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PFM Quarterly Membership Meeting

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Richard Des Chenes

PFM held its summer membership meeting at Old Kingsbury Aerodrome on July 27, 2002. Richard Des Chenes (seen here in front of several period uniforms) was the presenter, and he gave a very interesting talk on the history of military use of the gas observation balloon. He started with early efforts to interest the Army in the use of balloons dating from before the Civil War, up to the end of World War I. Of particular interest to the crowd was the history of Camp John Wise in San Antonio, as well as many pictures of early observation balloons.

Balloon insignia and wings

Richard's personal collection includes several uniforms from the World War I era, including some from rated balloon crewmen. He explained the various uniforms that he brought with him, and also showed a selection of balloon aviator's wings and patches. Some of the patches are quite rare, with only a couple known to exist. He passed some insignia around so the crowd could see how much of it was custom- made by jewelers near the balloon bases.

Pilot's license and map board

Other visual aids and artifacts included the balloon pilot's license for the pilot who had owned one of the uniforms on display, various pieces of equipment including a portable drawing board used for making maps during reconnaisance flights, and original issues of camp newsletters. One presentation that was especially interesting to the audience was a panoramic picture of Camp John Wise in San Antonio. This camp was located well out of town, in what is now the Olmos Park Basin. A circa-1908 map with the locations of Kelly Field, Stinson Field, Ft. Sam Houston, and Camp John Wise marked on it showed just how small San Antonio was 100 years ago. The camp was established early in 1918, and closed down soon after WWI ended.

Kelly Field insignia

Another highlight of the evening was the donation of a patch of fabric cut from a Thomas-Morse MB-3, with the original Kelly Field emblem painted on it. H. L. "Bud" Keeter (left) donated the patch, being received here by Roger Freeman. A monograph in the museum collection has a picture (taken around 1922) of this insignia on an MB-3.