Excerpted from US Army Aviation Digest, June 1962, The Army Aviation Story by Richard Tierney, Part I

TWENTY YEARS ago this month America was mobilizing for an all-out war effort against the Axis. At Fort Sill, Okla., the Artillery School was a scene of intense activity. But, in odd contrast to the surrounding hustle and bustle, a small group of Army officers and enlisted men patiently marked time as they participated in limited flight and maintenance training programs.

These men were waiting for a decision on the results of a test—a test which led to the birth of Army Aviation. They had evaluated the concept of using light aircraft organic to the Field Artillery to spot targets. After-action reports had been submitted, and for two months the men had been waiting—and hoping they had convinced the War Department that the Artillery needed its own light aircraft to quickly and effectively detect targets hidden to ground observers.

Members of the Class Before One and others.

The group was rewarded for its efforts and patience when the War Department approved organic aviation for the Field Artillery on 6 June 1942. This date is now officially recognized as the birthday of Army Aviation.

Why 6 June 1942? Certainly the United States Army was associated with aviation and aerial observation much earlier. A review of this early history bears out the major role the U.S. Army played in the development of aviation and aerial observation. But it also reveals why Army Aviation—that is, the concept of aviation in support of the ground battle—had to wait until 1942 to be born.

The Army’s First Air Arm, the Balloon Corps, Contribution

The Balloon Corps’ contribution, and specifically that of Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, cannot be minimized. Here were aerial observers who supported the ground forces just as Army Aviation does today. They provided the ground commander with adjustment of artillery fire; invaluable information concerning troop concentrations and movement, both before and during engagements; and maps and sketches of enemy positions and gun emplacements. Army commanders often counted heavily on this information in the preparation of both strategical and tactical operations.

The Flying Machine

Shortly after the turn of the century Congress appropriated $25,000 for the War Department to “build a flying machine for war purposes.” General Greely turned to an old friend, Professor Samuel P. Langley, director of the Smithsonian Institution, for assistance. Dr. Langley had been experimenting in aerodynamics since 1885. In 1896 he built a steam driven model airplane that flew three-fourths of a mile along the Potomac River. He agreed to build a full-sized test machine for $50,000.

On 7 October 1903, Dr. Langley’s “Aerodrome A,” as he called his flying machine, was launched from a houseboat in the Potomac River. However, the test was unsuccessful and the “Aerodrome” crashed into the river. Eight weeks later a second attempt to fly the “Aerodrome” also failed.

Reasons given for the failures were that the center of gravity was off, and that the engine was not powerful enough.

These failures resulted in severe attacks on both Congress and the Army for “squandering money on such an impossible invention.” Consequently the project was cancelled.

Meanwhile Wilbur and Orville Wright’s aerodynamic experiments reached a successful climax on 17 December 1908 when they made their first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. However the Army, recalling the abuse it had absorbed over the Langley failure, remained skeptical about the Wrights’ success and did not state performance requirements for an airplane until 1907. Consequently the job—and honor—of introducing airplanes to the Army fell to General Allen.

The Aeronautical Division

In the history of Army Aviation, 1907 was an important year. As noted, a contract was awarded to build U.S. Army Dirigible No. 1; an Aeronautical Division in the office of the Chief Signal Officer was established on 1 August; and the United States became the first country to contract for a military airplane when the Signal Corps called for bids in December 1907.

Advertisement and Specification For a Heavier-Than-Air Flying Machine

This specification covers the construction of a flying machine supported entirely by the dynamic reaction of the atmosphere and having no gas bag.

It is desirable that the flying machine should be designed so that it may be quickly and easily assembled and taken apart and packed for construction in army wagons. It should be capable of being assembled and put in operating condition in about one hour.

The flying machine must be designed to carry two persons having a combined weight of about 350 pounds, also sufficient fuel for about 125 miles.

The flying machine should be designed to have a speed of at least 40 miles per hour in still air.
Before acceptance a trial endurance flight will be required of at least one hour during which time the flying machine must remain continuously in the air without landing. During this flight it must be steered in all directions without difficulty and at all times under perfect control and equilibrium.
It should be sufficiently simple in its construction and operation to permit an intelligent man to become proficient in its use within a reasonable length of time.

The price quoted in proposals must be understood to include the instruction of two men in the handling and operation of this flying machine. No extra charge for this service will be allowed.

SIGNAL OFFICE, Washington D.C., December 23, 1907.

The Aeronautical Division, responsible for all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines and all related subjects, was first headed by Capt Charles deForest Chandler.

On 1 February 1908, the Army received 41 bids for a military airplane. Only three bidders met the requirements outlined in the specifications:

  • Mr. J.F. Scott, Chicago, $1,000, 185 days.
  • Mr. A.M. Herring, New York City, $20,000, 180 days.
  • Wright Brothers, Dayton, Ohio, $25,000, 200 days.

All three bids were accepted but only the Wright Brothers’ airplane was ever delivered and accepted. On 20 August 1908, the Wrights brought their plane, a modified version of their 1905 airplane, to Fort Myer, Va., for testing.

It was a pusher type, with the motor and prop located behind the pilot and passenger. On 3 September the first flight, lasting 1 minute and 11 seconds, was made. This flight, the first of an airplane on a military installation in America, was followed by a series of test flights that were highlighted on the afternoon of 9 September when Orville remained aloft for 1 hour, 2 minutes, and 15 seconds.

Just as success seemed imminent, tragedy struck at Fort Myer. On 17 September 1908, Orville invited Lt Thomas E. Selfridge, an official Army observer at the trials, to ride as a passenger on a test flight. On the fourth turn of the field one of the props struck a brace wire attached to the rudder. An eyewitness account reported in the Washington Post stated: “The spectators saw a fragment of something fly from the machine and describe an arc in the air. “That’s a piece of one of the propellers’ shouted one of the officers. ‘I wonder what will happen to —! My God, they’re falling!'” The airplane, twisting and turning, fell 150 feet and hit with tremendous force.

Lieutenant Selfridge died a few hours later in a hospital, the first man to give his life in heavier-than-air powered flight. Only a few months before, Lieutenant Selfridge had become the first Army officer to make a solo flight in a powered airplane, when on 19 May 1908, he flew Alexander Graham Bell’s airplane, the “White Wing.” Selfridge’s death was a blow to the Signal Corps Aeronautical Division. He had been considered by many “the most widely informed expert on dynamics of the air and mechanical flight.”

Orville remained in the hospital several weeks. Upon his release he and his brother continued their work. They returned to Fort Myer on 20 June 1909 with an improved version of their 1908 plane.

After a series of practice flights, the Wrights announced that they were ready for the official trials. On 27 July Orville made the first test flight, carrying Lt Frank P. Lahm as passenger. Lt Benjamin D. Foulois flew with Orville on the final test flight on 30 July. The tests were successful and the Army accepted the airplane on 2 August. It became U.S. Army Aeroplane No. 1.

