• Happy Birthday Billy

    Posted on December 28th, 2009 John Dorcey No comments

    William L. “Billy” Mitchell was born 130 years ago today in Nice, France.  Mitchell was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) in 1986.

    Mitchell began his military career as a private in the First Wisconsin Infantry. He soon became an officer and later transferred to the US Army’s Signal Corps. Billy learned to fly in 1916 at the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station in New Port News, VA. WAHF inductee Walter Lees provided Mitchell, now a major, some of his flight instruction and later soloed Mitchell. That first flight did not end well for the new pilot; the aircraft came to rest inverted at the end of the landing roll.

    Colonel Billy Mitchell in Curtiss DH4B

    Assigned as an aviation observer, Mitchell arrived in Europe during April 1917. He became the first American officer to fly over the French battlefields. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in June 1917 and served in the AEF.

    Promoted to colonel in May 1918, he assumed command of the Air Service, First Army Corps. This position gave him opportunity to fly, command, and learn air combat firsthand. Major General Mason Patrick, Air Service Commander, described Mitchell as “aggressive, courageous, and fearless.”

    Colonel Billy Mitchell would lead the 1500-aircraft bombing raid against the Saint-Mihiel salient in September 1918. Promoted to brigadier general, Mitchell took command of all allied air forces in time for the Meuse-Argonne offensive in October.

    While serving in Europe, Mitchell discussed the future of airpower with Hugh Trenchard of England and Italy’s Giulio Douhet. These discussions would serve as the foundation of Mitchell’s plan for a separate US air force. This air force would, in Mitchell’s vision, win the next war, single-handedly.
    Mitchell’s downfall was not his message but in his method. Today, Billy Mitchell is considered the father of modern airpower.

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