1st Aero Squadron
In February 1913, President William H. Taft ordered the U.S. Army 2nd Division, with encampments in Texas City and in Galveston, to mobilize as a defense against increasing tensions with Mexico. On March 5, 1913, a small group of officers and enlisted men were organized into the 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional) and assigned to the 2nd Division, commanded by Signal Corps Captain Charles de Forest Chandler. The squadron had nine airplanes. Initially consisting of five officers and 21 enlisted men, the squadron was formed into two companies. Company A was authorized three pilots, four five airplanes. Early pilots were all Army officers, carrying the rank of 1st or 2nd Lieutenant.
Panoramic View of the Men & Airplanes of the 1st Aero Squadron
The First Airplanes
Airplanes at this time were considered cutting-edge technology, and most of the models had had little scientific testing. Modifications or additions to the planes were often made by the pilots themselves, and repair of the airplanes was expensive, time-consuming and difficult. Crashes were frequent, and the fatality rate among pilots was high. Flying lessons were often a matter of general guidance and individual practice. Lt. Foulois, one of the early pilots, received flying instruction by mail with Orville Wright (Edwards, 1998).
Texas City residents were astonished to see the planes coming in to land on March 5, 1913, and took great interest and pride in the daring deeds of the pilots and their crews. The military pilots, Lieutenants Graham, Call, Ellington, Kirtland, Sherman and Milling, wasted no time in setting new aeronautical records including distance/speed records set on round trips to Houston and San Antonio. The 1st Aero Squadron pilots were also the first military pilots to use airplanes as a tool for scouting/reconnaissance for combat maneuvers and for mapping terrain.
In spite of the public interest in the pilots and experimental airplanes, the stay of the 1st Aero Squadron in Texas City was short-lived. Space needs of the two Infantry Brigades in Texas City were higher priority, and quickly resulted in a significantly downsized landing area for the pilots.
Texas City Location
Texas City had been selected as the location for the fledgling aero squadron in part because of easy water front access for sea planes. But the smaller landing field, added to the unexpected presence of coastal winds, made flying these experimental airplanes difficult and dangerous.
Early military documents suggest that the pilots themselves were unhappy with the hot and humid weather, mosquitoes, general flying conditions, and aero squadron facilities in Texas City. When the summer of 1913 came without combat breaking out in Mexico, most of the 1st Aero Squadron's equipment and personnel were transferred to San Diego. By November 28, 1913, the last remaining aviator left Texas City.