George E. M. Kelly

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
George Edward Maurice Kelly
George Edward Maurice Kelly 1910.jpg
Kelly circa 1910-1911
Born(1878-12-11)December 11, 1878
London, England
DiedMay 10, 1911(1911-05-10) (aged 32)
Fort Sam Houston Hospital
Cause of deathAircrash
TitleSecond US Army flyer killed in crash
PredecessorThomas Selfridge
SuccessorLeighton Wilson Hazelhurst, Jr.

George Edward Maurice Kelly (11 December 1878 – 10 May 1911) was the twelfth pilot of the U.S. Army's Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps and the first member of the U.S. military killed in the crash of an airplane he was piloting. He was the second U.S. Army aviation fatality, preceded by Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge who was killed while flying as an observer in a Wright Flyer piloted by Orville Wright on 17 September 1908.[1]


Kelly was born on 11 December 1878 in London, England, and educated at Bedford Modern School.[2] He emigrated, gained U.S. citizenship, and joined the U.S. Army in 1904.[3]

On January 16, 1911 Kelly was a troop officer in the 30th Infantry when he participated in an exhibition reconnaissance flight with Wright Company pilot Walter Brookins. Kelly volunteered for flying training and was detailed to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps and sent to the Curtiss aviation school in San Diego, California. Before his training was completed, he and two other pilots (1st Lt. Paul W. Beck and 2nd Lt. John C. Walker, Jr.) were sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where the Maneuver Division had been activated in March. 1st Lt. Benjamin Foulois, then the Army's sole aviator, was also stationed at "Fort Sam" with its sole operational aircraft, a leased Wright Model B. There the Army accepted delivery of two new aircraft, a Curtiss Model D, serial number S.C. No. 2, and a Wright Model B, S.C. No. 3, on April 27, 1911, and resumed training for the three prospective pilots.

On 10 May 1911, Kelly took S.C. No. 2 up alone for his pilot qualification flight. The airplane had nearly crashed a week before with Walker at the controls, and Beck had then damaged it in a test flight following. After five minutes in the air, Kelly came down for a landing at what appeared be full speed and failed to level off in time. The front wheel of the airplane struck the ground, breaking the fork of the steering wheel. Heading for the tent encampment of the infantry, Kelly managed to pull up and turn to make another landing attempt. This time the airplane went out of control and crashed, pitching Kelly 100 feet out of the aircraft.

The investigating board ruled that the crash occurred because the first landing had damaged the control system, and that Kelly sacrificed himself to avoid plowing into the encampment.[4] He died from a skull fracture at Fort Sam Houston Hospital an hour after the accident.[3] He was buried in San Antonio National Cemetery.[1][5]

Foulois felt that the accident was the fault of Beck (who had in the meantime been promoted to captain and now commanded the small unit, to the annoyance of the more experienced Foulois) for the use of faulty materials to rebuild the plane after Beck's accident the preceding week. The plane's Curtiss mechanic, however, blamed Kelly's poor flying technique, stating that when he banked the plane to turn away from the infantry camp, the wing struck the ground. Due to this crash, the commanding officer of the Maneuver Division, Maj. Gen. William Harding Carter, banned further training flights at the fort. The flying section, now led by Capt. Beck and including the repaired S.C. No. 2, was shipped to College Park, Maryland in June–July 1911 where the Army opened its own Flying School in June.[6]


A new airfield built in 1917, just southwest of San Antonio, was named Camp Kelly on 11 June 1917, then Kelly Field on 30 July 1917, and finally Kelly Air Force Base on 29 January 1948.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "San Antonio National Cemetery". Veterans Administration. Retrieved 2010-10-20. Second Lieutenant George E. M. Kelly (Section A, Grave 117-A), for whom Kelly Air Force Base was named. Lt. Kelly was killed in 1911 at Fort Sam Houston, the second U.S. Army aviator to lose his life in a military airplane accident.
  2. ^ Kelly's obituary appeared a little belatedly in The Eagle (the magazine of Bedford Modern School), vol. 13, no. 8 (July, 1918), pp. 168-9
  3. ^ a b "Lieut. Kelly Killed. His Airship Wrecked. Army Airman Suffers Fractured Skull in Fall at San Antonio and Dies an Hour Later". New York Times. May 11, 1911. Retrieved 2010-10-17. Second Lieut. George E.M. Kelly of the United States Signal Corps, one of the four army aviators on duty with the division of regulars mobilized here, was killed this morning when a Curtiss aeroplane he was flying got beyond control, after which it ran through the air for over a hundred yards, and crashed to the ground, burying Lieut. Kelly in its wreckage.
  4. ^ a b Mueller, Robert, "Air Force Bases Volume 1: Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982", United States Air Force Historical Research Center, Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C., 1989, ISBN 0-912799-53-6, page 267.
  5. ^ "George E.M. Kelly (1878 - 1911)". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  6. ^ Baker, David, "Flight and Flying: A Chronology", Facts On File, Inc., New York, 1994, Library of Congress card number 92-31491, ISBN 0-8160-1854-5, page 49.