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Frank Purdy Lahm

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Frank Purdy Lahm (November 17, 1877 – July 7, 1963) was an American aviator in the United States Army.

Born in Mansfield, Ohio, he attended public school in Mansfield and later a Dominican school near Paris, France. Lahm then spent two years at Michigan Military Academy preparing for West Point, where he entered in June 1897. Although he graduated in the top fifth of his class, he found time for athletics. He held the rope climbing record at West Point, and his enthusiasm for horse riding led him into the cavalry on his graduation in 1901. He became a second lieutenant in the cavalry and served in the Philippines for two years.

Upon his return to the United States in 1903, Lieutenant Lahm was stationed at West Point as an instructor in French.

The summer of 1904 marked the beginning of his activities in aeronautics. Lahm's father had joined the Aero Club de France and owned the balloon the "Katherine Hamilton," named in honor of his daughter. The elder Lahm made frequent ascensions and initiated his son in a night ascension.

In the summer of 1905 young Lahm completed the requirements of six ascensions, including one at night and one alone, to win his Federation Aeronautique Internationale license as a balloon pilot. In July of the same summer Lahm became a first lieutenant.

In 1906 young Lahm won the International Balloon Race, flying across the Channel from Paris, France to Yorkshire, England.

Lieutenant Lahm contracted typhoid in the spring of 1907. He spent part of his convalescence at a rest home in St. Germain. It was in the home's garden that Lahm's father introduced Frank to the Wright Brothers. This was the beginning of a friendship which lasted until the two brothers died.

In August 1907, Lieutenant Lahm was assigned to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps in Washington. At Fort Myer, Virginia, Lahm and a detachment of Signal Corps soldiers constructed a hydrogen generating plant and practiced captive observation balloon work. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone and an early aviation enthusiast, often invited Lahm and young scientists to his Washington home for discussions on many subjects, especially aviation.

In April 1908 Lieut. Lahm reported to New York City along with Lieut. Thomas Selfridge. They are there with A. Leo Stevens of parachuting fame to teach a class of 25 New York National Guardsman in the use of a 35,000 balloon. Reported in the New York Herald on 1 May 1908, the exercise was the beginning of aviation for the National Guard. The First Aero Company went on to become the 102nd Aero Squadron, New York National Guard, now the oldest national guard unit in the Air National Guard. The unit was federalized in 1916.

The Wright brothers brought an improved version of their 1908 plane to Fort Myer in 1909 for official War Department tests. After practice hops Orville Wright, with Lieutenant Lahm as a passenger, made the first official test flight on July 27. He and Lahm established a world's record for a two-man flight - one hour, 12 minutes and 40 seconds. The Wright Brothers set out to fulfill their Army contracts by teaching officers to operate the machine.

In October 1909 Wilbur Wright trained Lieutenants Lahm and Frederic E. Humphreys at a field in College Park, Maryland. Both officers went solo, with Humphreys going first. With little more than three hours apiece flying time, Lahm and Humphreys were pronounced pilots on Oct 26. When Lahm and Humphreys crashed November 5, the Army lost its entire air force, one plane. Both were uninjured, and the airplane was repaired, but the Signal Corps lost them when they returned to their regular assignments.

In 1911 Lahm attended Mounted Service School and at the end of the year he was transferred to the Philippines. At the request of the Signal Corps he opened a flying school at Fort William McKinley near Manila in March 1912. Lahm trained several pilots in the next two years using one Wright Model B plane.

Lahm was then assigned to the 6th Cavalry and served at Texas City and Harlingen, Texas until April 1916. He became a captain on April 1, 1916, and then President of the Junior Military Aviator Examining Board, Signal Corps Aviation School in San Diego, California.

In May 1917 Captain Lahm became commanding officer of the Army Balloon School at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, and in June he was promoted to major. Major Lahm went to Britain with the American Expeditionary Forces in August 1917. He participated in the Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne offensives, and then in the occupation of a defensive sector. Lahm was inspector of the British and French balloon services and chief of staff, Air Service, 1st and 2d armies in France.

In February 1918 Lahm became a lieutenant colonel and in September he was appointed full colonel.

Colonel Lahm returned home in August 1919 and studied at the General Staff College in Washington D.C., until August 1920. He was a member and later in charge of the Organization Section, Organization Branch of the Operation and Training Division of the General Staff until July 1924. He was then Air Officer at the Ninth Corps Area at the Presidio of San Francisco, California.

The Air Corps Training Center was established at San Antonio, Texas in August 1920. Lahm commanded the school which included primary and advanced flying school and the School of Aviation Medicine. Lahm was appointed assistant to the chief of the Air Corps with the rank of brigadier general in July 1930.

In 1931 Lahm went to France as assistant military attache for air. Four years later he was chief of aviation for the First Army at Governors Island, New York. He received the Legion of Merit for his contribution to this command during its important formative period. Lahm served on duty at the Gulf Coast Air Corps Training Center at Randolph Field, Texas where he retired November 20, 1941 in the grade of brigadier general.

Lahm died July 7, 1963 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Sandusky, Ohio.

In addition to the Legion of Merit, Lahm received the Distinguished Service Medal, the French Legion of Honor and the Portuguese Order of Avis. Lahm was co-author with Colonel Charles deForest Chandler of How Our Army Grew Wings. The Air Force Academy's first hot air balloon was named in his honour in 1973


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