I was very happy to find a photo of the Baldwin, "U.S. Signal Corps #1" airship - which I could identify as to its location (see below)! No one goes through Aviation history in the United States and learns about early US aviators Lt. Frank Lahm, Lt. Benjamin Foulois and Lt.Thomas Selfridge - each famous historical figures important to the US Air Force, should come away from that history without knowing about the Baldwin airship which became the U.S. Signal Corps first airship - indeed, the first powered aircraft of the US military!

(Trivia: The very first powered aircraft of the US Army was the Baldwin No 8 airship, designated the "SC-1", for the "Signal Corps No 1". Almost a year later, on 2 August, 1909, the Wright Flyer Model A of the Wright Brothers was accepted after trials as the first fixed-wing aircraft of the US Army and was, curiously, also designated the "SC-1"!)

Baldwin SC-1

Following is a terrific photo of the Baldwin No. 8, presumably during its acceptance trials by the new Air-arm of the US Army, the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps. The photo is a delightful, high resolution photo, providing much detail to examine.

Baldwin No. 8, U.S. Signal Corp #1.

Photo credit: National Museum of the Air Force

Thomas Baldwin was appointed to the US Government as superintendent for the acquisition of all spherical, dirigible, and kite balloons, so it is not clear what happened to the "Baldwin Airship Company". The 1917, D'Orcy Airship Manual suggests that the Baldwin Company produced only through No. 10:

D'Orcy page 175

Photo credit: d'Orcy Airship Manual, page 175, public domain.
(Right-click and "view" or "save as" for the full sized image.)


On 1 August, 1907, the "Aeronautical Division" of the US Army Signal Corps was created. The Aeronautical Division was commanded by Captain Charles Chandler, with a staff of two enlisted men! Even though heavier-than-air aircraft, by then (1907), were all the rage, the Army had not yet accepted nor understood the value of aircraft, and since they were decidedly more familiar with balloons for military observation, an order was placed for a 20,000 cubic foot dirigible.

The airship was built by the Baldwin Airship Company in Hammondsport, NY. Built as "Baldwin No. 8", for a cost of $6,750. It was delivered to the US for trials and on 12 August, 1908 the first test flights were made with Thomas Baldwin as pilot, and another aviation pioneer as flight engineer - Glenn Curtiss! After acceptance by the US Government on 28 August, 1908, she was designated "SC-1" and became the first powered aircraft purchased by the US! That's right, the airship was purchased before any fixed-wing airplanes. The SC-1 carried a crew of two, and had a payload of 450 pounds, including 100 pound of ballast. The US Government paid $10,000 for the airship, which amounts to a handsome $3,250 profit for the fledgling Baldwin Airship Company.

The SC-1 was 96 feet long, 19.5 feet in diameter, weighed 1,360-pounds, and was powered by a 20 horsepower Curtiss water-cooled engine which provided a top speed of 20-miles per hour.


Upon acceptance, pilot training began quickly. The first pilots were: Lt. Frank Lahm, Lt. Benjamin Foulois and Lt. Thomas Selfridge, each of whom had volunteered for this first-ever flight training. (Selfridge, is infamously known as being the first fatality from a heavier-than-air craft aboard a Wright Brothers aircraft (the Wright Flyer) flown by Wilbur Wright on September 17, 1908, less than ONE month after his first training on the SC-1!) Lieutenants Lahm and Foulois became the first "US Army Airship Pilots" on May 26th, 1909 when they became the first "airmen" to ascend in the SC-1 without Baldwin.


Each of the Airship pages within "Then and Now" contain this section heading because most of the World's airships met with a dismal fate. But the heading is not appropriate here for the first, ever, US Airship because the SC-1 simply "faded away". The history is lost, but at some time after May of 1909, the SC-1 was moved to Fort Omaha, Nebraska, where she continued to serve as the first dirigible in service. The d'Orcy Airship Manual, 1917, says the SC-1 was dismantled in 1910.

Ignominious End

It appears that after the SC-1 was dismantled in 1910, presumably after she became unserviceable and hence, dangerous for pilot training, the Army scrapped the SC-1 in 1912 and did not purchase another dirigible until after World War I.