Benjamin Delahauf Foulois (December 9, 1879 – April 25, 1967) was a United States Army general who learned to fly the first military planes purchased from the Wright brothers. He became the first military aviator as an airship pilot, and achieved numerous other military aviation “firsts”. He led strategic development of the Air Force in the United States.
At age 18, he used his older brother’s birth certificate to enlist in the Army to support the Spanish–American War, but arrived in Puerto Rico just weeks before the armistice was signed. As an engineer, he fought off the rampant tropical diseases, and after five months, was shipped home and mustered out. On June 17, 1899, Foulois enlisted again, using his own name, as a private in the Regular Army and was assigned to the 19th Infantry, where he ultimately achieved the rank of first sergeant, with service in the Philippines on Luzon, Panay, and Cebu. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant on July 9, 1901. Foulois returned to the United States in 1902 and transferred to the 17th Infantry. This regiment served in the Philippines from 1903 to 1905, and Foulois served in Manila, Cottabato, and Mindanao, where he participated in engagements against the Lake Lanao Moros, successfully hunting down and defeating combatant tribal leaders, and as topographical officer for the regiment, participated in surveying and mapping expeditions.
Foulois attended the Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from September 1905 to August 1906. In 1907, he married Ella Snyder van Horn, the daughter of Colonel James Judson van Horn. Assigned to attend the Army Signal School in the class of 1906-1907, he was recalled to his regiment in September 1906 for duty with an expeditionary force in Cuba during the Second Occupation of Cuba. His experience in surveying in the Philippines led to reassignment to the chief engineer of the force to perform military mapping. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Signal Corps on April 30, 1908, assigned to the office of the Army’s chief signal officer (CSO), Brig. Gen. James Allen, and sent to complete Signal School, which he did in July 1908. His final thesis was The Tactical and Strategical Value of Dirigible Balloons and Aerodynamical Flying Machines, within which he demonstrated prescience in such statements as this:
In all future warfare, we can expect to see engagements in the air between hostile aerial fleets. The struggle for supremacy in the air will undoubtedly take place while the opposing armies are maneuvering for position…
He forecast the replacement of the horse by the airplane in reconnaissance, and wireless air-to-ground communications that included the transmission of photographs. As a result, the CSO selected Foulois for the aeronautical board designated to conduct the 1908 airship and airplane acceptance trials. After having selected the Thomas Scott Baldwin airship as the winner of the trial, Foulois was selected as the first military crewman. He took his first flight on August 18 as engineer-pilot, while Baldwin controlled the rudder at the aft end.