Flying High in San Antonio

Trip Start Oct 15, 2006
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Trip End Jan 01, 2007


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Flag of United States  , Texas
Sunday, October 7, 2007

  Flying High in San Antonio

Even though San Antonio Texas has many Air Force bases, (Lackland, Randolph, Kelly, and Brooks) the casual observer would not think that the origins of aviation in the United States made a major impact to the city.  

Less than ten years after Orville and Wilber Wright flew their first flight at Kitty hawk, NC, aviation made historical leaps in San Antonio.  In 1909 the US Army agreed to purchase this lighter than air machine from the bicycle makers.  On March 12, 1910 Lt. Foulois took to the air from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.  The airplane came via the railroad in seventeen wooden crates.  His flight left Mac Arthur Field and attained an astounding altitude of one hundred feet for a whopping seven minutes.  The plane landed with an undignified belly flop.

Lt. Foulois corresponded regularly with the Wright brothers, learning how to navigate this new contraption.  This might be considered the first correspondence school for pilot training.  

In these early days of aviation, takeoff was achieved via a type of catapult and landing on the runners was an adventure.  Eventually the idea to add wheels to the plane for take off and landing was devised. This solved the landing problem--at least one facet  anyway.
San Antonio holds the dubious distinction of the first fatal air crash.  On May 11, 1911, Lt. George Kelly failed to walk away from an air crash at Fort Sam Houston.

By 1915 the US Air Force consisted of six planes at Forth Sam Houston under the command of Lt. Foulois.  They played a major role in reconninsance looking for Pancho Villa in and around Mexico.


Aviation in San Antonio was ready to take another booster shot.  In early 1912, a twenty-one year old Mary Pickford-lookalike  Katherine (Katie) Stinson batted her eyes at the well known aviator Max Lillie and asked him to teach her to fly.  At first he refused.  But what six foot four inch tall man can resist the charms of a diminuative brunette.( Not Max!) On July 24 , 1912 at Cicero Field in Chicago, Illinois Katie became the fourth aviatrix in the US.  She wanted to raise money to become a concert pianist, but loved aviation so much she took to touring as "The Flying Schoolgirl".  Her specialty was the 'loop the loop' never crashing in over five hundred attempts.

In 1915 she took her family to a warmer and friendlier climate for aviation South of San Antonio to a field located between the Missions of San Jose and San Juan.  This field, now known as Stinson Municipal Airport, is the second oldest continuously operating airfield in the USA.  Katie lived to the age of eighty-six, but gave up the flying bug because of the influenza bug of 1918 which turned into tuberculosis.

In 1917 the US Army starts Kelly Field, named after Lt. George Kelly, then Brooks field and the expansion of aviation is forever linked with San Antonio. Balloon training schools began, first combat parachute demonstrations were held, and the first Oscar winning movie "Wings" was filmed.

Today as you drive around San Antonio, imagine the continuing influence of aviation here.  Fort Sam Houston is still here.  Stinson Field operates as a full service small municipal air field, housing the heliocoptors for the news media and for the government.  Kelly Field has become a home for Boeing and the manufacture of fighter jets and the lumbering behemoth C5s which defy gravity.  Kelly East is being turned into the intemodal Port of San Antonio.  Brooks AFB is closed, but the name lingers on with the state of the art military hospital and rehabitation center.  Randolph AFB, the largest air training base in the 1930s, still pays a prominent part in the US Air force.  Then there is Lackland AFB, a mesquite covered field in 1940, which has become the country's largest Air Force training facility.  If you join the Air Force you will be stationed some time in your career at Lackland.  Military from all over the world take advantage of the language school and other training.

Last but not least, we cannot forget San Antonio International Airport near Loop 410 and 281.  Started after WWII, she has grown and developed as the city herself has matured.

San Antonio is not only the Missions, the Alamo, the Riverwalk, the Hemisphere, and the other numerous cultural and historical attractions, it is also a living documentation of the history of aviation.  Dayton, OH and KittyHawk, NC can have their claim to fame.  San Antonio stands tall for continuity and the advance of aviation in the United States.  For an in depth look at the history of aviation visit the Texas Aviation  Museum located at historic Stinson Field.
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