[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home
previous:

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of
United States Naval Aviation

by
Archibald D. Turnbull
and Clifford L. Lord


published by
Yale University Press
New Haven
1949

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

next:

[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 9
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p81  Chapter VIII

Preparing to Fight

The Naval Appropriations Bill signed by President Wilson on August 29, 1916, provided $3,500,000 for aviation. It authorized the establishment of a naval flying corps, which, although it is still so authorized, never did come into existence. Further, it provided for a reserve flying corps and for the purchase of aircraft, including ten planes to be lent to the naval militia. Altogether, this bill represented a long-overdue advance; the opening of a new era in naval flying at which pioneers like Towers, Bellinger, Read, and the rest must have rubbed their eyes and asked: "How can these things be?"

The eyes of all those in aviation had naturally been turned toward what had been going on in the air over Europe. Because of obvious difficulties in air operations from the sea, European landplanes had progressed more rapidly than seaplanes. The Royal Naval Air Service, however, had employed both types in antisubmarine reconnaissance, scouting, spotting of gunfire, bombing, and aerial defense of the Grand Fleet. None of these efforts had been entirely successful but there had been enough progress to justify the Admiralty in pushing aviation vigorously. Besides developing blimps, it had built aircraft tenders capable of accompanying the fleet and it was projecting its first carriers. British flying boats, known as F‑boats, were modifications of the Curtiss America which, as has been said, had been taken to England by Commander Porte; and it is to be noted that it was a further modification of the F‑boat which became, after American motors were adapted to it, the United States F‑5‑L.

Meanwhile the Royal Flying Corps had been active, and at the very moment when Congress was debating this Naval Appropriations Act of 1916 these British airmen were engaged in their greatest effort to date, the battle of the Somme. At the beginning of that battle the corps had 28 squadrons, a number increased, in the face of losses, to 35 by November, 1916. As Saunders remarks in his  p82 history of British air power, aviation had by the latter date become a vital part of the war machine, a fact by no means overlooked by those on this side of the Atlantic who had urged the passage by Congress of an adequate appropriation bill.

The bill had not been passed without a hard struggle. Bristol had begun it by asking for $13,000,000, a sum out of which he hoped $6,000,000 would be spent in building two carriers. The Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations had butchered this figure down to $2,000,000, after which the General Board, acting on the request of Representative Britten of the Naval Affairs Committee that it make a study, had patched the cripple up to $5,000,000. Rear Admiral Fiske told the Naval Affairs Committee that this last amount was ridiculously inadequate, taking the occasion to express "dismay" over the failure of his successor in Naval Operations to push "the work . . . of establishing a Division of Aeronautics and of developing" that branch. He had urged the assembly of 1,000 planes "to meet an attacking force" and "drop large bombs and launch torpedoes." He had described the way in which these planes, properly used, could completely disrupt an enemy's attempt to land from small boats. He had spoken of aeronautics as "the thing on which we can get to work quicker, and by which we can accomplish more than by anything else."

Money would stimulate private firms, declared Fiske, citing Secretary Whitney's appeal to Congress in 1886 for a new steel, armored Navy, when Whitney had insisted that if the "manufacturers of the country" knew the Navy had money available they would "come after it." Just this encouragement was needed by the makers of aircraft, said Fiske, and no time must be lost because "we are weak in battle-cruisers and in air . . . but in a year we can do much in air and little . . . in cruisers."

It is not hard to imagine the admiral's feelings when, even against these strong pleas, the Secretary of the Navy won the vote of a majority of the House Committee for $2,000,000; when even conference with the Senate raised the figure only to $3,500,000. To the aviators, however, an amount relatively so much greater than they had known must have appeared fabulous. Although all chance of getting carriers was gone, they could hope for a real program of plane building and training.

Among the manufacturers, Burgess was then struggling with problems of stability, Curtiss with problems of motors and pontoons; Martin and Sturtevant were concentrating on the design  p83 of floats. Nevertheless, within two months of the act's passage, contracts had been let for 47 planes and two kite balloons, and before the year 1916 was out the figure for planes had been increased to 60. Curtiss obtained the largest contract calling for 30 N‑9 seaplanes. This type was an adaptation of the Army's JN training plane on which Curtiss, with Richardson's assistance, had substituted a float for the conventional landing gear and, to compensate for the added weight, had increased the wing span. With an OX motor, a good propeller, and a new type of automobile radiator, it was to become the Navy's basic training plane. "Generally speaking," said Hunsaker, "when an N‑9 cracked up, the pilot survived because of the low landing-speed and the tractor design."

