Historical briefing given on base namesake

  • Published
  • By SSgt. Samara Taylor
  • 127th Public Affairs
During the April unit training assembly, TSgt. Dan Heaton, a 127th Public Affairs photojournalist and aviation historian in his off duty hours, presented a lecture based from two of his published books to the 127th Wing and a captive audience of student flight members beginning their journey in the Air Force.

Heaton's first publication, Forgotten Aviator: The Byron Q. Jones Story, is a biography of the first commander at Selfridge Field in 1917. He shared interesting facts about Captain Jones which included Jones' being the first American pilot in combat and the pioneer of the Jeep.   TSgt. Heaton also spoke from his second published book, Selfridge & Collins: The Life & Times of Military Aviation Pioneers Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge and Capt. Phelps Collins, a biography of the Michigan Air National Guard Bases' namesakes.

Selfridge, a West Point graduate, was an infantry officer. However, his interest in aviation led him to being involved with the creation first aircraft for the United States military. After manned kite flying experiments, Lt. Selfridge took his first flight in 1907 in an aircraft designed by Alexander Graham Bell. He also designed an aircraft called the Red Wing, which was the first powered aircraft. According to Sgt. Heaton, "Lt. Thomas Selfridge was the premiere aviation expert of his era."

In September of 1908, Lt. Selfridge was chosen as the Army's aircraft expert and passenger for Orville Wright's demonstration of his plane for the Army. The plane crashed resulting in Selfridge's death.

SSgt. Elizabeth Vandriessche of the 127th Civil Engineer Emergency Management Flight was at the presentation. She shared her thoughts on the importance of learning of the Air Force's history. "It gives me a sense of pride," she said. "We have a proud heritage and have evolved and benefitted from pioneers such as Thomas Selfridge and Byron Q. Jones."

Heaton is currently working on a special commemorative book on the complete history of the base in honor of the upcoming 100 year anniversary of Selfridge Field.

One of the oldest military air fields in continuous service, the military first took possession of Selfridge Air National Guard Base on July 1, 1917. The first flight took place on July 8 and formal flight operations began on July 16, 1917. Today the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard is the host unit at the base, which also houses units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.