Excerpted from US Army Aviation Digest, July 1962, The Army Aviation Story by Richard Tierney, Part II—Academics and Training

MAJ WILLIAM W. FORD headed a list of light aviation enthusiasts who throughout 1941 had worked diligently to bring about the birth of Army Aviation. In late 1942 he was named by Gen Robert M. Danford, the chief of Field Artillery, to organize and train a group of aviators who would test the concept of making light airplanes organic to the Field Artillery. The tests, discussed in Part I of this story, were successful and on 6 June 1942 the War Department approved organic aviation for the Field Artillery. Lieutenant Colonel Ford was instructed to establish and direct the Department of Air Training at Fort Sill, Okla.

THE FIRST STEPS

Shortly after the birth of Army Aviation Colonel Ford went to Washington to arrange the final details and Major Wolf remained at Fort Sill to handle arrangements and to secure a competent corps of instructors. The first instructors were civilians employed at a salary of $300 per month. Eventually most of these civilian instructors were commissioned and given flight pay. The Department of Air Training was ready for business by the end of July and consisted mostly of the members of the test group.

In July 1942 volunteers with civilian pilot ratings were requested to attend the tactical flight course. The 19 students in Class One reported to Fort Sill on 1 August and after preliminary orientation, tactical flight training commenced on 3 August and lasted until 18 September. The course, which was later lengthened, used the L-4B Piper, the L-2B Taylorcraft, and the L-3C Aeronca. The first class of mechanics had begun on 27 July 1942 and lasted 5 weeks. When the Department of Air Training began operations, it had 23 aircraft on hand and on order 100 Piper J-3s (L-4s) and 50 Taylorcraft (L-2s).

The first pilot class. This class was graduated in September 1942. Reading from left to right they are: front row, Lt S.A. Williamson, Capt J.E. Swenson, Lt H.R. Phillips, and Sgt J.S. Rengers; middle row, Sgt R.S. Wilkinson, Sgt W.C. Schoonover, Lt J.W. Byrd, Lt W.D. Stephens, and Sgt C.B. Allen, Jr; top row, Lt B.A. Devol, Jr., Lt G.M. Albert, Lt R.P. Stallings, II, Capt J.M. Watson, Jr., and Lt T.L. Hendrix. Absent when this picture was taken were Capt E.S. Gordon and Lt J.U. Overall (inset).

Post Field was turned over to the Army Ground Forces by the Air Corps and several small auxiliary fields were built either on the reservation or on nearby leased land. A number of tactical training strips were built on the reservation and on the wildlife refuge.

For the first five classes the Department of Air Training accepted for its liaison pilot classes both officers and enlisted men from the ground forces and services of supply. However, each student was required to have at least 60 hours of flight and to hold (or have recently held) a pilots license. The student’s maximum weight limit was 170 pounds and he must have been able to pass the physical examination for Class II pilots of the Air Corps.

During the early years of the war a number of civilians were recruited for the air training department by air shows which were put on at surrounding communities. This aroused a great deal of interest and, along with the recruiting slogan, “that you’re better off flying than digging a hole,” resulted in a number of applications.

Students received about 15 hours of dual and solo time, mostly air work to refresh their flying technique. Then they were given about 28 hours of flying in and out of small fields, taking off and landing on roads and over obstructions. Toward the end of the course they were given 6 half-days of instruction as observers. Students also received 12 half-days of ground instruction on navigation and meteorology; 27 half-days on maintenance and repair of airplanes and engines; and 3 half-days on tactical employment of organic air observation. All pilots were issued a kit of hand tools and did the maintenance on the aircraft they flew.

Student mechanics were selected from members of the ground forces who had considerable mechanical experience. They received extensive training in maintenance and repair of aircraft and engines and upon graduation were capable of performing in the field all first and second echelon maintenance. The Army Air Forces was responsible for third and fourth echelon maintenance, but in most cases Army mechanics performed all maintenance short of a complete overhaul.

The air training department had no trouble filling mechanics classes. By 3 August 1942 over 3,000 applications had been received. However, applications from qualified pilots fell below expectations. By 3 August there was only sufficient personnel to provide a class of 20–30 students each two weeks instead of 30 weekly as had been contemplated the previous June.

To remedy the situation the Army Air Forces was directed to supply 100 basically trained pilots a month. The first of these reported to Fort Sill on 19 September 1942, and those who qualified for the tactical course were enrolled in Class No. 6. These men had learned to fly under the civilian pilot training program and then were placed in the Air Corps Reserve. When called to active duty they were rated as Liaison Pilots.

