During the latter half of the First World War, with the growing involvement of the United States in the war in Europe, Texas took on a major role in the preparation of armed forces to be sent overseas. In a matter of months, newly formed military camps sprang up across the Texas plains in response to the growing need to train thousands of men from all over the United States. However, it was not just infantry that was needed in Europe, but also personnel who were trained in that latest technological development – the airplane.
By mid-1917, the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps had constructed nine airfields in Texas as training facilities for aviators, among them were Ellington Field in Houston, Taliaferro Field in Fort Worth, and Love Field in Dallas. In the coming months, young men would receive the barest minimum of training before flying their aircraft. William T. Campbell, the first World War I cadet to learn to fly in the United States and who was stationed at Love Field, stated years later that his training consisted of a “three-hour training session, then [I] took a plane up’’. Crashes were a common occurrence and several casualties were incurred during the training process. However, the desire to participate in the conflict in Europe was a strong motivator, and despite these sometimes-fatal setbacks, aviators continued to train with an eye on participating in the war.
The conflict in Europe began to draw to a close toward the end of 1918, finally culminating in signing of the Armistice between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918, signaling the end of the First War World. While most of the world celebrated the end of the conflict, several squadrons, which had been preparing for transfer to the Europe, were left disappointed. After months of intensive training, including some fatalities, they had been unable to actively contribute to the war effort. One such group was those aviators stationed at Love Field in Dallas. In an almost forgotten chapter of Dallas history, these aviators, led by Major Albert L. Sneed, decided to put on the “Flyin’ Frolic” exhibition not only to celebrate the end of the conflict in Europe, but to also showcase the skills they had learned in those grueling months, and to promote goodwill between themselves and the people of Dallas.
For two days, Love Field was opened to the public, and people came, both by automobile and a specially hired train, to view feats of aerial acrobatics performed by the aviators. Included were demonstrations of mock bombing runs, dogfights, massive flying formations, and even a record breaking 151 consecutive loops performed by then-Lieutenant William T. Campbell, who stated that the last loop ended with him ‘’35 feet off the ground, and finished between a house and a tree’’. Personnel from Love Field, Camp Bowie, and even the Canadian Royal Flying Corps training at Camp Taliaferro were in attendance, some of whom took part in the aerial activities on display to the public.
In addition to these performances, other activities were made available to the visitors. Both a cabaret and casino were set up in several of the nearby aircraft hangers, while live stage performances by a minstrel show and the veiled ‘’Stella’’ entertained the ever-growing crowds. In the days following the event, the local Dallas newspapers praised the military, stating both how much fun it had been for everyone, while a few other newspapers, like the Dallas Dispatch, condemned the military, denouncing them for the “gambling” and “lewd performances” that had taken place at the event.
Almost 100 years later, the “Flyin’ Frolic” is being rediscovered by a new generation. Through the work of aviation historians, the digitization of documents and rare photographs from the event held by institutions such as the DeGolyer Library, and the work of artists such as the late Walter “Matt” Jeffries, whose paintings of the event have been displayed at both the Pentagon and the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, both this forgotten chapter of Dallas history and the sacrifices made by these brave young men are once again coming to light.
Materials Available from the DeGolyer Library