Today in Transportation History – An Aviation Milestone for the Thai People: February 28, 1912

In an early and important aviation milestone for Siam (now known as Thailand), three army officers departed the kingdom to undergo flight training in France. The officers were Major Luang Sakdi Sanlayawut (Sakdi), Captain Luang Arwut Likitkam (Arwut), and Lieutenant Tip Ketuthat (Tip). Their training began just over a year after Belgian aviator Charles Van Den Born made the first flight in Siam, piloting his biplane in the skies above the recently built Sra Pathum Airfield (at the site of a horse racetrack) in central Bangkok. King Rama VI was among those witnessing this airborne demonstration, and he and members of his government were so impressed that it was decided to have a number of the nation’s army officers learn how to fly.

Sakdi, Arwut, and Tip — as the inaugural group of officers charged with learning these aviation skills –- arrived in Paris about a month after leaving Siam. Later that same year, Sakdi became the first of the three to earn his certificate as a pilot; he was also the first native of Siam to fly a plane over his homeland. Arwut and Tip both received their certificates as pilots in 1913.

Other Siamese officers were subsequently sent to Europe to learn how to operate and maintain aircraft. In addition, the Siamese government purchased four Breguet biplanes and four Nieuport monoplanes. The newly trained pilots and their French-built planes helped set the stage for the Siamese Army’s aviation unit and what ultimately became one of the first full-fledged air forces in all of Asia. In another development underscoring the strong support of King Rama VI and others for Siam’s aviation efforts, a larger and better equipped Bangkok-area airfield (the present-day Don Mueang International Airport) was opened in 1914.

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