Military Wiki
Jacob Earl Fickel
Major General Jacob Earl Fickel
Nickname Jake
Born (1883-01-31)January 31, 1883
Died August 7, 1956(1956-08-07) (aged 73)
Place of birth Des Moines, Iowa
Place of death Wiesbaden, Germany
Allegiance United States
Service/branch  United States Air Force
Years of service 1904-1946
Rank Major General
Commands held 1st Wing, GHQ Air Force
Fourth Air Force
Battles/wars World War I
World War II

Major General Jacob Earl "Jake" Fickel (31 January 1883 – 7 August 1956) had a prominent career in the United States Air Force usually associated with being an instructor of aviation. He is credited with firing the first recorded gunshot ever from an airplane showing that a plane would not break up due to the gun's recoil.[1]


Fickel enlisted in the Regular Army when he was twenty one years of age. He served as a private, corporal, sergeant, and first sergeant of Company K, 27th Infantry. He was stationed at Fort Hayes, Fort Sheridan and Fort Leavenworth. In 1907 Fickel was commissioned as a second lieutenant of Infantry. He then joined the 29th Infantry at Fort Douglas. In August of that year he went with that regiment for the Philippine Islands and served at Fort William McKinley with 2d Lt. Henry H. Arnold. In 1909 Fickel returned to the United States for station at Fort Jay. He was there through 1911. He then went to Fort Niagara until November 1913.[1]

Fickel then went for a second tour of duty in the Philippine Islands with the 13th Infantry. He served at Fort William McKinley again and at Camp McGrath until March 1917. He was then assigned to duty as an instructor at the Officers Training Camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison. There he remained until November of that year. Fickel was then ordered to Washington, D.C., for duty with the Headquarters of the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. He served in that capacity until May 1918.[1]

Fickel was next ordered to Rockwell Field in California as a student officer at the flying school. Upon completion of his course in November 1918 he assumed command of Carruthers Field in Texas where he remained until January 1919. Fickel was then ordered back to Washington, D.C. There he served in the Office of the Chief of Air Service until March 1921. His next duty was with the Spruce Production Corporation Portland, Oregon. There he served until the summer of 1922. He then returned to Washington for a two-year tour of duty as Chief of the Supply Division of the Air Service.[1]

In June 1925 Fickel graduated from the Air Corps Technical School at Langley Field. In June 1926 he also graduated with honors from the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth. His next tour of duty was to serve as executive officer of the Materiel Division at McCook Field until April 1927. He then attended the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field in Texas for three months. Fickel then returned to McCook Field where he reassumed his duties as executive officer, Materiel Division, for a period of three years.[1]

Fickel then attended the Army War College in Washington, D.C. He graduated in June 1931. His next duty was as Chief of the Buildings and Grounds Division in the Office of the Chief of Air Corps, Washington, D.C. He was there until January 1935. From February 1935 to June 1936, Fickel was Commandant of the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field. His next tour of duty was as Air Officer of the Ninth Corps Area, with Headquarters at the Presidio of San Francisco, California. He was there until March 1939. He was then assigned to command the 1st Wing, General Headquarters Air Force at March Field in California. In February 1940, he was appointed Assistant Chief of Air Corps in Washington, D.C. He was later assigned to Riverside, California, in 1940, as Air District Commander, becoming the first Commanding General of the Fourth Air Force on December 18, 1940. After an inordinately high rate of accidents involving Lockheed P-38 Lightnings in his command, he was relieved of command on April 2, 1942, on the orders of his friend Hap Arnold, now commanding the Army Air Forces, and reassigned to command the District No. 3 (Western) Technical Training Command, Oklahoma, on March 5, 1942. Fickel retired in 1946.[1]


Lieutenant Jacob Earl Fickel with Glenn H. Curtiss experimenting shooting from an airplane in 1910

Fickel is credited with firing the first recorded gunshot ever from an airplane on August 20, 1910.[2] From his passenger seat he fired a rifle twice at a target from an altitude of 100 feet with Glenn H. Curtiss flying the airplane. It was done at Sheepshead Bay Race Track near New York City. This proved that a gun could be fired from an airplane without the plane breaking up into pieces due to the gun’s recoil.[3] He repeated the feat at an air show in the summer of 1911 at Nassau Boulevard airfield on Long Island with Arnold at the controls. Competing against a team of Britons, Thomas Sopwith and Malcolm Campbell, the Americans won easily when Fickel displayed a skill that enabled him to put six bullets through a dinner plate from an aircraft flying 200 feet (61 m) off the ground.[4]

Fickel became the first aerial gunner in America. These experiments led to low recoil machine guns. Soon thereafter machine guns were added to planes for air-to-ground attack or air-to-air fighting. The first airplane machine guns were patented by Samuel Neal McClean. He sold his rights to the Automatic Arms Company in late 1910. Issac N. Lewis working for the company later improved the technology on this airplane machine gun system.[5]

The first use of an airplane machine gun in combat was in August 1914 with the first recorded airplane shot down in air-to-air fighting in October of that year. By 1915 air combat was an integral part of World War I fighting.[5]

Gen. Fickel was the brother-in-law of glider pioneer, Lawrence Malcolm Allison, of Lawrence, Kansas.


  •  This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "[1]".
  •  This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "[5]".
  • Caidin, Martin, Air Force: A Pictorial History of American Airpower, Ayer Publishing (1979); ISBN 0-405-12149-0
  • Olson, John, Olson's Encyclopedia of Small Arms; Winchester Press, 1985; ISBN 0-8329-0374-4
  • Smith, Walter Harold Black et al., Small Arms of the World: A Basic Manual of Small Arms; Stackpole Books (1973)
  • The New York Times, obituary August 10, 1956 Major General Jacob Earl Fickel dies at 73; proved shooting from plane feasible.


  1. Caidin, p. 7 Lieutenant J. E. Fickel of the 29th Infantry flew with Glenn H. Curtiss at the old at Sheepshead Bay Race Track near New York City, on August 20th, 1910, to become the first man to fire a rifle from an airplane in flight.
  2. Caidin, p. 7
  3. Coffey, Thomas M. (1982). Hap: The Story of the U.S. Air Force and the Man Who Built It General Henry H. 'Hap' Arnold. Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-36069-4, p. 51.
  4. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Air Force Link — Theater-Level Stochastic Air-To Air Engagement Modeling Via Event Occurrence Networks Using Piecewise Polynomial Approximation". Retrieved 2008-11-02. 

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).