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Shawnee County Casualties in WWI
Stories of Valor and Tragedy on the Battlefield

1st Lt. Philip Louis BILLARD, Test Pilot, USAAF, Issoudun, France
Monument at Issodoun Air Field
Philip Louis Billard


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Philip Louis Billard was one of the first Kansas men to start flying. He took up the science of flying as a sport and made exhibition flights at several fairs in the state, making cross country flights to Kansas City several times. Billard established many Kansas aviation records and in one of the earliest cross country flights he flew the 198 miles from Russell to Topeka in 2hrs 18mins at an average speed of 86 mph, a record at the time. Several height records were also established, and later broken, by the young aviator who perfected flying methods and originated many new aviation techniques. Before the war Billard had looped the Capitol Dome in Topeka and flown in a low altitude right down the length of Kansas Avenue.

Billard enlisted in the armed forces in June 1917 but, as soon as it was discovered that he was experienced in flight, he was sent to San Diego to instruct student aviators. He was shipped to France in early 1918, arriving there on Feb. 5. Despite his expressed desire to fly for the Army Air Services as a fighter pilot, his services were deemed to be more valuable as a test pilot for the various planes (new, repaired and rebuilt) used by the USAAF in the war.

Philip Billard died in an aviation accident 24 July 1918 while testing a DeHaviland 4 at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center in Issoudun, France.

The following account is taken from the official report of the accident given by Lt. Billard's Commanding Officer:

"1. Returned: 1st Lt. Philip Billard A.S. Sig. R.C. was on duty at this Center, as a tester, and was considered an experienced and excellent flyer and a very capable officer.

2. On the morning of July 24th Lt. Billard went up to test plane #32095, a De Haviland 4, equipped with a 425 horsepower Liberty motor, taking as a passenger Sgt. Robert H. Holt Jr. of the 32nd Aero Squadron. After flying around for some time and doing considerable acrobacy with the plane, Lt. Billard did a reversement, immediately after which the plane was seen to go into a half-nose dive slip, and then into an almost vertical nose dive, from which it did not recover, but crashed to the ground from a height of about 1000 metres. The accident happened at about 10:25 A.M. Both Lt. Billard and his passenger were instantly killed.

3. The accident was investigated by a Board of Officers, but the exact cause could not be determined. Several of the witnesses expressed the opinion that the passenger, not being used to acrobacy, became sick or fainted and fell forward on the controls, which threw the plane into the nose dive and held it in that position despite the efforts of the pilot to get out of it. Witnesses also stated that the motor was cut until two or three hundred metres of the ground when the power went on again, which would also tend to show that Lt. Billard was working on the controls, and also strengthen the theory that the passenger had fainted and fallen forward.

4. Lt. Billard was buried in the U.S. Army Cemetery at this Centre at 3 P.M. July 24th and was of course given full military honors."

Original Grave Philip Billard
Original gravesite of Philip Billard at Issoudun

 

Originally buried at Issoudun, Billard's remains were reburied in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery near Thiaucourt. His remains were subsequently exhumed, under request from his father in 1924, and cremated. The ashes were then scattered by his brother in a park in Moulins (Auvergne), France on on what would have been Philip's 33rd birthday, 27 April, 1924. Moulins is close to the Billard ancestral home town of Saint-Leon, Auvergne.

His name is included on the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center Memorial.

One of the first members of the newly formed Kansas National Guard in 1916, Philip Billard was inducted, on 2 Nov 2003, into the Kansas National Guard Hall of Fame. Philip Billard Airport in Topeka is so named in his honor.

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