As the name implies, The Arkansas Air and Military Museum is home to a wide variety of artifacts that tell the story of the state’s little-known aviation history. This week’s artifact celebrates the life of one of the most famous pilots to come from Arkansas.
Field Eugene Kindley was born on March 13, 1896, near Pea Ridge, Arkansas to George C. and Ella Kindley. His mother died sometime before his third birthday. This event greatly upset his father, and George left his son behind in 1898 to become the supervisor of an agricultural school in the Philippines. Young Field found himself placed in the care of his Grandmother, Cynthia Kindley, and lived with her in Bentonville, Arkansas, until age seven. At that time, he joined his father in Manila for five years. Afterward, he moved back to Arkansas in 1908 to live in Gravette with his uncle A. E. Kindley
After graduating High School, Kindley worked several jobs before eventually settling down in Coffeyville, Kansas, working as a movie theater manager. In 1917, he enlisted in the Kansas National Guard, eventually transferring to the US Army Signal Corps. He attended the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois and later traveled to England to attain advanced flight training at Oxford.
He soon gained combat experience as he found himself assigned to the Royal Air Force’s 65 Squadron in May 1918. He scored his first victory on June 26, shooting down a Pfalz D.III flown by Wilhelm Lehmann in his Sopwith Camel. This would be the first of many victories. After transferring to the American 148th Aero Squadron, he would go on to score 12 confirmed kills. One of these kills was a Fokker D.VII flown by Lothar von Richthofen, brother of the infamous “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen. Though Lothar was not killed in this engagement, the wounds he sustained kept him out of action for the remainder of the war.
After the war, Kindley was promoted to the rank of captain on February 24, 1919. He later assumed command of the 94th Aero Squadron based at Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas in January 1920. This command would not last long, however. Less than a month after assuming command, Kindley was preparing for a visit from General John J. Pershing. While performing a practice flight in his SE-5 biplane, his plane suffered an engine stall and failure of support wires within the wing. The plane fell some 100 feet, killing Kindley in the resulting crash. His body was returned to Gravette, Arkansas for burial.
The first-place trophy shown below was presented to Kindley in 1919 at the Third Army Carnival in Coblenz, Germany. The event, which was held from April 23-27, contained sports competitions, air displays, motor car shows, and horse shows. The inscription on the trophy reads “Third Army Carnival Chasse Airplane Exhibit. Coblenz, Germany. 1919”.