Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Col. Hiram Bingham, U.S. Air Service


Lt. Col. Hiram Bingham

Bingham (1875–1956) was a professor at Yale University, explorer, archaeologist, aviator, and U.S. Senator from Connecticut. On an expedition to Peru in 1911, with a local farmer for a guide, Bingham was the first to make public to the outside world the existence of the ruins of Machu Picchu, the pre-Columbian Inca site.

His autobiographical post WWI book, An Explorer in the Air Service, is a record of the two years after he learned to pilot a flying boat in 1917 at the Curtiss Aviation school in Miami where Glenn Curtiss himself told Bingham, “…anyone who could ride horseback and sail a boat could learn to fly.”

Bingham passed the final test for his Aero Club aviator pilot license on 30 April 1917, less than a month after the U.S. declared war on Germany. Having previously served as a captain in the Connecticut National Guard, he applied for and received a commission in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Officer Reserve Corps.

In May 1917, Bingham reported to Washington, DC, to join a task force of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics that helped determine the best way to train U.S. military aviators. The Nation Advisory Committee decided to adopt the British Royal Flying Corps model. Once finished with his duties on the committee, Bingham served with the Chief of the Air Service from April to August 1918.

Hangars and Aircraft at Issoudun

For the remainder of the conflict, from August to December 1918, Bingham, now a lieutenant colonel, served as the commander of the Third Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudun, France. Recalling his time at Issoudon, Bingham recalled that the Third AIC had changed a great deal in the short time he had been away. The fields that had once been muddy and strewn with lumber were neatly manicured and full of living quarters, work centers, and aircraft hangers. 

According to Bingham, the facilities at the Third AIC had developed to such an extent that he had an engineering department at his disposal that could handle nearly any challenge when it came to repairing damaged aircraft. Bingham stated that “If a crashed plane proved to be a total wreck, it was carefully salvaged, all the precious bolts and screws that were so hard to obtain in France during war times were rescued, and everything that could be used again was turned into the supply stores from which planes were rebuilt.”

Bingham related that he had a difficult time procuring enough gasoline to fuel the sorties needed to sustain the high-paced training requirements. He explained that the officers distributing the fuel from other locations were slow to appreciate the fact that the Third AIC flew as many as 1,000 hours per day, since each aircraft used between 12 to 20 gallons per hour.

On 17 December 1918, Major General Mason Patrick, chief of the Air Service, wrote to Bingham thanking him for his “excellent work” while in charge of the Third AIC. Upon leaving the Third AIC on 1 January 1919, Bingham returned to U.S. and took a job at the Air Service Headquarters in Washington, DC, where he remained until 8 March 1919, when his discharge papers arrived. In Bingham’s memoirs of his time in uniform, published in 1921 with the title An Explorer in the Air Service, he recalled that he was initially under the impression that the U.S. Air Service was fully prepared for war. However, he stated that “It was amazing and very disconcerting to learn that the General Staff of the Army had apparently made no plans for the part which aviation was to take in the war.”

Source: The First Wings of War Air Force Reserve in World War I

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I knew about Hiram Bingham from Machu Picchu - visited there many years ago but did not know about his military career.