation beginnings in which the Columbus Aerodrome figured so prominently. We believe that it is important for everyone to know the important history of our nation’s air force that began in a tiny town in Southern New Mexico.
How You Can Become Involved
First, if you have never been to Columbus, please come visit. Anyone of our locally-based Board Members would be happy to give you a tour of the area and the property. Second, please consider joining FASF. We are a small but enthusiastic group and we would welcome your participation in our efforts to preserve an important piece of this country’s proud heritage. Please browse the rest of our website to see how to contact us and join our efforts.