BIRTH CERTIFICATE OF ARMY AVIATION

WDGCT 320.2 (2-5-42) June 6, 1942
MEMORANDUM FOR THE COMMANDING GENERAL, ARMY GROUND FORCES:
Subject: Organic Air Observation for Field Artillery.

  1. Reference is made to letter War Department, February 25, 1942, AG 320.2 (2-5-42) MT-C, subject: Service Test of Organic Air Observation for Field Artillery, and 1st Indorsement thereto.
  2. Your recommendation that organic air observation units be included in Field Artillery organizations is approved.
  3. It is desired that you take immediate steps to effect the necessary changes in organization, equipment and training entailed by this action.

The following will govern:
a. Organization:

(1) Liaison airplanes will be authorized for Field Artillery units at the rate of 2 per light and medium Artillery Battalion, 2 per Division Artillery Headquarters and Headquarters Battery or Field Artillery Brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Battery.
(2) Personnel will be authorized at the rate of 1 pilot and ½ airplane mechanic for each liaison plane authorized.
(3) The required changes in T/Os and T/BAs will be submitted as soon as practicable.

b. Procurement and Maintenance:

(1) The Commanding General, Army Air Forces will be responsible for the procurement and issue of airplanes, spare parts, repair materials and the necessary auxiliary flying equipment required by this program. The airplanes will be commercial low performance aircraft of the “Piper Cub” type.
(2) All maintenance other than that requiring the facilities of base shops will be accomplished by the Army Ground Forces.
(3) Maintenance requiring the facilities of base shops (customarily referred to as 3d echelon maintenance in the Army Air Forces) will be a responsibility of the Commanding General, Army Air Forces.
(4) It is desired that you confer with the Commanding General, Army Air Forces regarding the number of aircraft required under the 1942 Troop Basis, the anticipated delivery rate, the estimated requirements of spare parts, repair materials and auxiliary equipment, as well as the procedures and policies regarding their issue and delivery.

c. Personnel:

(1) Qualifications:
Recommendations for the detailed qualifications and specifications for both commissioned and enlisted personnel will be submitted for approval. These will fall into two general categories: a pilot capable of piloting the liaison-type airplane as well as assisting in normal maintenance; and a mechanic qualified to service the airplane and perform repairs incident to 1st and 2d echelon maintenance.
(2) Sources of personnel:
(a) Pilots: Volunteers, now under your control, who are qualified to pilot liaison-type airplanes will be utilized to the maximum as pilots. Additional pilots needed to fill requirements of the 1942 Troop Basis will be made available by the Commanding General, Army Air Forces.
(b) Mechanics: Mechanics will be procured from sources under your control.
(3) Extra compensation and ratings:
(a) Pilots will be authorized additional compensation for participation in frequent and regular aerial flights. A rating generally similar to that of a liaison pilot will be established for pilots.
(b) Appropriate ratings for mechanics may be Technician, Grade 3, or lower.

d. Training:

(1) The basic flight training of pilots (exclusive of those under your control already qualified) will be a responsibility of the Commanding General, Army Air Forces. This training will be limited to that necessary to enable safe operation of low performance aircraft and qualify a student according to standards established for liaison pilots.
(2) You are authorized to organize at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, or other stations selected by you, a course of instruction for the operational training of pilots, mechanics and observers in the tactical employment of organic air observation in Field Artillery units.

  1. Changes in training literature will be prepared at the earliest practicable date.
  2. A copy of the directive to the Commanding General, Army Air Forces is attached hereto. The Commanding General, Army Air Forces has been furnished a copy of this letter.

By order of the Secretary of War:
I.H. EDWARDS, Brigadier General, Assistant Chief of Staff.

This plan failed to supply the needed pilots. Between 1 September and 26 November 1942, the Army Air Forces furnished 338 such pilots, many diverted from the glider program. Of these, 102 did not qualify for the tactical course—most of them being overweight. Of the 236 accepted, 16 percent washed out, and the net yield from the program was only 198.

Since few Army officers with civilian pilot ratings were coming into the Army in 1942, an agreement was made with the Air Corps to establish a source for primary training of pilots.

On 26 November, 25 Field Artillery officers began primary flight instruction at Denton, Texas. The same number of Field Artillery officers were to report to Denton each week thereafter. They received 9 weeks of training as liaison pilots from the Harte Flying Service before reporting to Fort Sill for the advanced course. The course at Sill ran 5 weeks, but often was extended because of delays, caused mostly by bad flying weather.

The first officers sent to Denton were selected from the staff, faculty, school troops and the Field Artillery replacement training center at Fort Sill.

Beginning with the Denton class of 3 December 1942, selected Officer Candidate School graduates and attached, unassigned officers attending courses at the Artillery School were sent for flight training.

