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Posted 10/2/2014 Printable Fact Sheet
Capt. Phelps Collins
Capt. Phelps Collins. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The first member of the U.S. Air Service to die on a combat mission was Capt. Phelps Collins of Alpena, Mich. He enlisted in the French Aviation Service in May 1917 and transferred to the U.S. Air Service when America entered the war. He was assigned as a pilot to the 103rd Aero Squadron, successor to the Lafayette Escadrille, at La Noblette, France. On March 12, 1918, Collins and four other pilots were attempting to intercept enemy airplanes in the area of Paris when, for an unknown reason, Collins' SPAD VII fighter left the formation. Observers on the ground saw his plane make wide circles at about 15,000 feet, then descend and finally spin and dive into the ground.

Collins' commanding officer wrote that "It will never be known whether he was shot down in combat, fought at so great an altitude that it could neither be seen nor heard, whether some vital part of his machine gave way or whether he fainted as a result of the terrific strain he had placed upon himself, flying at every possible opportunity." Investigators believed that Collins had fainted at high altitude, perhaps from lack of oxygen.

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