In search of Pancho Villa: On the Border with the 1st Aero Squadron, 1916

The 1916 mission to bring Pancho Villa and his desperadoes to justice was the first military operation for the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps. Despite the primitive conditions and seemingly frail aircraft, the 1st Aero Squadron proved invaluable for the Army’s operations.

Beginning in mid-March, 1916, the aircraft seen here, Signal Corps No. 43, flew many of the 1st’s early missions. Usually piloted by Lt. Herbert A. Dargue, No. 43 was considered one of the more reliable machines. However, aircraft reliability in 1916 was measured in weeks: No. 43 developed engine trouble on April 19, 1916, was forced to land in hostile territory, and was subsequently destroyed to prevent its capture. Hiking through the badlands of Mexico without food or water for two days and nights, Lt. Dargue and fellow pilot Robert H. Willis managed to avoid capture.