As part of the contract, the Wrights trained Lt Frederic E. Humphreys and Lieutenant Lahm to fly the airplane. Instruction began on 8 October and on 26 October the students soloed. Lieutenant Humphreys soloed first and became the first Army Aviator.

Lieutenant Foulois reported to College Park, Md., on 20 October and received some instruction from Wilbur Wright, Humphreys, and Lahm.

Navy Lieutenant George C. Sweet’s visit to observe the operations at College Park on 3 November resulted in two firsts. Lieutenant Sweet became the first Navy officer to fly in a heavier-than-air machine and the first passenger carried by Lieutenant Lahm.

In November, Humphreys and Lahm returned to duty in their respective basic branches, the Engineers and Cavalry. Lieutenant Foulois, who had moved the Army’s only airplane to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for the winter, received flying instructions from the Wrights by mail. The Wrights sent an instructor to help Lieutenant Foulois master the art of landing.

The Army struggled along with one pilot and one plane until 1911 when Congress appropriated $125,000 for Army Aviation. General Allen received $25,000 immediately and ordered five planes. The first to be delivered was a Curtiss pusher, which became the Army’s second plane.

Three Army lieutenants, Paul W. Beck, G.E.M. Kelly, and John C. Walker, Jr., were trained as pilots by Glenn Curtiss. They joined Lieutenant Foulois at Fort Sam Houston in April 1911. A month later, on 10 May 1911, Lieutenant Kelly was killed in a crash and became the first flight training fatality.

In the summer of 1911 the Army had five airplanes, three small balloons, and six officers who held airplane pilot certificates. Having no prescribed test for pilot qualifications, the Army adopted the rules of the Federation Aeronautique International as administered by the Aero Club of America.

By November 1912, the Army had 12 pilots, 39 enlisted men, and 12 airplanes, including hydroplanes. One hydroplane was the Army’s first aircraft with the propeller in the front. The pusher plane, which had accounted for most of the fatalities, was condemned by the Signal Corps in 1914.

The Army first used airplanes for observation and adjustment of field artillery fire in November 1912. At the request of the Field Artillery Board, two aircraft were sent to Fort Riley, Kan., for a series of experiments. Portions of a letter from Second Lieutenant H. H. Arnold to the Commanding Officer, Signal Corps Aviation School, Washington, D.C., tell the story. It was written at Fort Riley, Kansas, and dated 6 November 1912:

The first test in connection with artillery took place on the 4th of November; both machines took part in the test. There was no firing by the battery, the flying was done for the purpose of testing out different kinds of signals. There was a wireless station put up in the immediate vicinity of the battery and No. 10, (one of the aircraft) with Lt Arnold, pilot, Lt Bradley, operator, sent messages down to the battery. No. 11, with Lt Milling, pilot, Lt Sands, observer, was equipped with a smoke signal device made at this place. No. 11 sent signals from this device and also dropped cards. The smoke signal device, although improvised, showed that such a device could be used to signal from the aeroplane to the battery. However, on account of the manner in which it was constructed, the dot and dash system of signals could not be used. A system of dots alone had to be used.

On the 5th of November, the aeroplane was used for the first time with the battery actually firing at a target. The target was about 3200 yards from the battery. It was a dark day, a dark target and a dark background for the target. In spite of this, the target was picked up by the aeroplane very easily.

No. 10, equipped with wireless, went up first, sending back by wire. less, location of target and afterwards the position of the shots with reference to the target. These observations put the guns on the target after about four volleys, then this machine returned to the ground and No. 11 went up equipped with the smoke signal and sufficient cards for sending back data. The observer relocated the target and plotted position for the target and the battery on the cards. Then plotted the position of each salvo fired with reference to the target, range and deflection being changed in each case by the data received from the aeroplane.

It was found by using the wireless that aeroplanes could be started out in rear of the battery, salvo being fired just before they reached the battery. Return could be made by the machine as soon as they saw where the shots struck, the message sent back by wireless from the machine while it was making its circle, in order to get to its place to come up in rear of the battery for the second shot. When the machine used the card system, it was found necessary for the machine to make a figure 8 with the point of the crossing directly over the battery, the machine coming up from the rear, the battery firing just before the machine reached the battery. After observing where the shots struck, the machine turned, making a circle so as to come over the battery.

While the machine was making this turn, the observer plotted the position of the hits on the card with reference to the target and dropped it as he passed over the battery.

Then the machine made a second turn, in order to get to its place to come up from the rear to observe the second firing.

The above is the method of procedure at the present time, although we expect to change it so the firing can be done while the machine is in the rear of the battery, the observations being made and the location of hits being plotted on the card in time to be dropped as the machine passes over the battery on its first trip. In this way, time could be saved and it would only be necessary for the machine to make a circle instead of a figure 8….

Today there was one machine with Lieutenant Milling as operator and Lieutenant Sands, observer, used to observe fire. This machine used the dropping card system with good success. The target was about 3400 yards away from the battery. The aeroplane located the target which was invisible from the battery and at the 3d volley had the battery hitting the target.

The President of the Field Artillery Board does not expect to get through with these tests until the 14th of this month—that is, if the weather is good until that time. If the weather is not good it will take much longer.

Evolution of Army Aviation

Balloon Corps of the Army of the Potomac
Created on 25 Sep 1861 by the Secretary of War. Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe was named Chief Aeronaut, a civilian position. The Balloon Corps was disbanded in June 1863.

Balloon Section of the Signal Corps
Created in 1892 by Brig Gen Adolphus W. Greely, Chief Signal Officer. This was the first military aeronautic organization in the U.S. Army.

Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps
Created on 1 Aug 1907 by Office Memorandum No. 6 at the direction of Brig Gen James Allen, Chief Signal Officer of the Army.

Aviation Section of the Signal Corps
Created on 18 Jul 1914 by Congress. At the same time Congress established the aeronautical ratings of Junior Military Aviator, Military Aviator, and Aviation Mechanic.

Bureau of Aircraft Production and Division of Military Aeronautics
These two agencies were created on 21 May 1918 by President Wilson and placed directly under the Secretary of War.

Air Service
Bureau of Aircraft Production and the Division of Military Aeronautics as a single agency, the Air Service. A chief of Air Service was not named, but on 27 Aug 1918 the position of Director of Air Service was formed. The director was also the Second Assistant Secretary of War.

Air Corps
Created by Congress by the Air Corps Act of 2 Jul 1926. The act also created the position of Assistant Secretary of War for Air.

General Headquarters Air Force
The War Department ordered that the GHQ Air Force would be created by 1 Mar 1935 to assume control over tactical units and to come directly under the General Staff. It existed side by side with the Air Corps. Differences arose between the two commands. On 1 Mar 1939 GHQ Air Force was made responsible to the Chief of Air Corps rather than the General Staff.

