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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Burge, CB-877000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.


Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.


http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.



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Captain V.L. Burge landed twice at Tucson, once as pilot as command and once as passenger. He landed as pilot in command on Wednesday, May 5, 1926 at 2:00PM. Based at Mitchel Field, Garden City, LI, NY, he was eastbound from San Diego, CA to El Paso, TX and probably points east after that. He carried a single passenger, W.S. Rosey, in the Douglas O-2-A, 25-395.

As passenger, he landed with pilot Henry Pascale on Saturday, April 26, 1926. Pascale was flying 25-425, a Douglas C-1 transport. He carried four passengers identified as Burge, V.L., Capt., Hoyt, R.G., Capt., Colliver, H.C., Lt. and Hanlon, W.J., Lt. Besides Burge, Hoyt is also a Register pilot. Based at Fairfield, OH, they were westbound from El Paso, TX to Santa Monica, CA (probably the Douglas factory there). Their airplane was assigned McCook Field P number P-394. It had been shipped to Fairfield Air Intermediate Depot on October 27, 1925..

From this1942 REFERENCE, Burge was born in Fisher, IL November 29, 1888. He married Mary Kraske of Houston, TX, November 13, 1920. He entered the army as a private in 1907. Burge learned to fly at Ft. McKinley in the Philippine Islands in 1912. As such, he was a qualified member of the Early Birds of Aviation. Please direct your browser to the link to learn more about the Early Birds, and about pilot Burge. Below, from the National Museum of the Air Force, is a photo of Burge from 1912 taken at Ft. McKinley.

Vernon L. Burge, 1912 (Source: Web)
Vernon L. Burge, 1912 (Source: Web)

The photo caption reads, "The first USAF enlisted pilot, Sgt. (later Col.) Vernon L. Burge, seated in an Army "B" airplane in the Philippines in 1912. Like many enlisted pilots who followed, he was an aircraft mechanic prior to earning wings. (U.S. Air Force photo)" Further description includes, "Cpl. Vernon L. Burge became the first enlisted pilot three years after the Army bought its first airplane. He was Lt. Benjamin Foulois' mechanic on Signal Corps airplane No. 1 at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, in 1910, and Lt. Frank Lahm taught him to fly in the Philippines two years later. In August 1912, Burge received aviator's certificate No. 154 from the Federation Aeronautique International and also was promoted to sergeant."

As of 1942 Burge was the second oldest active pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Significantly, another Register pilot, Henry "Hap" Arnold was a contemporary and learned to fly just a short time earlier. In 1907-08 Burge was a balloon instructor in Washington, DC and Fort Myer, VA. He was attached to Army Dirigible number 1, and aided the Wright brothers in testing and flying the first army plane, 1908-09. He was the first enlisted pilot in the U.S. Army Air Service in 1916 and immediately began commanding aero squadrons. He graduated the Aerial Pursuit and Gunnery School in 1919.

Below, a U.S. Postal Service cachet shared with us by Jeff Staines. He says about his cover, "This cover is dated May 28, 1929 and commemorates the First Iowa Aeronautical Conference at Ames, Iowa." And, "... some may unofficially call [Burge] 'The Father of all U.S. Military Pilots.'" Note that his rank was Major at this time.

U.S. Postal Service Cachet, May 28, 1929 (Source: Staines)
U.S. Postal Service Cachet, May 28, 1929 (Source: Staines)

Burge went on in his military career to graduate the Air Corps Tactical School in 1935. He retired in 1945 with 38 years of service and the rank of Colonel. Below, from Burge's NASM biographical file, and article from the Columbus Dispatch of August 5, 1960 describing a reunion of enlisted man pilots.

Enlisted Pilots' Reunion, August 5, 1960 (Source: NASM)
Enlisted Pilots' Reunion, August 5, 1960 (Source: NASM)


Burge Obituary, 1971 (Source: NASM)
Burge Obituary, 1971 (Source: NASM)

A feature article in the Air Force Times of March 22, 1982 provided a general overview of enlisted man pilots ("EM"s as they are termed). Although focused on the EMs of WWII, homage was paid to the 150 who flew between 1912 and 1939. Burge was credited with being the first to qualify. He and 13 others are distinguished as earning their wings before the outbreak of WWI. Among the 13 are fellow Register pilots William C. Ocker and Thomas Boland.

Burge died September 6, 1971 (obituary, right). He was the last survivor of the historic 1st Aviation Detachment.


Dossier 2.2.12

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 05/27/11 REVISED: 05/30/12

The Register
I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Burge and his airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.


Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936 is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

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