"Wings Over The Border"

Phone: 575-531-7044 or Email: info@firstaerosquadron.org

"We Need Your Membership and Support Please Join Us"


First Aero Squadron Foundation, Inc., was created in 2008 by over a dozen individuals who had identified some genuine needs within the local historic community.  Columbus, after all, was the base of operations for the first military aerial unit action to cross into foreign territory.  The site of the original aerodrome had never been pinpointed; there was little actual public knowledge of the 1st Aero activities during service under Pershing; and there was no memorial to them.  The key parts of that FASF Mission Statement are:

            1.  To obtain, protect and hold for posterity the land once used by the First Aero Squadron...

            2.  To restore the land to a condition similar to how it appeared in 1916...

            3.  To bring about... creation of a WWI and Classic Period aviation museum...

            4.  To ensure the operation of the Aerodrome and museum will be self-supporting...

By the close of 2014 it become obvious to most of the founders that the group had strayed far from that mission statement.  Four of those original members, Kris Lethin, Martha Skinner, Gene Valdes and Bill Wehner, decided to run for the board of directors.  They won, garnering some 70 to almost 100 votes apiece.  Four other candidates barely pulled 40 votes apiece.  The president, Ric Lambart, seeing his majority on the board fade away

disqualified the winners declaring the losing candidates successful.  And in spite of the overwhelming number of ballots cast for them.  Since then, the FASF board has met in secret to affirm his new trustees, wresting control of the group from its members, in our opinion.

This website is meant to offer a path to the return to the original mission and to expand it in certain areas.  It is sponsored by the rightful FASF Trustees and supported by a majority of the advisory board.  Welcome to...

              Wings Over the Border

                                    ...with the aviation history and news and views from the Columbus, New Mexico and south Luna County area.  This site, as well as future newsletters (published at least quarterly) will contain historical notes and often missed sidebars by several authors.  Future articles will feature "Whitey" Houlton and the Columbus Air Force, stories on Pershing and his aide, George Patton, the Great Bisbee Deportation, pioneers of flight, and contributions by historians John Deuble, Ken Emery, and others. 


Supporter News

Wings Over the Border, a 501(c)(3) organization,  announced that by the middle of March, 2015, the group had received its first one thousand dollar ($1,000) donation from anonymous West Coast donors.  We thank those generous folks, and encourage tax-exempt donations of any size from all who support our aims.  Supporters have also been invited to make suggestions and contributions on a wide range of issues, including dues amounts and web and newsletter topics. 

Adolph Receives Lifetime Award

CC "Pete" Adolph of Albuquerque was presented the coveted Hollis Award for Lifetime Achievement for his work in Air Force/DoD testing and evaluation.  Adolph, a graduate in aeronautical engineering from Parks College, St. Louis, was presented the award by the National Association of Defense Industries at their annual convention in Springfield, Virginia, on March 4th of this year.

A native of rural Randolph, Ohio, Adolph was an honors graduate of St. Mary High School, Akron (also the alma mater of LeBron James, although Pete says "...in different years.").  He and wife Christine, now retired from NASA, are involved in a number of pursuits including world-wide archeology based travel.  Our congratulations to Pete Adolph and family.

Deuble Featured Speaker; Publishes Book

John Deuble of Albuquerque was a principal speaker at "Raid Day," a cross-border celebration and memorial of Pancho Villa's ill-fated foray into the US in 1916.  The festival, centered at the Village of Columbus' Civic Center, featured an international horseback parade, music and folk dancing, as well as traditional foods.  He  spoke about the First Aero Squadron and their service during the Punitive Expedition and the Columbus base camp as a part of Camp Furlong. 

He also announced that his forthcoming book, dealing with the complete history of the First Aero was now in draft form and in final edit before printing.  This book, incidentally, will be available to members from the advisory board as soon as we receive copies.  We were privileged to get a look at this profusely illustrated and detailed work, many of the photos in print for the first time.  It will be a welcome addition to anyone's aviation library.

Robert Ransom Odom

Be careful to observe the speed limits as you drive through the Village of Columbus because  Robert Odom, recently retired from the Luna County Sherriff's Department, has been appointed to fill the vacant bench on the local magistrates court.  A reception was held for him on March 27th at the Village Hall.  Our congratulations to Robert

Other notes

Tom Willmott is recovering at home in Santa Fe from leg surgery in Albuquerque in early March.  Velvet Fackeldey recently relocated to her new home in Springfield, Missouri after retiring from a second career in the hatchery business in Lebanon, Mo. 