In motors, the immediate results of testing numerous designs at the Washington Navy Yard had been "disappointing." Up to the fall of 1916 only two types had developed the required horsepower and performed well. While the existence of a plant where motors could be scientifically tested was an incentive to manufacturers, because it meant that hit-and‑miss methods had been abandoned, they were still so short of producing first-class motors that Bristol proposed buying foreign makes. As a result Wright-Martin ordered 450 Hispano-Suiza motors from France and, notwithstanding the demands of the French Army, managed to get 100 delivered within the next year. Less fortunate was the Sterling Company, which was not permitted by the Admiralty to have even the blueprint of the British Sunbeam motor. Similarly, although there was correspondence on such foreign motors as the Rhone, the Gnome, the Anzani, the Renault, and the Salmson, none of these was bought at this time. If any attention was paid to a suggestion from the naval attaché at Berlin that a sudden end to the war in Europe would make it possible to buy for, say, $10,000,000 all the planes and dirigibles the United States could need, no action on the suggestion was taken. One very important result of this talk of buying abroad, however, was the entry into plane building of American automobile builders. Eventually it would be their skilled technicians who would be instrumental in producing that very useful plane motor, the Liberty.

In lighter-than‑air craft, the Navy Department's first design had called for a rigid dirigible with 20 hours' endurance at a top speed of 60 mph under a full load of fuel, a crew of 20, and four machine guns. With this full load it must be able to climb to 4,000 feet; with fuel reduced to five hours' supply it must reach 10,000  p84 feet. Its radio range was to be 400 miles, and it must be "capable of landing on water." Very shortly, these specifications were modified to reduce the crew to 12, the endurance to six hours at a maximum speed of 50 mph, and the radio range to 200 miles. The full load ceiling was raised, however, to 5,000 feet.

The training dirigible design, after modification of the original one, prescribed 45 mph with 12 hours' endurance at 35, a crew of three, a 150‑mile radio range, and the ability and strength both to land on the water and to be towed through it. The length was to be 150 feet, the diameter 31.5 feet, the gasoline capacity 100 gallons, and, because weight was considered more important than provision for emergency, there was to be but one motor.

In January, 1917, Hunsaker's plans made it clear that this "B" airship for training could more than meet the specifications. These plans were accordingly approved, and in February the Secretary of the Navy unexpectedly ordered 16 ships to be built immediately. Of five firms who wanted to undertake this work, only one, Connecticut Aircraft, had ever built a dirigible and even that firm had had many difficulties. No rubber manufacturer had ever made a hydrogen-resisting fabric. For these reasons a conference held in Rear Admiral Taylor's office, finally decided to pool materials, information, and experience in order to produce craft with speeds of 35 mph at $42,000 each. Under this arrangement Goodyear built an erecting and testing shed at Akron, Ohio, in two months. Goodrich hired an engineer from Lebaudy in Paris. Pigeon Frazer built the cars for the Connecticut Company, while the United States Rubber Company made the fabric. Hall-Scott of San Francisco built motors. Nevertheless, when the Secretary of the Navy proposed that another 24 nonrigids be built, Rear Admiral Taylor made strong recommendations against doing this until the value of the type had been demonstrated. Since the much better "C‑type" was soon to follow, it was fortunate that the admiral's recommendations were approved.

The first A‑class airship, which would finally be delivered at Pensacola in the spring of 1917, was a failure from the start. It could hardly get off the ground, its motor was poor, and its envelope leaked. Nevertheless, because its builders, the Connecticut Company, had lost so heavily upon it, the contract price was paid. Soon afterward, when its car was being towed over the water, it was so badly damaged as to be not worth repairing; it was deflated and eventually broken up for its parts. That it should have been  p85 a failure is understandable after reading what Commander McCrary, who had watched its building, had to say of the builders: "It could hardly be called an aircraft company. It consisted of a New Haven R. R. Lawyer [sic] as financial backer; an ex‑Amusement Park Concession operator as manager; an Austrian who claimed to have piloted a dirigible and two German mechanics who claimed to have been members of the crew of a Zeppelin. The 'plant' was a six-by‑eight office . . . and a rented boat-shed."

Inevitably the greatly expanded construction program involved problems of inspection not fully solved by the recent reorganization of that service. Some plants had an officer assigned under Construction and Repair, others had one under Steam Engineering, and still others had one inspector for both bureaus. Where these inspectors were aviators, they were certain to have the goodwill of the contractors, but they were also quite certain to be handicapped because they were familiar with aircraft as fliers rather than as technicians. Their reports to the bureaus could not be as clear on the mechanical details as was desirable, especially because their scarcity in numbers made them likely to be transferred from one plant to another before they had mastered these details in the first one. Richardson, of course, was fully qualified because he was a flier as well as an engineer and a naval architect. The others were not so useful as inspectors, although as fliers they could not but consider themselves experts. Inclined to expect miracles, they were sometimes impatient of the plodding research often necessary to solve some problem which they thought should be simple. They were inclined to blame the bureaus for any shortcoming in a plane, especially when the fault led, as it sometimes did, to an accident.

