SAN ANTONIO – More than a century ago, a young Army lieutenant named Benjamin Foulois made history when he piloted the Army's first aircraft over Fort Sam Houston.
Foulois worked with the Wright brothers for years, flying with Orville Wright cross-country but never as a single pilot until he re-located to San Antonio.
The flight over Fort Sam was years in the making, even if it didn’t last very long.
“He came out on March 2 1910, at 9:30 a.m., took off and ascended to about 100 feet, and flew around the parade field at about 50 miles per hour and landed seven and a half minutes later,” said Patrick Howard, historian for 502nd Air Base Wing - Joint Base San Antonio.
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."
Foulois was an innovator. He saw the future of the skies in reconnaissance missions for military aircraft and even conducted one of the first surveillance flights near the Texas-Mexico border.
“He had forecast that airplanes would replace horse cavalry for recon missions,” Howard said. “The use of airplanes for communications, getting on a wireless radio and sending photographs."
Despite some early success in the skies, Foulois still had hurdles along way.
He and eight enlisted mechanics were the only members of the Air Force, which at the time still belonged to the Army.
A crash in 1911 nearly took the wind out of military flying programs.
“George Kelley had his crash, and narrowly missed a number of troops, the commanding general of the base banished all aircraft from Fort Sam Houston,” Howard said.
Foulois was not grounded for long as World War I began to drive the development of aerial technology.
“Although we were the pioneers, every single air force in the world owes its roots to what happened just over there,” said Howard. “That was the first military flight, not just the first in the us.”
Foulois retired in 1935 and passed away in April 1967. He is now known as the “father of U.S. military aviation."
“Every single air force enlisted airman comes through Lackland for basic training so the overall impact was huge, but you wouldn’t have thought it in 1910 or 1911,” Howard said.