Frederick Erastus Humphreys
Major, United States Army
Erastus Humphreys (September 16, 1883 – January 20, 1941) was one of the
original three military pilots trained by the Wright brothers and the first
to fly solo.
Frederick was born in 1883 in Summit, New Jersey, the only child of Jay Humphreys and Fannie Brush. He attended the Pennsylvania Military Academy, and won an appointment from New York to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He was made Cadet Captain, he lettered in fencing, and was the top eighth student of seventy-eight in the West Point Class of 1906.
After graduation and commissioning, he was assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers and sent to Fort Riley, Kansas where he worked in bridge construction, he was deployed to Cuba during the Pacification Expedition, and a year later, returned to attend the Engineer Officer Basic Course. He joined the Army Signal Corps and became the first military pilot trained by the Wright brothers.
In 1910, Humphreys resigned his commission to attend to his father's business, the Humphreys Homeopathic Medicine Company, founded by his grandfather in 1853. Thereafter he served as an officer of the company, the last twelve years of his life as its president.
In June of 1915, Humphreys joined the New York National Guard's 22d Engineers Regiment as a First Lieutenant. He was called up with his regiment for Mexican Border service after Pancho Villa's raids in 1916, he served as an aide to Major General John F. O'Ryan, Commanding General of the New York (later 27th) Division.
Shortly after his return to New York, the regiment was inducted into federal service for World War I. After initial service with his regiment at the divisional training post at Spartanburg, South Carolina, he was recalled and was transferred to the Army Air Service in January of 1918.
After flight training at Rockwell Field in San Diego, California he was assigned to the first class of the School of Military Aeronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for advanced technical training. After his graduation, he was retained as head of the Department of Practical Aircraft Design, and then made school commander. At about the time of the Armistice, he was assigned to the newly founded Technical Section, Engineering Division, at McCook Field, in Dayton, Ohio, remaining there until he was demobilized in February of 1919. He went to New York, and was appointed Colonel of the 102d Engineers, a position he had until his retirement due to ill health on July 11, 1939. At the time he was the senior Colonel of New York. He was advanced to Brigadier General on the State Retired List.
Recuperating from pneumonia in Miami Beach,
Florida he had a heart attack and died in 1941. He was 57 years old, and
was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Two more flights were made by Lieutenant Humphreys
that day, the next of eight and one half minutes, and the last of twenty-four
minutes. Lieutenant Lahm also soloed for three flights, and Wilbur Wright
pronounced both "certified pilots." Over the next few days the two flew
practice flights together and separately, until November 5th, when they
crashed the plane and American military
aviation came to an abrupt and temporary end.