Army Air Forces
Created by Army Regulation 95-5, dated 20 Jun 1941. AAF was headed by a chief who was also Deputy Chief of staff for Air. The chief coordinated and directed the Air Corps, the Air Force air elements. In March 1949, 82 percent of the officers and 77 percent of the enlisted men of the AAF were from the Air Corps while the rest belonged to the Signal Corps, the Corps of Engineers, the Quartermaster Corps, and other arms and services with the AAF. On 9 Mar 1942 the War Department created autonomous and co-equal commands within its framework: the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and the Army Service Forces. The office of Chief of Air Corps and the Air Force Combat Command were dissolved. All elements of the air arm were incorporated into the AAF under a single commanding general and a single air staff. Because it had been created by law, the Air Corps remained in existence as the chief component of the AAF.

Army Aviation
Created on 6 Jun 1942 when the War Department approved Field Artillery organic aviation. The new program came under the direction of the Field Artillery and the Army Ground Forces. It was to supplement the existing system of air support, and specifically to provide air observation for the adjustment of artillery fire.

U.S. Air Force
Created on 26 Jul 1947 when Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947. The act also created the Department of the Air Force and the position of Secretary of the Air Force and the position of Secretary of the Air Force, which was to be filled by a civilian appointed by the president.

In August 1913, a bill in Congress called for an aeronautical branch to be a part of the line of the Army. The majority of the Signal Corps officers opposed such a move at that time; instead, on 18 July 1914 Congress created an Aviation Section within the Signal Corps. The Aviation Section increased Army Aviation’s strength and scope, gave it a definite status, attracted top grade personnel, and gave manufacturers much needed encouragement.

During World War I the Army had 39 aero squadrons participating in action against the enemy. These included 18 pursuit, 12 corps observation, 3 army observation, 1 night bombardment, and 5 reconnaissance. Assigned to these units were 1,402 pilots and 769 airplane ob-servers. Employing day bombardment and pursuit airplanes, the Army in 150 organized bombardment missions dropped 275,000 pounds of explosives. Army squadrons engaged in over 2,100 combats, 12,830 pursuit flights, 6,672 observation flights, and 1,174 bombing flights. The enemy was strategically photographed 17,845 times; tens of thousands of rounds were used in ground strafing; and reconnaissance and artillery fire-directing missions were flown on innumerable occasions.

By the Book 1920 Style

After World War I, flying regulations were left primarily to the discretion of the Air Service station commanders. As a result some unorthodox flying took place. It soon became apparent that something had to be done to curb such aerial goings-on, and so a list of flying regulations was published to cover all Air Service flying activities.

For your interest and possible amusement, here are a few taken from “General Rules—to be followed at all U. S. Flying Fields.” They may be of some use to today’s pilots, just as they were to yesterday’s iron men in wooden ships.

By the way, we are in debt to two publications for this: “The Word,” at Patrick AFB, and “Sentry,” Eglin AFB.

  1. Don’t take the machine into the air unless you are satisfied it will fly.
  2. Never leave the ground with the motor leaking.
  3. Don’t turn sharply when taxiing. Instead of turning short, have someone lift the tail around.
  4. In taking off, look at the ground and the air.
  5. Never get out of a machine with the motor running until the pilot relieving you can reach the engine controls.
  6. Pilots should carry hankies in a handy position to wipe off goggles.
  7. Riding on the steps, wings, or tail of a machine is prohibited.
  8. In case the engine fails on takeoff, land straight ahead regardless of obstacles.
  9. Do not trust altitude instruments. Learn to gauge altitude, especially in landing.
  10. Never run motor so that blast will blow on another machine.
  11. Before you begin a landing glide, see that no machines are under you.
  12. Hedge-hopping will not be tolerated.
  13. No spins on back or tail slides will be indulged in as they unnecessarily strain the machine.
  14. If flying against the wind and you wish to turn and fly with the wind, don’t make a sharp turn near the ground. You might crash.
  15. Motors have been known to stop during a long glide. If pilot wishes to use motor for landing, he should open throttle.
  16. Don’t attempt to force machines onto ground with more than flying speed. The result is bouncing and richocheting.
  17. Aviators will not wear spurs while flying.
  18. You must not take off or land closer than 50 feet to the hangar.
  19. Never take a machine into the air until you are familiar with its controls and instruments.
  20. If an emergency occurs while flying, land as soon as you can.
  21. It is advisable to carry a good pair of cutting pliers in a position where both pilot and passenger can reach them in case of an accident.
  22. If you see another machine near you, get out of its way.
    -Reprinted from Flight Safety Foundation Bulletin

The Aftermath

And then it was over. The armistice was signed in November 1918 and the AEF returned home. With it came men who had new ideas about waging war through airpower.

Despite the tight purse strings accompanying the military demobilization, new and better aircraft were developed and the concepts of strategic bombing and air superiority grew. They flourished in a romantic era of flying which depicted open cockpit airplanes flown by “hell-bent-for-leather” pilots attired in helmet and goggles, boots and scarf.

In some respects the envisioned potential of airpower was exaggerated in this era. However, air superiority and strategic bombing would prove essential to the successful military operation of World War II. But it would also become evident in World War II that airpower alone would not bring victory.
Indeed, it would take the combined might of all the allies—on the land, on the sea, and in the air—to bring victory.

The War Department was aware of the diversified capabilities of aviation before World War II. The official American doctrine on the employment of airpower gave equal priority to the missions of ground support and strategic air operations.

Still, before the second war, extremists professed that combat aviation used in mass could break the enemy’s will to resist. Only minor cooperation from forces on the ground would be needed. They believed that the combat effort of airpower should be entirely concentrated on gaining complete air superiority and destroying targets beyond reach of the ground forces by strategic bombing. Air and ground forces need not even be in visual contact. Cooperation between air and grounds forces was visualized only during air operations in the immediate rear areas of the enemy front.

Heated and sometimes passionate disputes resulted over the employment and control of air-power. As America focused its attention on these unfortunate controversies, another concept was developing within the framework of the Army—the concept of Army Aviation.

Artillery Barrage

In addition to those in the Air Service, others also felt they had a stake in aviation. The Chief of Field Artillery was aware of the support that balloons and airplanes had provided in World War I. He instigated a thorough study on the Artillery’s experiences in combat with aerial observation. He stated that air observation was vital to the effective employment of artillery.

During World War I aerial artillery observation was provided by an observation squadron assigned at corps level. When a mission was requested, corps would dispatch an aircraft which reported by radio to the artillery unit calling for support. When the mission was over, the pilot returned to corps to await another assignment.

The Chief of Field Artillery denounced this system and stressed that artillery commanders did not know the observer and never saw him. This was considered a critical point since Artillery felt that “the point of fall of the artillery shell is an inextricable element of command. The artilleryman cannot do his job if he surrenders this element of command to some stranger who is not responsible to him, who he never sees, and therefore who he cannot trust.”

