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What the First Aero Squadron did first

1st Aero Sq

America tries out airpower - 1916

It was 100 years ago. WWI had been going on for a couple years already. And America finally launched American airplanes, with American pilots, in support of Black Jack Pershing, against a foreign country. 

But great war stories are stranger than fiction, so you should know these flights weren't launched from France. Or Britain. They were launched from New Mexico. And they weren't against Germany, but against Old Mexico. Well, sort of. Apparently between Pancho Villa, the Mexican government, and the American government, each had some reason to consider the other two to be an enemy, so it was a bit confused who was against whom.

Invading the CONUS

In Pancho Villa's case, he had recently shot 19 Americans and then led a raid across the border to the town of Columbus, New Mexico. As the town of Columbus puts it, "the last time the Continental U.S.  was invaded by a foreign army prior to the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, was the 1916 Pancho Villa raid on Columbus." So the First Aero Squadron, which had been experimenting with how to fly and what flight was useful for, was sent to New Mexico with Pershing's forces to keep an eye in the sky on Pancho Villa.

It wasn't exactly aerial dogfights against the Red Baron, and wasn't especially successful, but they learned a lot which would be useful in a few months when the US entered the serious war. Meanwhile, Americans in the Lafayette Escadrille had been fighting Germany for several months, so calling this America's first reconnaissance mission against a foreign country is one of those aviation "firsts" that depends on careful phrasing.

NM's reaction to constantly being confused with Old Mexico?

New Mexico actually has quite a history of threatening acts toward the nation it was part of before the Mexican-American war. There was the time Texas Nazis attacked Mexico in 1947, except that the Nazis were Germans under Wernher von Braun shooting off rockets from New Mexico. They were just stationed at Fort Bliss by El Paso, Texas, which is surrounded on two sides by New Mexico and on a third side by Old Mexico. The Germans weren't specifically aiming at Old Mexicans, either; shortly after the above event, another rocket almost hit Alamogordo, NM.

Alamogordo, by the way is not Los Alamos, though often confused with it. After all, it was only a couple years before these events when the bomb built in Los Alamos was tested near Alamogordo. Since that explosion was visible from Mexico, it's really rather impressive neither New nor Old Mexicans worried much about the V-2 attacks!

We have pictures

So what does Columbus, NM look like? Flat, warm even in November, not a lot of trees or much of anything else to fly into, except the mountains in the distance. We took some pictures of this birthplace of American air power and they are on the Great War Stories Facebook page.

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