Field E. Kindley

Field E. Kindley (March 13, 1896-February 2, 1920) was an aviator and World War I flying ace.

Field Kindley was born at Prairie Grove in northwestern Arkansas. Kindley’s mother died when he was two years old and his father took a position in the Philippines leaving Kindley to be raised by his grandmother in Bentonville, Arkansas until the age of seven. Kindley joined his father in Manila where he lived until 1908 when he moved to Gravette, Arkansas to live with his uncle. After completing his education he moved to Coffeyville, Kansas where he became a partner in a motion picture theater.

During his stay in Coffeyville, Kindley enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard. Kindley volunteered for a transfer into the aviation branch of the US Signal Corps. When his transfer was accepted he attended the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois. Kindley established himself as an unlucky and somewhat untalented flier. He had a series of accidents and mechanical failures and was known to land at the wrong aerodrome. Despite this he became part of the first group of American pilots to be transferred to England for combat training in 1917. In the spring of 1918 he completed his training and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the American Air Service.

On his first flight he was assigned to move aircraft from England to the western front and crashed the Sopwith Camel that he was ferrying into the White Cliffs of Dover. Kindley was sent to hospital to recover from his wounds.

After his release, Kindley was assigned to the Royal Air Force’s 65th Squadron and scored his first air-to-air kill on 26 June 1918 over Albert, France. The pilot of the enemy plane was Lieutenant Wilhelm Lehmann, the commander of the German Jagdstaffel 5 unit.

In July of 1918 the United States Army formed the 148th Squadron and assigned Kindley to the unit. Kindley shot down a German Albatross D-3 over Ypres and earned the unit its first kill. Kindley’s victory soon led him to be appointed commanding officer of the 148th and he was promoted to Captain. While with the 148th he scored 12 confirmed kills which, by some calculations, ranked third in the American Air Service behind Eddie Rickenbacker and Raoul Lufbery.

During a mission on 27 September 1918 Kindley earned the Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster and the British Distinguished Flying Cross. Kindley’s actions during that mission including dropping bombs on German infantry, destroying a German observation balloon, taking out a German machine gun nest, shooting down an enemy airplane, strafing German infantry, and scaring two Fokker biplanes away from fellow fliers after his ammunition had run out.

In 1919 Kindley was offered a contract by a New York-based motion picture company to reenact his war service. The company offered him $60 per day for two weeks which was an extremely high wage. Kindley refused the job because he thought it might interfere with his army career.

Kindley died in a crash at Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas during a demonstration flight for General John J. Pershing. A control cable snapped on the SE-5 biplane Kindley was flying which stalled and fell from an altitude of 100 feet.

Kindley is buried at Hillcrest Cemetery in Gravette, Arkansas. A city park in Gravette is named for Kindley, as is a high school in Coffeyville, Kansas, and a World War II airfield in Bermuda. The Kindley home has been acquired by the Gravette City Museum. Kindley’s personal effects are on display at the Arkansas Air Museum in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

A Sopwith Camel F.1 said to be Findley’s and claimed to be the only surviving Camel in the United States, was used during the filming of “The Blue Max” in 1968 and is currently on loan to the Aerospace Education Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.