Disagreement between Artillery and the Air Corps grew before World War II. The Air Corps was rapidly developing its concepts of strategic air war and its entire ground support program was weakened.

In relationship to Artillery, the Air Corps felt that merely to furnish an airplane and pilot to carry an expert observer would be to relegate the Air Corps status to more of a service than a combat arm.

Meanwhile, as the 1930s drew to a close Artillery officers fired an increasing barrage of demands for more effective aerial direction of artillery fire. When these demands were not satisfied by standard Air Corps observation squadrons, Artillery officers began advocating the use of light aircraft organic to the units which they served.

In the summer of 1940, 1st Lt James MeChord Watson, Ill, called the Piper Aircraft Corporation and discussed the Artillery’s position on the use of light aircraft to adjust fire. Lieutenant Watson informed Piper that the Army was to conduct maneuvers at Camp Beauregard, La., (in Aug 1940) and asked for light aircraft to observe artillery fire. This marked the Army’s first contact with Piper.

Mr. Tom Case of Piper flew a J-4 Cub from New Orleans to Camp Beauregard on 12 August 1940. In Piper’s first demonstrations for the Army, Mr. Case operated the Cub from a dirt road and flew Lieutenant Watson and others as observers. They had no communication with the ground except by dropping messages or streamers. The only unfavorable part of the demonstrations recalled by Mr. Case was reveille a loud rendition of “Stars and Stripes” played every morning before daylight.

After the maneuvers Mr. Case returned to the Piper plant at Lock Haven, Pa. Throughout the rest of the year Lieutenant Watson and Mr. Case remained in frequent communication discussing problems and solutions connected with light aircraft and artillery observation.

Interest in light aircraft was mounting throughout the Army. Brig Gen Adna R. Chaffe called Piper Aircraft on 9 February 1941 and discussed the possibility of having light aircraft brought to Fort Knox, Ky., (the Armor School) to evaluate his ideas on directing columns from the air.

General Chaffe felt the light plane could be invaluable to the Army, and was pushing this idea in Washington. He was intensely interested in using light aircraft to control armored columns and to adjust heavy cannon fire from tanks. He felt strongly that all branches of the Army needed organic aviation.

Mr. Case flew a radioless J-3 (Number N-32750, a civilian version of the L-4) to Fort Knox on 10 February and conducted evaluation flights through the 15th. General Chaffe and members of his staff did considerable work with Mr. Case.

Pressure in Washington

On 18 February 1941, Mr. William T. Piper, Sr., president of Piper Aircraft. wrote the Secretary of War a detailed letter pointing out the great potential of light aircraft in support of the ground forces.

Meanwhile Mr. John E.P. Morgan was directing the campaign in Washington to secure light aviation for the ground forces. Primarily he represented Piper, Aeronca, and Taylorcraft. Shortly after Mr. Piper had written the Secretary of War, Mr. Morgan received a letter from Mr. Robert A. Lovett, Special Assistant to the Secretary of War. Mr. Lovett stated that the War Department had received numerous letters similar to Mr. Piper’s and that a study of the matter was in progress.

Mr. Morgan pressed the War Department for an expression of policy on the employment of light aircraft, stressing that this was necessary before industry could consolidate its efforts and provide the most efficient cooperation. Consequently Maj Benjamin W. Chidlaw was made an official consultant to industry.

Brig Gen Horace Whittaker, Commanding General of the 45th Infantry Division, also expressed an interest in the light airplane. At his request, Mr. Case flew to Camp Bowie, Texas, in the same J-3 he used at Knox. He was joined by Mr. Piper and from 17–23 March they conferred with General Whittaker and conducted numerous demonstration flights.

During this period General Whittaker and Lt Gen Walter Krueger witnessed and discussed the use of light aircraft by the Army. General Whittaker also began corresponding on the subject with the Chief of Field Artillery, Major General Robert M. Danford, a dedicated advocate of making light aviation organic to the Field Artillery. In a few months General Danford was to play a key role in the birth of Army Aviation.

On 19 April 1941, following the events at Camp Bowie, the Piper Aircraft Corporation had a radio installed in Mr. Case’s J-3. A standard communications radio of that day, it operated on a frequency of 3105 kc. The radio was not designed for the J-3, but did allow two-way voice communication which General Chaffe used when Mr. Case returned to Fort Knox on 23 April to continue evaluation of the aircraft.

Meanwhile, Piper Aircraft was contacting Army commanders in other sections of the United States in efforts to demonstrate the J-3. Mr. Henry S. Wann (now Lt Col, TC) was in Portland, Oreg., in April 1941 in his capacity as district sales manager for Piper Aircraft in the western states. Informed of Piper’s activities he was told to call on the military installations in his area.

Mr. Wann telephoned Fort Lewis, Wash., to arrange for a visit. Knowing nothing about military organizations or titles, he talked with nearly everyone from the military police sergeant on duty to the post sergeant-major. Finally he was connected with a lieutenant colonel who expressed interest in Mr. Wann’s mission. He told the Piper representative that he knew light aircraft had a great deal of potential, especially for artillery fire adjustment from the air, but said that it would serve no purpose to come to Fort Lewis at that time. He added that he had a private license, and was especially well aware of the light airplane’s uses. He told Mr. Wann his name Eisenhower. The future president of the United States met Mr. Wann later in the year at the Louisiana Maneuvers, where he recalled their conversation and reasserted his interest and belief in the potential value of the light airplane.

May 1941 was a memorable month in the history of Army Aviation. Major William W. Ford, a field artilleryman, aviation enthusiast, and sportsman pilot had been working intensively to bring organic aviation into the Field Artillery. He wrote an explosive article outlining his concept of aviation in the Field Artillery. The article was sent to General Danford who was most impressed. It appeared in the Field Artillery Journal in May 1941.

Major Ford was destined to direct field tests of the concept of Artillery Aviation and to become the first director of the Department of Air Training at Fort Sill, Okla.

Also in May, Mr. Case took J-3 No. N-32750 to Fort Sill for Army exercises and stayed from the 1st through the 4th. Mr. Case few Army officers on numerous missions to observe troops and artillery fire. He returned to Fort Sill on 7 May and additional evaluation was conducted until the 9th. Mr. Case then returned to Camp Bowie where he joined Mr. Piper, who had arrived with three more pilots and additional J-3s (all equipped with radios). From the 9th through the 25th a concentrated effort was made to have the J-3s live with the Army. Field maintenance was provided by Captain Watson and other services were provided at a civilian airfield. In one instance—on 20 May—the J-3s provided column control for 6½ hours on a troop movement from Berkley, Texas, to Camp Bowie. They landed on the road to refuel occasionally at a filling station.