Wings Over the Border spokesperson Martha Skinner also has announced that the group is accepting materials to establish a General Aviation archive for historical and scholarly research.  Anyone interested in preserving their aviation library and/or personal papers and possessions are asked to contact either Gene Valdes (505-660-1112) or Bill Wehner (575-531-7044) for further details.

The Curtiss Jennies

The internet is such a boon for those of us who claim to be writers.  With a click of a mouse I can become an instant expert on literally everything from soup to nuts to zeppelins to aardvarks.  As I was researching an article for another publication dealing with advances in aviation, I couldn't help drawing parallels between planes such as the "modern" Cessna and Piper light aircraft of today and the Curtiss JN series of ca. 1916.  So hooked, I decided to dig a little deeper on the Jenny.  It has been said that Glenn Curtiss' creation trained more air cadets for WWI than any other airplane.  It has also been said that it killed more of them as well - one training class on North Island, San Diego, managed to kill 8 out of 14 students.  6072 JN-4Ds were produced for the US Government with an additional 2000 made for other nations before production ended in 1918.  One remarkable thing is that the Jenny design came only about 10 years after humans took to the air; another is "...how little some things have changed."

It is important to note that almost all of the literature available on the Jenny is not about the Jenny of Bennie Foulois and the First Aero Squadron, but about the aircraft that followed, the JN-4 and its varients.  The 1st Aero's JN-3 was important because it was first to serve in unit combat, and because it was the progenitor of the JN-4.  Only eight (nine by some counts) Jennies served with the 1st Aero, and they barely lasted a couple of months. 

Back in the days when men were men and books were books, say, circa 1972, a pilot named Frank Gifford Tallman III wrote a book he called Flying the Old Planes.  In it he describes what flying the ubiquitous JN-4 Jenny was like.  As you might imagine, the Jenny was so-called because of the Curtiss aircraft designers had designated it as model JN-4 (just as the much, much later F4D was called the "Ford"); the JN series all were to become known as Jennies.  Tallman's book is instructive, and we'll deal with it in a moment, but again, it is important to understand that Tallman's Jenny was not the Jenny of the Signal Corps' 1st Aero Squadron in1916.

Glenn Curtiss stole designer B. Douglas Thomas from the Sopwith Aircraft folks in England; Thomas did most of the actual design work on the JN in a tent on his parents front lawn before he arrived in New York in the early teens.  (Thomas is probably best known for the design of the 1922 Thomas-Morse fighter.)  By ca.1910, the earlier pusher-type biplanes built by the Wrights, Curtiss, Martin and others were proving to be so accident prone that the Signal Corps was looking for better concepts, mostly based on the tractor types being developed in Europe.  If we stopped right there, we could note that aircraft development has not progressed very far beyond that of 100 years ago; almost all aircraft are still tractors, aren't they? 

Curtiss had developed a design he called the "N", and Thomas' design was labeled the "J."  They blended the best features of the two which eventually resulted in the JN-2, incorporating the Curtiss shoulder yoke control system.  When the Signal Corps insisted on using the Deperdussin system of control wheel and rudder bar, eight were purchased to equip the First Aero Squadron.*  If you check in anybody's hangar, you would note that is the basis of the control system still in use today

The First Aero Squadron commander, Capt. Benjamin Foulois, insisted on further major modifications and that model then became the JN-3.  All of the JN-3s were destroyed in the first months of the Punitive Expedition.**  Later in the Expedition, there were a few export versions of the JN-4 in use, but their duration with the squadron was pretty short.  The JN-4C was built in Canada as the Canuck (ailerons on both wings, among other things); and the JN-4D became the "Jenny" that everyone calls to mind when that almost universal trainer and barnstormer is mentioned.  Actually, JNs were produced through the "H" model and the Navy procured several Jenny models including one built as a seaplane called the N-9.  OK, we have done away with one of the wings, and we've added flaps and played with canards, but have you noticed we are still building airplanes with a few with sticks and cloth?

