First US Marine Pilot Takes Flight
From the birth of Flight, the Wright Brothers had hoped to sell their invention to the US military. In July 1909, the US Army became the first military in the world to purchase an airplane. In May 1911, the Wrights’ main competitor, Glenn Curtiss, sold a plane to the US Navy.
Alfred A Cunningham was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1881. In 1903 he saw a balloon flight and immediately gave it a try, becoming a confirmed aviation enthusiast. He served in the Georgia Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish American War and in 1909 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in hopes he would be able to fly. Stationed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Cunningham found a group of civilians and off-duty military men who harbored an interest in bringing Flight to the US Marine Corps. The Commandant of the Navy Yard let him use an open field at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for test flights. Cunningham also joined the Aero Club of Philadelphia and with their help becan to convince a number of officials, including Major General Commandant William P Biddle, himself a member of a prominent Philadelphia family of the necessity of the US Marines acquiring airplanes. In May, 1912 Cunningham received orders and stood detached from duty at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, and was ordered to the aviation camp the Navy had set up at United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, to learn to fly. In May 1912 Lt Cunningham, having completed his flight training, reported for duty as the US Marine’s first pilot. This is considered the birth of US Marine aviation.
On August 1, 1912 Lt Alfred Cunningham of the United States Marine Corps made his first solo flight in an airplane becoming the first US Marine pilot.