Fill ‘er up! A “Grasshopper” stops at a filling station for gas during Army Maneuvers in 1941. Notice expression of cavalryman behind left wing. Photo by Hans Groenhoff.

Cavalry officers at Fort Riley witnessed demonstrations of the J-3 from 12–14 June and became interested enough to give the light airplanes a more extensive trial later.

On 18 June, Mr. Wann, Mr. Case, and two other Piper employees, James Maurice Helbert and Jules Parmentier took four J-3s to Manchester, Tenn., where they competed against Army Air Force O-49s and O-47s in Tennessee Army maneuvers which were already under way. The big advantage of the Cub was the ease with which one man could handle it and the ease with which it could be pulled under a tree and camouflaged.

Tennessee Maneuvers

The Second Army maneuvers held from 2–28 June 1941 in eastern Tennessee resulted in recommendations to the War Department that light airplanes be made a regular component of the Artillery.

During the maneuvers observers in the Cubs directed artillery fire on the Jake’s Mountain Range. Twelve aircraft participated—8 from Piper and 2 each from Aeronca and Taylorcraft. The light aircraft operated from a clearing on the side of a mountain. This area measured 298 paces long and was completely surrounded by trees.

Observers corrected fire from 155mm guns while flying behind the batteries at 1,000 feet. Staff artillery officers expressed amazement at the excellent visibility from the aircraft, their slow flying speed, and the fact that almost any person could fly these planes without extensive training.

In addition to artillery fire direction, the light planes served in other tactical missions. They were incorporated with regular Air Corps observation squadrons serving both the “Red” and “Blue” armies. They proved highly practical for scouting advanced enemy positions, carrying messages, transporting commanders and staff officers, etc. Altogether the pilots landed on 102 different fields, roads, pastures, and other such areas to demonstrate the unique landing capabilities of light aircraft. In fact, an impromptu landing was necessary to stop the maneuvers.

One of the Cubs was chosen to signal the tank divisions that the maneuver was over. The Cub zoomed over various tank units dropping flares to signal the end of the maneuvers. When one tank group apparently didn’t understand the signal, the Cub pilot landed in a field and caught up to the moving tanks by fast taxiing down the road. The tankers got the word.

Four J-3s were sent back to Fort Riley on 1 July so the cavalry could continue its trials. The aircraft remained through the 8th, directing cavalry operations from the air. The Piper representatives lived in the field with the cavalry and carried one mechanic with them. Following these trials official reports on the employment of the light aircraft were sent to Washington.

Desert Maneuvers

On 11 July 1941, Piper, Taylorcraft, and Aeronca sent light airplanes to Fort Bliss, Texas, to participate in Army maneuvers. This event is especially notable. During these maneuvers the small airplanes used by the Army were tagged with the nickname “Grasshopper.”

The incident occurred on 15 July, the day the maneuvers began. During the morning Mr. Wann was told to proceed from Biggs Field (where the civilian pilots were based) to Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Brigade. He was to deliver a message to the Brigade Commander, Maj Gen Innis P. Swift, and then remain with the general until another pilot and plane relieved him later in the day.

Mr. Wann took off and flew to the area where the brigade was operating. Finding the brigade was not difficult since the troopers, all mounted, stood out plainly in the brown desert. The area was strictly “boondocks,” consisting of desert, sand, clumps of grass, cactus.

After some preliminary reconnoitering and a couple of low passes, Mr. Wann landed in an area that was least cluttered by grass clumps. On landing he bounced a bit on the rough ground, then taxied up to the СР [command post].

Mr. Wann delivered the message and informed the general that he had been instructed to remain with him for use as he desired.

General Swift seemed quite impressed and remarked, “You looked just like a damn grasshopper when you landed that thing out there in those boondocks and bounced around.”

The general invited Mr. Wann to lunch, which was interrupted when a trooper rode up, saluted, and handed the general a radio message just received from Fort Bliss. It informed General Swift that an airplane had just been dispatched to him for his use. It had taken the message 45 minutes longer to arrive than the Cub.

After lunch Mr. Wann flew the general’s aide to Biggs Field on an errand. While at the field, the control officer received a message saying “SEND GRASSHOPPER” and signed “SWIFT.” No one knew what it meant until Wann explained it. The general used the light airplane continually during the rest of the maneuver, and the nickname stuck.

In all, 12 light planes participated in the maneuver, which was concluded on 26 July. Aeronca and Taylorcraft each sent two aircraft and Piper provided the rest. The civilians who demonstrated the light aircraft formed the famous Grasshopper Squadron.

Grasshopper Squadron

Piper Aircraft Corporation
W.T. Piper, Sr., T.I. Case, Thomas Piper, Howard Piper, T.H. Miller, Norman Hockenberry, Henry Kubick, W.D. Strohmeier, T.V. Weld, Forest Nearing*, Robert Bowes, David Cogswell, Gordon Curtis, James Diegel, Robert Heath, J.M. Helbert, C.R. Holladay, J.W. Miller, Henry S. Wann, David Kress*, Jules Parmentier, H. Sheldon Chadwick

Aeronca Aircraft Corporation
Maurice C. Frye, James Rosing, James Kukla, John Gall*

Taylorcraft Aviation
James Ludwig, Paul Yates, Phillip Gow*, Adair Miller, Ray Carlson*, Frank Parmelee*

Continental Engine Company
Chauncey Chantree*, Percy Hubbel*

*Ground engineers; the others were flying salesmen. John E.P. Morgan also was a member of this group. From Washington, he acted in the capacity of a director or observer.

The light plane’s participation in the operation was considered a complete success and the Army requested permission to purchase 20 such planes. The request was disapproved by the War Department. However, Lt Col Dwight D. Eisenhower, at the suggestion of Mr. Lovett arranged to have the aviators and planes placed on a per diem rental and expense basis. Previously, members of the Grasshopper Squadron paid their own way.

Following the maneuvers at Fort Bliss, Mr. Case flew to Camp Bowie where, on 30 and 31 July, he briefed General Whittaker and Captain Watson on the happenings in Texas. On 3 August he flew to Beauregard, La., where the Grasshopper Squadron would participate in the Louisiana Maneuvers. This operation would establish in most artillerymen’s minds the urgent need for light aviation organic to their branch.

Louisiana Maneuvers

General Danford, already enthused about the performance of the light aircraft in Army maneuvers, visited the British Artillery School at Larkhill in the summer of 1941. British experiments with light aircraft further impressed General Danford and upon returning to the United States he obtained permission to evaluate the planes in the Louisiana Maneuvers.

Grasshopper Squadron pilots flew 12 light planes from 12–14 hours a day in the Third Army portion of the maneuvers which ran from 11–30 August at Beauregard, La. They continued operating in the same area during the combined Second and Third Army maneuvers from 11–30 September. (Members of the Grasshopper Squadron supported the First Army from 6 October to 1 November and again from 3–30 November in the Carolinas. Interstate and Rearwin aircraft companies also sent planes to these maneuvers.)