While Air Corps reservists were flowing through this system it was necessary to increase the advanced course at Fort Sill from 7 weeks to 10. The reservists were given 5 weeks of basic military training which they had not received previously. By 1 February 1943 reservists ceased to come into the program and it was found feasible to reduce the advanced course to 5 weeks.

The Army Air Forces’ primary flying school at Pittsburg, Kan., began accepting Artillery pilots for flight training about 15 February 1943. Starting with the class reporting to Denton on 18 March 1943, the classes alternated between Denton and Pittsburg.

The environments at Denton and Pittsburg were not the best (academically speaking) for turning out aviators. At Pittsburg the students were quartered in a hotel and were on per diem. At Denton they lived in a men’s college dorm. At both training sites there were plenty of young ladies to distract the young flight students. In fact, there was a women’s college at Denton, and the situation there reached a point where the only flight students that didn’t get married were those who were already married.

At any rate, the brand new second lieutenants were given silver wings upon graduation and then reported to Fort Sill overweight, with 50-mission crushed hats, and without any respect whatsoever for Colonel Ford’s desire that they keep off the grass. However, after a few of their number experienced the wrath of the veteran artilleryman, the students acquired a little humility and stayed off the grass.

GROWING PAINS

Original plans called for 80 percent of the Field Artillery pilots to be enlisted men. The 20 percent officer pilots were to provide supervision. The plans didn’t work—mainly because the enlisted men who were able to perform an acceptable job as liaison aviators were usually officer candidate school material.

The first training fatality at the Department of Air Training at Fort Sill, Okla., occurred on 8 March 1943. Lt R.P. Stallings, a flight instructor, was killed when he and a student crashed in the L-2 pictured above. The aircraft was on a downwind turn when it stalled out and spun in.

Consequently, enlisted pilots generally left troop units for OCS shortly after reporting for duty. The War Department decided it would be better for enlisted personnel to attend OCS before going to flight school, and on 20 April 1943 enlisted men ceased to be eligible for liaison pilot training.

An Army Ground Forces directive dated 15 September 1943 named only Pittsburg to be used for primary training. However, a few students continued to be sent to the Denton school until about 16 November 1943.

In January 1944, Colonel Ford departed for troop duty and Colonel Wolf succeeded him as director of the department until the end of the war.

Two unidentified mechanics check an L-4A used in seaplane training at Lake Lawtonka.

Seaplane training for pilots and mechanics was begun on 7 April 1944 as part of the tactical course, and facilities were built at Lake Lawtonka. Also, training in the use of the Brodie device was directed by the commanding general, Army Ground Forces, on 31 October 1944. The Brodie device was a cable launching and landing apparatus which enabled aircraft to get in and out of confined or unimproved areas and to operate from Naval landing craft.

In fall 1944, it was decided that an adequate number of pilots had been trained to meet requirements until the first of the year. As a result, Class No. 88, which reported to Pittsburg on 27 July 1944, was the last to be enrolled until January 1945. Meanwhile, the Army Air Forces terminated its contracts with civilian flying schools and Class No. 88, which was at Pittsburg 11 weeks, became the last to be trained there.

Class No. 89 resumed the training program on 13 January 1945 under Army Air Force instructors at Sheppard Field, Texas. After 14 weeks of basic instruction the class received an additional 14 weeks of instruction at Fort Sill’s advanced course.

In early 1945 pilot losses in combat necessitated an increased input of from 30 to 40 students every 2 weeks and a reduction in basic training to 11–12 weeks. The tactical instruction was slashed to 5 weeks and liaison pilots were rushed overseas until the situation eased. Beginning with Class No. 94 which reported for basic training on 9 March 1945, the Army was able to resume the full schedule of 14 weeks both at Sheppard Field and Fort Sill. This schedule was continued until the Department of Air Training gave way to the Army Ground Force Air Training School. The only other change under the department was the reduction of student input from 40 to 30 per class beginning with Class No. 101 which was enrolled on 18 June 1945.

AGF AIR TRAINING SCHOOL

The highly successful employment of Army Aviation in combat resulted in numerous requests for light organic aviation from branches other than the Field Artillery. To serve vital needs, most major ground combat units were borrowing the Cubs from the Field Artillery whenever possible. Consequently, the Cubs were effectively employed in such missions as courier and liaison operations, photographic and visual reconnaissance, column control, emergency resupply, and evacuation of wounded. (A more detailed account of Army Aviation in combat is presented in another portion of this story.)

In August 1945, the War Department adopted an agreement which extended organic aviation to five more users: Cavalry, Infantry, Engineers, Armor, and Tank Destroyer. The agreement, which had been reached previously by General Jacob L. Devers, CG, Army Ground Forces, and General Ira C. Eaker, CG, Army Air Forces, also called for additional light aircraft for the AGF.

