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A VIEW OF THE U.S. ARMY'S FIRST HEAVIER-THAN-AIR COMBAT UNIT

A Preliminary to War: The 1st Aero Squadron and the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916 - Roger Miller

This book offers an interesting, concise history of the U.S. Army's first heavier-than-air aviation unit (the 1st Aero Squadron) whose 8 Curtiss JN-3 biplanes - under the command of Captain Benjamin D. Foulois, one of the Army's earliest pilots - accompanied the Army's Punitive Expedition into Mexico during 1916 to pursue the Mexican bandit and revolutionary leader Francisco "Pancho" Villa, in response to a raid his force of brigands had carried out on the border town of Columbus, New Mexico on March 9, 1916. 

The 1st Aero Squadron was tasked with providing intelligence (through aerial reconnaissance) and serving as a means of communication for General John J. Pershing, who commanded the Punitive Expedition. It was not an easy undertaking for the squadron whose aircraft were underpowered and bedeviled with a host of problems that were both mind-boggling and frustrating. The U.S. had few aircraft companies at the time and Curtiss Aircraft, which was one of the largest aircraft companies in the country and had provided the 1st Aero Squadron with its aircraft, had serious quality control issues that hampered the squadron's efficiency in carrying out its mission. Indeed, many times, trained squadron personnel (with some assistance from Curtiss) had to take it upon themselves to fashion needed components to keep its surviving aircraft flyable. So, it is all the more remarkable that the 1st Aero Squadron was able to serve a useful role during its time in Mexico, where the effects of climate and terrain were often harsh on their aircraft . 

What is more: the achievements of the 1st Aero Squadron helped to spur national interest in developing a modern aviation industry in the United States, as well as laying the foundation for a well organized, trained, and supplied U.S. Army Air Service which saw action in France after the U.S. had entered World War I in April 1917. Anyone with an interest in aviation history will enjoy reading this book.