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)
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.