Instruction at the Department of Air Training had previously been limited to Field Artillery personnel. Now it became necessary to expand the program, and effective 7 December 1945 the Department of Air Training of the Field Artillery School was redesignated the Army Ground Forces Air Training School. This school was established to provide tactical training to include the added ground arms incorporating organic aviation. The school was placed under Maj Gen Louis E. Hibbs, Commandant, Field Artillery School Brigadier General Ford, back from troop duty, was named Assistant Commandant for Air Training and again directed the tactical air training program. Under the new system, primary flight training was still provided by the Air Corps.

Six Field Artillery pilot classes were in session when the changeover came and another was enrolled before the student of the first Officers’ Army Ground Forces Airplane Pilot Course assembled on 28 January 1946 at the school. However, not enough students were on hand to begin instruction and the group had to wait until Class No. 3 reported on 11 March.

A similar situation existed with the Field Artillery Air Mechanic Course. Three were in session and allowed to finish, but no more were enrolled. The first enlisted Army Ground Forces Air Mechanic Course started on schedule—21 January 1946.

By June 1946 the demobilization of the Armed Forces brought about a severe Army-wide shortage of personnel. As a result the Air Training School had to eliminate seaplane training from the curriculum and sharply reduce the time devoted to the Brodie device.

Although courses of instruction were being tightened, the Air Training School was expanding its facilities at Post Field. In July construction was started on a concrete runway 5,000 feet long, 200 feet wide, and included taxiway and increased apron space.

The sod surface previously satisfactory for training purposes with light airplanes had begun to deteriorate as heavier aircraft used the field in increasing numbers.

During the postwar period the Army began reorganizing its school systems. In November 1946, the Department of Air Training again was established at Fort Sill and the Army Ground Forces Air Training School was discontinued. The department offered training support for all the ground arms, rather than just Artillery as it had prior to 7 December 1945.

The successful growth of the Department of Air Training can be traced to the tireless efforts of a great many people. Most notable are General Ford and Colonel Wolf who each served as director of the department. Other key personnel include Capts Robert R. Williams and T.S. Baker, who at various times served as chief of the Flight Division; Captain E.F. Houser, chief of the Tactics Division; and Captain R.M. Leich, and Lts M.J. Fortner and Lloyd M. Bornstein. Lieutenant Fortner, a member of the original test group, was an aeronautical engineer with experience in light aircraft maintenance. He was primarily responsible for developing maintenance courses for both pilots and mechanics.

Maj Robert M. Leich (center) was the first engineering officer of the Department of Air Training. His assistants were 1st Lts L.M. Bornstein (left) and M.J. Fortner.

Directors of the Department of Air Training

Col (Brig Gen) Wallace W. Ford was the first director of the Department of Air Training at Fort Sill, Okla., from 6 June 1942–January 1944. After a tour overseas he returned and directed the Army Ground Forces Air Training School at Fort Sill from January 1946–November 1946 when the AGF School was disbanded. The AGF School had been established on 7 December 1945 and placed under the command of the commandant of the Field Artillery School. General Ford filled the position of Assistant Commandant for Air Training, which was responsible for operation of the flying school. General Ford became director of the re-established Department of Air Training in November 1946 and held the position until July 1947.

Col G. J. Wolf was director of the Department of Air Training from January 1944–7 December 1945. He directed the Army Ground Forces Air Training School from 7 December 1945–31 December 1945.

Col W.W. Ford, first director, and Lt Col G.J. Wolf, first executive, of the Department of Air Training.

RAPID GROWTH

Aviation is a highly specialized activity, and requires the highest standards of instruction. These high standards required adequate and sufficient maintenance space, airspace, classrooms, administrative space, and billets.

Inadequate hangar space, dispersal of activities, and submarginal facilities for aviation at Fort Sill resulted in excessive costs and inefficient operations.

Insufficient aircraft parking hardstands meant that about 80 percent of the aircraft had to be parked on the sod, and continuously operated under extremely dusty conditions. The sod had deteriorated and was a sea of mud when it rained and dusty when it was dry. Dust circulating through engine parts resulted in excessive deterioration of aircraft parts and frequent engine replacements. In addition, a lack of hangar space made the aircraft extremely vulnerable to frequent and severe storms.

Periodic storms of great intensity pointed out the lack of adequate hangar space at Post Field. One storm in particular (on 4 August 1946) was accompanied by 3-inch hailstones and severely damaged 231 (48 percent) of the aircraft. Training time lost was 15,975 hours and the estimated total damage cost to aircraft was $575,000.


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