Mr. W.T. Piper, Sr., took an active part in demonstrating the J-3 to the Army. At left he is preparing for a flight during the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941.
Mr. W.T. Piper, Sr., briefs other Piper members of the Grasshopper Squadron. They are, left to right, John E.P. Morgan, J.M. Helbert, Piper, T.H. Miller (with glasses), David Kress (below Miller), Henry Wann (upper right), and Tom Case.

Colonel Eisenhower as Chief of Staff, Third Army continued to show the same enthusiasm over light aviation as he had in Fort Lewis. Mr. J.M. Helbert, a Piper member of the Grasshopper Squadron became Colonel Eisenhower’s courier pilot during the maneuvers. Mr. Helbert recalls first seeing Colonel Eisenhower at the maneuvers on a 1,000-inch range being used as a landing strip. Mr. Helbert had just flown in when Colonel Eisenhower and Lt Col Sam Davis, Chief of Third Army Air Corps, stopped to look over the planes.

A week later at about 1700 hours Mr. Helbert had returned from a mission and was tying down his Cub on a football field from which he was operating. Colonel Eisenhower approached him and said that he had been doing paperwork all day, and if possible would like to fly for awhile. When asked if he could fly, Colonel Eisenhower said that he had about 600 hours. The two went flying and the future president took off, flew and landed the J-3.

Later in the maneuvers Colonel Eisenhower returned and asked Mr. Helbert to take him up so he could observe the maneuvers from the air. He was particularly interested in watching a cavalry-tank skirmish. Thereafter, Colonel Eisenhower and his staff used the light aircraft constantly. The Grasshopper Squadron flew numerous general officers during the exercise, including General George Patton who had his own plane at the maneuvers and directed armored columns from the air.

Often it was necessary for members of the Grasshopper Squadron to sleep out in the open during Army maneuvers of 1940–41. Here Jules Parmentier (left) and James Sprague Diegel, both Piper employees, get up with the sun and prepare for another day of flying during the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. The aircraft is a J-3, the forerunner of the L-4. Note cots and mosquito bars under the wings.

The Louisiana Maneuvers indicated that Army Air Force observation units provided by the Air Support Commands did not provide adequate support. However, the Grasshopper Squadron proved beyond doubt the worth of light aircraft organic to the units they serve. This was substantiated by General Danford’s much quoted statement made on 8 October:

“The only uniformly satisfactory report of air observation during the recent maneuvers comes from those artillery units where… light commercial planes operated by civilian pilots were used.”

J.M. Helbert (left) and Tom Case, members of the Grasshopper Squadron, preplan prior to taking Lt Col Dwight D. Eisenhower on a mission during the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. Note “grasshopper” band on Case’s arm.

Following a visit to Fort Sill and a discussion of organic aviation with Major Ford, General Danford again recommended to the War Department that light aircraft manned by Artillery officers be made organic to division and corps artillery units. The division and corps commanders unanimously endorsed this recommendation.

Premature, the recommendation was disapproved. Maj Gen Leslie J. McNair, Chief of Staff at GHQ, felt that a fair trial must be given the new system of Air Support Commands—and generally favored the massing of support elements.

Finally the Office of the Chief of Staff ordered a test of General Danford’s proposal—with a corps artillery brigade and an infantry division. Pearl Harbor postponed the test, but on 25 February 1942 the 2d Infantry Division and the 13th Field Artillery Brigade were named as the test units. Major Ford, now Lieutenant Colonel, was placed in charge at the suggestion of General Danford, and the test was ordered to proceed at Fort Sill, Okla. General Danford happily announced the news at Fort Sill as he addressed a group of students in a theater.

Members of the Grasshopper Squadron take a break during the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. They are, left to right, James Diegel, T.H. Miller, Tom Case, Jules Parmentier, Maurice Frye, Dave Kress, and Norman Hockenberry. All are from Piper except Frye who represented Aeronca. The group is standing in front of an Aeronca YO-58.

The Class Before One

First Lieutenant Robert R. Williams, now Brigadier General, Commandant of the U.S. Army Aviation School, and Second Lieutenant Delbert L. Bristol (now Colonel) joined Colonel Ford at Fort Sill to help set up the program. Both held civilian pilot licenses and had been working with the aerial observation program for a year.

Also Maj Gordon J. Wolf, a reservist who had been corresponding with Colonel Ford, was recalled to duty. He helped select personnel for the test group, and organize the Air Training Detachment under which they would function.

Colonel Ford and the three officers mentioned above worked out the full program with the assistance of Brig Gen Jesmond D. Balmer, Commandant of the Artillery School.

The Army Air Forces loaned Colonel Ford’s group 24 YO-59s, (standard J-3s painted olive drab). In all, 9 pilot instructors, 14 officers, and 21 enlisted student pilots, all having CAA licenses, joined Colonel Ford for the tests.

Special Orders No. 12

HEADQUARTERS, Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

SPECIAL ORDERS: January 15, 1942, NO 12: EXTRACT

  1. Under authority granted by paragraph 6, letter OCFA dated December 23, 1941 subject “Air Observation” the persons below are, each with his own consent designated as pilots for the purpose of flying light observation aircraft operated by the Field Artillery. The military personnel, though participating regularly and frequently in aerial flights, are not entitled to flying pay.

Pilot Instructors

Col WILLIAM W. FORD, 0-12667, F.A., Director of Air Tng
Mr. RICHARD H. ALLEY, Chief Flt Instr
Mr. LLOYD M. DAMRON, Flt Instr
Mr. EDWARD DRAPELA, Flt Instr
Mr. JOE L. MESSINA, Flt Instr
Mr. THOMAS F. PIPER, Flt Instr
Mr. ALANSON RAWDON, Flt Instr
Mr. T. F. SHIRMACHER, Flt Instr
Mr. H. S. WANN, Flt Instr
Mr. STANFORD J. STELLE, Supt of Maint

Student Pilots

Major GORDON J. WOLF, 0-225015, F.A.
Captain ROBERT M. LEICH, 0-258194, F.A.
1st Lt F. H. COUNE, JR., 0-338555, F.A.
1st Lt EDWIN FREDERIC HOUSER, 0-330734, F.A.
1st Lt PAGET W. THORNTON, 0-326311, F.A.
1st Lt ROBERT WILLIAMS, 0-22962, F.A.
2nd Lt LLOYD M. BORNSTEIN, 0-423354, F.A.
2nd Lt DELBERT BRISTOL, 0-386551, F.A.
2nd Lt MARION J. FORTNER, 0-415317, F.A.
2nd Lt STEVE E. HATCH, 0-416401, F.A.
2nd Lt BERT LaMERLE JACO, 0-300098, F.A.
2nd Lt CHARLES W. LEFEVER, 0-409406, F.A.
2nd Lt ROBERT RUSH, 0-318541, F.A.
2nd Lt BRYCE WILSON, 0-364893, F.A.