Back to Frank Tallman - he became well known in the day as a close friend and instructor of Amelia Earhart, but largely remembered now as the guy who flew a twin Beech through a billboard in Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as well as through an airplane hangar at 160 MPH, and numerous other movie stunts.  His take on flying the Jenny: "The breathtaking performance of an OX-5 (powered) Jenny was such that it never ceased to amaze me that they flew..." - flew, and they failed.  Early pilots, such as those in the First Aero Squadron, were not just trained to deal with engine failure, they were trained to expect it.  Cadets were taught that when the engine quit (and be assured it would), they were to aim for the cheapest, softest parts of the terrain.  The only thing my own instructor added when I was learning to fly, was, "...aim between the trees, dummy."

While it could be airborne in as little as 250', the sea level rate-of-climb was only about 400 feet per minute (FPM) and it's service ceiling was given as 11,000 feet by Curtiss.  Both figures were lies.  According to Jack Lincke, who actually flew the JN-4D as a cadet in the 1920s, on  a good day the rate of climb might be 200 FPM and the actual ceiling was more like 6000 feet if the gods were smiling.  The OX-5 produced about 90 HP when all the pistons were doing their job and the cam wasn't about to break or the prop about to split.  In an effort to improve performance, more powerful engines were mounted (like the OXX-6 and the later Hisso) but little helped.  The Jenny wanted to stall about 45 MPH and her actual cruise speed was about 65 with the OX-5.  Overhaul in those days had to be done about every 10 hours.  We still have pistons trying to trade places with one another, and I'll admit that overhaul times have improved a little, but we are still trying to improve things with more horses.  And, come to think about it, we are still lying about actual performance.

Despite the narrow safe-flight envelope of only 20 MPH, the JN-4 flew well enough.  Tallman describes having to lead turns with plenty of rudder, and that the ailerons were quite heavy; control input felt "...like taking the slack out of rubber bands..." but the Jenny went where it was pointed.  Landing could be an adventure with the primitive bungee gear, but once down with the spruce wood tail skid dug in, the Jenny tended to stay there.  Today, landing a conventional geared plane can still be an adventure, although perhaps not quite the thrill a stiff-legged Jenny could provide.  Taxiing was done with wing walkers and rudder, there were no brakes.  The biggest problem with the First Aero Squadron's JN-2 (upgraded to JN-3) Jenny turned out to be shoddy workmanship coupled with poor quality control on the  part of its Curtiss manufacture. 

The airframe of the Jenny was considered fairly advanced for its day and flight improved with each upgrade, although it was almost always underpowered with an unreliable engine.  A song popular with cadets about the OX-5 at the time went:    


                        Take the carburetor out of my stomach,

                        Take the pistons out of my head,

                        Send my arms back home to Mo-o-o-o-ther...

                        Tell her I... am finally dead."

As far as I can tell, other than the advent of the jet engine, the only real advance has been the glass cockpit.  And to be completely honest, I don't know whether that really is progress.  (If you haven't already done so, visit the Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, NY.  You will have a great time.)

Bill Wehner  (c) 2015

(Bill can be reached at >wehner@vtc.net<)

*Brittan's Royal Flying Corps also purchased JN-2s, but insisted that they have the control wheel removed and a Joyce (joy) stick substituted.

**Actually, after an inspection of the JN-2s in 1915, the inspecting officer recommended they be all burned...

Note: The following from Friends of the Aerodrome’s historian, John Deuble, who is in charge of keeping me honest

1st Aero Sqdn had 6 JN-2s that were modified to the JN-3 design, and 2 as-built JN-3s - total of 8. Squadron installed the Deperdussin control system in the the 12 Curtiss R-2s that they received; no way could the yoke and harness system work with an 160 hp powered aircraft. Service ceiling for JN-4 was 6500 ft, top speed 75 mph with a flying range of 155 miles. 1st Aero Sqdn had 8 JN-4s when at Camp Furlong.






Goals and Objectives

Establish a memorial to the first Airmen and obtain, protect and hold for posterity the land once used by the First Aero Squadron in the Punitive Expedition. When the land is secured, restore the acquired land to its original condition where it can be used for flight operations. Recreate at least a portion of the First Aero Flight Line. Cause the creation of a WWI and "classic" period aviation museum, and encourage atmosphere where interest in historical aviation can thrive. Ensure that operation of the Aerodrome can be at least partially self-supporting.


"Become a member of our "Friend of the Aerodrome" we need your membership and support"


Picture by PETER R. WESTACOTT, the artist and aviator is highly acclaimed internationally


 "Friends of the Aerodrome" is an IRS approved 501(c)3 nonprofit affiliate corporation and all donations are tax deductable


Web Master: info@firstaerosquadron.org

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