Hunsaker, examining the Army's methods, discovered that its inspectors included an officer — presumably a flier — two consulting engineers, and as many as 30 civilian experts. He immediately recommended that the Navy also employ civilians, dividing the details of their duties just as the work was divided between the bureaus and thus permitting the release of aviators to other duties. In general this plan of Hunsaker's was adopted with good results; at Buffalo and at Boston, for example, the employment of civilian engineers served to answer many technical questions more readily.

The release of these aviators did not, however, solve the personnel problem. Nowhere in the Navy was the shortage of officers more acute than in aviation, which had never had enough adequately  p86 to assist Captains Chambers and Bristol in building up trained staff for the bureaus or even in filling the training quotas or the regular classes at Pensacola. When production meant more planes, and also meant the prospective duty of training reserve, militia, and coast guardsmen as well as naval students, the lack of proper instructors was more than ever apparent. If Pensacola was to be assigned the officers and men it needed, these could come only from a Fleet already undermanned. On the request that these transfers be nevertheless authorized, the Secretary of the Navy's note, "Do not take them out now!" naturally resulted in delaying the training program. This was very marked toward the end of 1916, when more planes were gradually becoming available.

Congressional hearings upon the provisions of the bill for a Naval Flying Corps had brought out many arguments. Admiral Benson had opposed taking in civilians, training them for six months, and then giving them commissions. He preferred to see enlisted men taught to "chauffeur" officers who, as observers or on combat missions, would be merely passengers. Captain Bristol, insisting that command of aircraft required officers of the same skill as the commanders of surface vessels, advocated taking the civilians into such branches as the submarines for coast defense and letting the regular officers become fliers. Rear Admiral Blue, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation and therefore the target for every branch of the Navy wanting more officers and men, came out strongly for the separate corps as the only means of "creating, within a reasonable time," a force adequate to the Navy's need. Such a force, he said, could have only a nucleus of regulars. Other officers who appeared at the hearings argued that a civilian could be trained to fly in about six months, whereas waiting for graduates of the Naval Academy would mean waiting for six years while they got their full seagoing training. Since the six months' man could not be expected to perform any but aviation duties, these officers thought it logical that he be assigned to a separate corps. They therefore advocated legislation that would follow, in general, a draft prepared by Saufley before he was killed, a draft already approved by both the Secretary of the Navy and the President.

It had finally been written into this act of 1916 that there should be a Naval Flying Corps consisting of 150 officers and 350 enlisted men of the Navy and Marine Corps; to be in addition to quotas already established by law for these Services, but specifically not including in these stipulated figures those who might be already  p87 on temporary duty in aviation. Further, these additional officers and men were to be considered for permanent appointment in the Flying Corps and were to be eligible under the law for flight pay if actually flying.

To form the new corps the Secretary of the Navy was authorized to appoint two new groups of officers, selecting them from either warrant officers, enlisted men, or civilians. The first group was to contain 30 "acting ensigns," 15 appointed in each of the next two years, while the second was to contain 120 "student-fliers," 30 appointed in each of the next four years, making a total of 150. After three years' aviation duty all were to be eligible for promotion to "acting lieutenant junior grade," when they were to be given the choice of continuing as fliers or going into the regular Navy for sea duty. If they continued in aviation for another four years they might then become lieutenants, dropping "acting" from their titles. Those who stuck to flying might rise as high as captain, regardless of "sea duty in grade." To make up the authorized 350 enlisted men, one half was to be taken from the various branches of the Navy, the other to consist of recruits enrolled for aviation only. These were the main provisions which, as passed, were liked by many, disliked by as many more, including aviators on both sides. Mustin supported the act, Towers led the opposition. When the act became law Bristol made new recommendations as to the qualifications for pilots and as to the enlisted personnel, including uniforms, training, duties, and promotion. Taking the opportunity to strike again for centralized control of aviation, he strongly urged "officers of high rank for developing the Air Service . . . with practical flyers and . . . designers." These officers, he declared, were "more needed at the present time than anything else if we desire to get a proper Air Service in the quickest time." He was willing to go along with the act as far as it went in producing aviators. He was not interested in emphasizing the "separate" feature of the new force.

Mustin, on the other hand, had his own plan to meet what he described as the "present deplorable situation" in aviation personnel. From Pensacola, in October, 1916, he sent his proposal that there be immediately established "an independent organization although always auxiliary to the Naval Force," and what he sought was a cross between the U. S. Marine Corps organization and the British group subsequently known as the Royal Air Force because among all the air forces in Europe he thought the British  p88 "the most efficient." To speak his full mind on this subject he took 33 pages of single-spaced typing.