Sergeant ALWIN R. HACKBARTH, 20653487, Btry C, 121st F.A., Camp Livingston, La.
Sergeant JAMES W. HILL, JR., 34026570, Hq 1st Bn, 179th F.A.,
Sergeant JOSEPH E. MCDONALD, 20817060, Serv Btry, 2nd Bn, 133rd F.A., Bowie, Texas.
Sergeant JOHN S. SARKO, 20651424, Hq Btry, 120th F.A., Camp Livingston, La.
Sergeant JACK K. SVITZER, 20316559, Hg Btry, 1st Bn, 109th F.A., Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Pa.
Corporal ROBERT M. FORD, 38050577, Hq Btry, 2nd Bn, 133rd F.A., Camp Bowie, Texas.
Corporal THOMAS M. SKELLY, 20314874, Hq Btry, 1st Bn, 108th F.A., Indiantown
Corporal ROBERT E. SPAULDING, 20326468, Hq Btry, 1st Bn, 190th F.A., Camp Shelby, Miss.
Corproral ROBERT W. DONOVAN, 37021811, F.A.S. Det (White), Fort Sill, Okla.
Pvt 1cl CHARLES D. HOFFMAN, 37022621, Btry E, 125th F.A. Camp Claiborne, La.
Pvt 1cl WAYNE D. VAN HUSS, 56023418, Hq Btry, 54th F.A. Bn, 12th Tng Regt., F.A.R.T.C., Camp Roberts, Calif.
Private JOHN J. ADKINS, 37119374, Btry E, 32nd Bn, 8th Tng Regt., F.A.R.T.C., Fort Sill, Okla.
Private FRANKLIN LEE CLARK, 33121241, Btry B, 12th Bn, 4th Tng Regt., F.A.R.T.C., Fort Bragg, N.C.
Private ROLAND J. COUTURE, 31012966, Btry D, 172nd F.A., Camp Blanding, Fla.
Private RAYMOND A. GEARHARD, 33115470, Btry C, 8th Bn, 3rd Tng Regt., F.A.R.T.C., Fort Bragg N.C.
Private WINSTON W. JOHNSON, 34072013, Hq Co., 973rd Tank Destroyer Bn, Camp Shelby, Miss.
Private WILLIAM RANDOLPH MATHEWS, JR., 6284169, Hq Btry, 2nd Inf Div Art., Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Private RICHARD O. PALMER, 14051413, Btry B, 12th Bn, 4th Tng Regt., F.A.R.T.C., Fort Bragg, N. C.
Private GERALD P. VECKER, 37119360, Btry E, 27th Br, 7th Tng Regt., F.A.R.T.C., Fort Sill, Okla.

By command of Brigadier General ALLIN:

OFFICIAL:
D. L. DUNLAP, 1st Lt, 18th F.A, ASSISTANT SECRETARY.
H. McK. ROPER, Lt Col, F.A. EXECUTIVE.

The Field Artillery was charged with responsibility for first echelon maintenance of the aircraft used during the test. The Air Corps was to perform second and third echelon maintenance, but the Field Artillery was required to furnish the Air Corps all necessary historical data relating to the airplane and engine. However, in reality the test group did all of its own maintenance and only depended on the Air Corps for supplies.

Training began at 0730 on 15 January 1942. The students, often referred to as the Class Before One, were divided into A and B flights. Instruction was broken down into flight and ground training with both of these further divided into stages A, B and C.

Mr. Stanford J. Stelle was in charge of field maintenance instruction for pilots and mechanics. Two practical mechanics, Buck Nearing of Piper and Chet Hammond of Continental, were brought in to help Stelle.

Lieutenant Robert R. Williams, Mr. Dick Alley, Mr. Tony Piper, Mr. Henry Wann, and Mr. Ted Shirmacher set up the flight curriculum and directed short field precision and low aerobatic flight instruction. The training program as outlined above was used by the air training department for the next three years.

A large part of the short field work used by the test group and later at Fort Sill reflected a teaching philosophy developed by Mr. Shirmacher when he was a civilian flight instructor. Basically it amounted to showing the student the extremes to which he could carry the aircraft and himself. In this way the student learned both his own and the aircraft’s limitations.

A Cub flown by pilot instructor Ted Shirmacher lands around a curve during training of the Class Before One at Fort Sill in 1942.

To implement such a program Mr. Shirmacher devised extreme maneuvers and incorporated them into the curriculum. Perhaps the most extreme maneuver was the power stall approach, which differed from the power approach in that the airplane was flown at a near stall attitude.

The power stall approach was not considered a good approach; in fact, it was considered dangerous. But it fitted into the teaching philosophy and proved to be invaluable in slowing down students who had a tendency to land too fast.

On 28 February 1942 training was completed at Fort Sill and the civilian instructors returned to their homes while the Class Before One students split into two groups to continue the tests. Flight B reported to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to work with the 2d Infantry Division and Flight A proceeded to Fort Bragg, N.C., and joined the 13th Field Artillery Brigade on 5 March 1942.

2d Infantry Division parade in April 1942 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Planes of Flight B pass the reviewing stand with elements of the 2d Infantry.

Flights A and B of Class Before One

The following personnel, under command of Maj Gordon J. Wolf, trained with the 2d Infantry Division, Fort Sam Houston, Texas:
Maj Gordon J. Wolf, Capt Robert M. Leich, SSgt Alwin R. Hackbarth, 1st Lt Robert R. Williams, SSgt Robert W. Donovan, SSgt Robert M. Ford, 1st Lt Paget W. Thornton, SSgt William R. Mathews, Jr., 2d Lt Steve E. Hatch, SSgt James Kerr, Jr., 2d Lt Bryce Wilson, Sgt David S. Sweetser, SSgt John S. Sarko, Sgt Walter T. Michalak

The following personnel, under command of Capt Edwin F. Houser, trained with the 13th Field Artillery Brigade, at Fort Bragg, N.C. and Camp Blanding, Fla.
Capt Edwin F. Houser, SSgt James W. Hill, Jr., 1st Lt Felix H. Coune, 2d Lt Lloyd M. Bornstein, SSgt Thomas M. Skelly, 2d Lt Charles W. Lefever, SSgt Roland J. Couture, Sgt William T. Roulston, Jr., 2d Lt Marion J. Fortner, Sgt Frank C. Baumstark, 2d Lt Delbert L. Bristol, Sgt Walter J. Zimmerman, SSgt Joseph E. McDonald, Sgt Ralph E. Hage

Lt Col Ford divided his time between the two test groups.

