Earning His Wings

     The early beginning of Army aviation started on August 1, 1907 when the organization of an Aeronautical Division was established in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army. It was a significant beginning but by 1912 only seven airplanes had been acquired and only ten officers had undertaken flying lessons. Two of those men had been killed in accidents and the other eight had not been officially certified as aircraft pilots. Flying was still very much a novelty and unquestionably dangerous, but it was also a marvelously adventurous challenge for a young Army officer with vision and offered a future of unlimited possibilities. Realizing this in 1912, Lieutenant Geiger volunteered for Aeronautical duty with the Signal Corps and from that time forward there would hardly be a period when he was not associated with flying.

     On March 27, 1912 a Special Order was issued ordering Lieutenant Geiger to report for pilot training at the Army's only flying school at College Park, Maryland; however, he did not report there until the following month when he was relieved from recruiting duty in Columbus, Ohio. Captain Paul W. Beck was assigned to be his primary teacher and he instructed the young lieutenant until May 1, 1912 when Captain Beck was relieved from aviation duty to rejoin his old infantry regiment. The first plane Lieutenant Geiger flew in was a two-seater Curtiss Model 3 Scout, Signal Corps (S.C.) No. 8.

     According to early training policy each officer attached as a student pilot also had to take a flying course at an airplane manufacturing plant and at that time only two manufacturers operated flying schools, the Curtiss Aeroplane Company, and the Wright Company. Each manufacturer used a different method to control their planes in flight; therefore, separate instruction was required. On May 9, 1912 Lieutenant Geiger was ordered to reported to the Curtiss school at Hammondsport, New York for additional flight instruction.

     During May 9-18, 1912 in New York City, the Aero Club of America conducted an Aeronautic Exposition of more extensive scope than anything previously attempted in the United States with the exhibition of several foreign aircraft. On May 13, 1912 the War Department sent five officers, Captain Charles deF. Chandler, Lieutenants Henry R. Arnold, Harold Geiger, Frank M. Kennedy and Thomas DeWitt Milling to New York to attend the Exposition for what had been announced as "Army Day." The featured events scheduled that day were a special luncheon with the Army pilots as guests of honor, and lectures on military aeronautics in the afternoon and evening by Captain Chandler.

     Early in the summer of 1912 aircraft equipped with pontoons were taken to the Army War College in Washington, D. C. to train officers in over-water flying and operated from the wharf along the river's edge near Washington Barracks (now Fort McNair). Just as with land-planes, accidents were a continual hazard. In an account given by an early Washington area photographer named MacCartee, in early August, Lieutenant Geiger hit a submerged floating pile and ripped the bottom out of the pontoon of S.C. No. 8 (refitted with a single wide pontoon) causing it to sink in twenty feet of water in front of the wharf as the Lieutenant hung on and yelled "Hey! I'm getting my feet wet!" In describing the same incident many years later, Col. Frank M. Kennedy, USAF (Retired), stated that Lieutenant Geiger "Gave it too much gun and (the) nose went under water. The plane surfaced itself, no damage (?), but (we had a) wet pilot."

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