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The Hunt for Pancho Villa

On March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico, leaving 18 Americans dead and eight more wounded. In response to the increasing aggression, the U.S. Army launched operations to search for him. Under General John J. Pershing, the 1st Aero Squadron, part of the Aviation Section of the US Army’s Signal Corps, deployed to the Mexican border to stage the operations.

The squadron, composed of 11 officers, 84 enlisted men and one civilian mechanic, flew 540 missions in support of the operation. The pursuit of Pancho Villa ended when Pershing and the 1st Aero Squadron were called to service in World War I. The search for Pancho Villa was unsuccessful, but was the first time the U.S. military used imagery from an aircraft for intelligence purposes – a mission that continues today.