Training at Fort Bragg was interrupted on 24 March 1942 when the 13th Field Artillery Brigade was ordered to move to Camp Blanding, Fla. However, Flight A took advantage of the move and provided troop commanders with current information on the state and progress of their columns. Also, it was realized that the light aircraft could have kept the ground commander well informed of a possible enemy threat over a wide area.

During the exercises pilots in both flights practiced innumerable power stall approaches over bamboo poles, received intensive training in flying S turns, eights on and around pylons, chandelles, lazy eights, stalls, short field procedures, road landings, landings on actual strips, ground handling procedures, adjustment of artillery fire, and field maneuvers.

At the end of April 1942, the tests were over and the group reassembled at Fort Sill to await the outcome. Some of the advantages that were established during the tests included:

  • the ability and ease with which field artillery personnel could operate the planes;
  • the simplicity of operation and maintenance of the planes;
  • the ease with which the planes could be dismantled and loaded on 2½-ton trucks for ground movement;
  • the effectiveness of the pilot-mechanic concept of having each pilot fully capable of repairing and servicing his aircraft.

The success of the two test groups was reflected in letters of commendation from Brig Gen John B. Anderson, Commanding General, 2d Infantry Division and from Brig Gen J.A. Crane, 13th Field Artillery Brigade commander.

On 7 May 1942 General Anderson wrote to Major Wolf:

During the period you have been attached to the artillery of the 2d Infantry Division, you and your detachment have been a credit to the Field Artillery… The outstanding work of your detachment in maintenance and a record free of serious accidents are indicative that long hours and total disregard of personal convenience must have been the rule rather than the exception in carrying out your duties.

I especially desire to commend you as the Detachment Commander, and Captain Robert M. Leich as the Engineering Officer for the outstanding performance of duty and for the splendid results obtained while your detachment was under my Command.

On 5 May 1942 General Crane wrote to the commandant of the Field Artillery School:

I cannot adequately express my admiration for the skill and enthusiasm with which all the personnel of the flight performed their work here. Never once did they fail to carry out the often seemingly impossible tasks assigned to them, and their record of eight weeks of continuous operation from roads and small unimproved fields under all conditions of weather and terrain without personal injury of any kind and with only one accident that resulted in any damage to material is a glowing tribute to their ability to fly and maintain the airplanes provided them. Their energy, initiative, and cheerful cooperation contributed immeasurably to the successful completion of the test; and if our report on it is approved and air observation is made an organic part of the Field Artillery, the credit will be due to them, and the Field Artillery arm of the Service will owe them a debt of gratitude.

The boards appointed to observe the tests forwarded their reports to the War Department, highly recommending organic aviation for field artillery units. Headquarters, Army Ground Forces also was impressed, but did express concern over the “vulnerability of the light planes.” However, AGF also noted that even under unfavorable conditions some missions could be performed, and recommended that the program be implemented without delay. On 6 June 1942 the War Department established organic Army Aviation. At first General McNair was skeptical of the program, but soon became convinced of its worth and “supported it with all his powers.”

The War Department directive called for two pilots and one mechanic for each field artillery battalion; 2 in each divisional field artillery headquarters; and 2 in each field artillery brigade or group headquarters. This necessitated 10 aircraft in each infantry division which contained four field artillery battalions; six (and eventually eight) in each armored division, which contained three artillery battalions, and (after September 1943) an artillery headquarters. In the field artillery brigade the number of aircraft varied with the number of battalions incorporated.

Responsibility for equipment maintenance and training was divided between the AGF and AAF. Procuring aircraft, spare parts, repair materials, and auxiliary flying equipment fell to the AAF along with the responsibility of third echelon maintenance and basic flight training for student pilots. The AGF would provide the tactical training of the pilots and mechanics. The Department of Air Training, for which plans had already been prepared, officially came into existence on 6 June at Fort Sill to provide this training. Colonel Ford, who was promoted to full colonel on 25 June 1942, was named director.

Members of the Class Before One and others.

Members of the Class Before One and others who helped bring about the birth of Army Aviation and the establishment of the Department of Air Training at Fort Sill, Okla.

  1. Bryce Wilson (Bryce)*
  2. Joseph E. McDonald (Joe)*
  3. Gordon J. Wolf (Gordon)*
  4. Marion J. Fortner (Jake)*
  5. Alwin R. Hackbarth (AI)*
  6. Charles W. Lefever (Chuck)*
  7. Robert W. Donovan (Bob)*
  8. Felix H. Coune (Felix)*
  9. Steve E Hatch (Steve)*
  10. James W. Hill, Jr. (Jimmy)*
  11. Paget W. Thornron (Paget)*
  12. Thomas M. Skelly (Tom)*
  13. John S. Sarko (John)*
  14. Lloyd M. Bornstein (Lloyd)*
  15. Robert R. Williams (Bob)*
  16. Delbert L. Bristol (Bris)*
  17. Forrest H. Nearing
  18. Robert M. Ford (Bob)*
  19. Roland J. Couture (Roland)*
  20. Joe L. Messing (Joe)
  21. William R. Mathews (Randy)*
  22. Edwin F. Houser (Ed)*
  23. Theodore F. Shirmacher (Ted)
  24. Robert M. Leich (Bob)*
  25. William T. Rouiston, Jr. (Bill)*
  26. William W. Ford (Wally)*
  27. Unknown
  28. Lawrence E. Rhodes*
  29. Stanford J. Stelle
  30. Unknown
  31. Walter J. Zimmerman*
  32. Henry S. Wann (Henry)
  33. Unknown
  34. James T. Kerr (Butch)*
  35. Chester Hammond
  36. Unknown
  37. Unknown
  38. Unknown
  39. Unknown
  40. Unknown
  41. Unknown
  42. Unknown
  43. Unknown
  44. Joseph R. Caldwell*
  45. Unknown
  46. Frank C. Baumstark*
  47. Unknown
  48. Ralph P. Hage*
  49. Unknown
  50. David Sweetser*
  51. NOT SHOWN
    Richard H. Alley
    Lloyd M. Damron
    Edward Drapela
    Thomas F. Piper (Tony)
    Alanson Rawdon

*Participated in Test—March and April 1942

The Flight B detachment of the Class Before One is briefed by Maj Gordon J. Wolf (far left) prior to a mission during the tests at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. They are, left to right, Maj Wolf, SSgt William R. Mathews, Jr., SSgt Robert M. Ford, Set David S. Sweetser, SSgt Alwin R. Hackbarth, 2d Lt Steve E. Hatch, Capt Robert M. Leich, SSgt James Kerr, Jr., Sgt Walter T. Michalak, SSgt Robert M. Donovan, SSgt John S. Sarko, 2d Lt Bryce Wilson, 1st Lt P. W. Thornton, Capt Robert R. Williams.
Members of Flight A at Fort Bragg, N.C. They are (left to right) Lieutenants “Chuck” Lefever, “Jake” Fortner, and Lloyd Bornstein.

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