Sunday, November 22, 2009

Army Aviators

This week we will explore the early days of Aviation. We start with this picture taken in 1912. The photo was taken at the Army Aviation Field near Washington DC. I was surprised to find that the Army had started considering use of airplanes at such an early date. Pictured are Mr. Geiger and Mr. Milling. The early days of aviation must have been very exciting.


  1. PJM,
    I live in western Washington, but travel to eastern Washington from time to time to visit my sons at Whitworth Univ. in Spokane. Interstate 90 passes by the Spokane International Airport, better known as Geiger Field (name after Maj. Geiger). Here's a little more of the brief history of Major Geiger and Geiger Field in Spokane.

    Flight Leader Dies in Flaming Crash, 1927
    Major Geiger, Commander of Aberdeen (Maryland) Field, Is Burned to Death Fails in Desperate Jump

    Accident Occurs at Olmstead Field, Pennsylvania - Was a Native of East Orange, New Jersey

    Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - May 17, 1927 - Apparently only slightly hurt when his De Haviland plane took a fifty-foot nose dive, Major Harold Geiger, commandant of Phillips Air Field at Aberdeen, Maryland, could not extricate himself before the machine burst into flames and he was burned to death at Olmstead Field, near here, at noon today.

    Six mechanics and officers of the Middleton Air Station saw the plane rise gracefully on its return to the Aberdeen Field, then suddenly plunge, nose downward. Major Geiger had the presence of mind to release his safety belt and leap out when the plane struck, they said.

    The instant of the crash, as the machine swung over on its wing, eighty gallons of gasoline from the fuel tank burst into flames, covering the ship from end to end. Major Geiger made desperate efforts to get clear of the wreckage and, according to the onlookers, half crawled and ran as far as the tail of the machine before he was overcome. There he dropped and the flames prevented the watchers from getting near enough to rescue him.

    His body was recovered, lying under the rear part of the fuselage, when the flames has been put out by the officers and men of the depot.

    Major Geiger had flown here this morning with Lieutenant Steele, who was to take back to the Aberdeen Field a Curtis plane which was being reconditioned. Geiger, in a No. 4 De Haviland, took the air expecting Steele to follow him, and had risen hardly more than fifty feet when something went wrong and the plane went into a dive.

    The accident is the first fatality at the Middleton Field since six years ago, when Captain Donald J. Neumiller, attached to the field, was killed when his plane struck an air pocket belt and leap out when the plane struck, they said (sic).
    (New York Times, 18 May 1927)

    History of Spokane International Airport:
    "Why is Spokane’s designator "GEG"

    In 1941, the Department of the Defense purchased the area then known as "Sunset Field" from Spokane County for a World War II B-17 and C-47 training facility.

    Following the acquisition, they renamed the facility Geiger (GEG) Field in honor of Major Harold C. Geiger, a pioneer in Army aviation and ballooning. In 1946, a portion of the airfield was designated a municipal airport, and commercial airline operations were moved from Felts Field to Geiger Field. In 1960, the facility was renamed Spokane International Airport."

  2. I really wonder if they were concerned about their lack of substantial head and upper-body protection or if they were blissfully unaware.

  3. Poor Mr. Geiger!! He was certainly a brave innovator. All of those guys were!!

    They must have had a great sense of adventure!!!

  4. I believe that airplanes for the military were initially not about dropping explosive ordnance on the enemy. The airplane extended the military's ability to see behind enemy lines.

    Of course the evolution of anti-aircraft guns, aerial bombs, and fighter planes came quickly.

  5. I know one of the first 100 women to get a pilot's license in the US. Her name is Ethel Sheffler and she is now in her late 80's, still getting around and active, tho she gave up flying a few years ago.

    She taught male pilots how to fly during WW2, and flew just about every sort of airplane from factory to coastal shipping destination, including those huge bombers.

    After WW2, she became one of the first 100 women to get a helicopter pilot's license. She taught commercial airline pilots for decades and also gave private flying lessons.

    These days she is a birdwatcher!

  6. David K, thanks for the info on Major Geiger. I live fairly close to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, so this is a nice bit of trivia to file away. It's nice to be able to "connect the dots".

  7. Marie:

    It figures, doesn't it. All men need a woman to show them how to do things.

  8. The fellow on the right looks like he has a flower pot for a helment.

  9. Two steering wheels? Looks as if this was designed for a church - one steering wheel for the rector, and another for the vestry, and they don't turn the same way at the same time!