Beginning with the assumption that Congress had definitely intended to create this separate Naval Flying Corps, he urged that it be done because the "major activities" of aircraft were "along highly specialized lines distinctly different from the activities of Naval surface craft," and because aviators with the Fleet were "practically inert" until called upon for their specialty. Accordingly, he contended that this corps should be formed to include the officers then qualified as fliers, together with the newly authorized acting ensigns and any regular officers later assigned as students. Tours of duty with the corps should be for three years, with "frequent flying"; all such tours to be equivalent to sea service in qualifying for promotion. Aboard ship, corps officers should be a separate division of the complement and even those who were qualified as deck officers should in no case be required to stand watches immediately before or after the day they were to fly. Unquestionably, said Mustin, the aviators must be trained naval officers, who knew all about ships. They should not be mere observers, taken into the air as passengers, but must themselves be pilots. These requirements bore especially upon such duties as scouting because a scout must fully understand what he saw, "incorrect information being worse than no information at all." In order properly to report an enemy's movements, a scout must recognize all types of ships, formation, and tactical maneuvers. All such abilities must be combined in one officer because aircraft did not have enough "reserve horsepower . . . for carrying several officers and men additional to the pilot."

Above all, the officers of the corps must be highly proficient aviators, with full knowledge of aerial tactics. Peering, as he of often did, into the future, Mustin said this was because, while "there has not been time in the history of the aeroplane to perfect a system of battle tactics in groups; the first who [does] will . . . have a tremendous advantage over equal numbers of an enemy unskilled in formation . . . aircraft operations except, perhaps, scouting, will eventually develop into group flying." In his opinion training for such work, on top of all else that was required, would need anywhere from three to five years, especially for those who had not had the Naval Academy schooling in subjects such as higher mathematics and electrical engineering. Three years, perhaps, would be needed to get newcomers through elementary  p89 courses and into advanced training for flight. Even those who came in as acting ensigns might well need two years for the schooling alone.

The necessity for spending so much time was, to Mustin, a convincing reason for the separate corps. To make it feel separate it should certainly be under its own command. That officer should himself be a part of a definite chain of command which administered Naval Aviation in all of its branches. There must be an end to uncertainties between bureaus, which were apt to look upon aviation and the peculiar problems of aircraft design and construction as "a strange and relatively unimportant piece of work." Being rather more certain of the support of everyone in aviation for this administrative feature of his plan, Mustin drove hard for independent control by a director under the Chief of Naval Operations, as the only way to get true coordination. Aviation problems were new and difficult; bureaus were widely separated; only where the "whole time" of officers was devoted to aviation could real progress be made. Therefore, wherever work for the air arm differed from mere bureau routine, bureaus should transfer their supervision of that work to a central division of aeronautics. Heading that division there should preferably be an officer of rank who was himself a qualified aviator; failing that, he must at least be known "to have a talent for coordination and administrative work, and be provided with the necessary number of expert advisers under his direct control." These should include aides for structural material, ordnance, motors and equipment, both in airplanes and in dirigibles; as well as special aides for Marine Corps, reserve, and militia personnel. With all these, through the commandant of the corps, the director should administer regular fleet and shore aircraft, the fliers with the Marine Expeditionary Forces, all the Reserve Flying Corps and any militia detachments. Given such an organization, declared Mustin, there could be advance in design, maintenance, supply and, above all, training, combined to give the Navy a really efficient, well-manned air arm.

At the moment, said Mustin, there were but 14 qualified air pilots, of whom only four were at Pensacola. The 13 aviators from the line of the Navy who were still under training would require four to six months' advanced work before qualifying as pilots. Thirteen others, then still students, might so qualify by July 1, 1917. Of the total of 56 officers of the Navy and Marine Corps  p90 who had had flying duty, five had been killed, two relieved for temperamental and physical disability, and one dismissed; a combined loss of close to 18 per cent which, allowing for greater safety in the future through the use of "tract" planes, might be reduced to 5 per cent. By July, 1917, it might be expected that there would be 38 pilots, of whom perhaps 20 would be ready to fly with a fleet in battle. Citing those figures, Mustin called the prospect unpleasant because "Our little squadron . . . would be of only momentary value . . . [and] no one can be expected to accomplish much if the odds against him are certain to be at least ten to one!"

Even by July, 1918, he estimated, the present rate would produce only 67 pilots, of whom 16 would have to be on shore duty. What was worse, these estimates took no account of probable "rotation" which would force fliers to return to sea duty or miss their promotion as Chamber had missed his. Towers had asked to be relieved as air attaché in London because he was "running terrible chances" of not being promoted. Such a policy, said Mustin, could have been established only "by those who have no practical experience in flying and, if it is adhered to, the Naval Flying Corps will never be effective." Development was so rapid that one out of touch for a year or more required considerable retraining. In other branches of the Service a "rusty" officer could be useful while "catching up," and in ordinary naval duties he would not be "liable to kill himself and others." A rusty pilot going into the air would have no expert at his shoulder to warn him before he made a mistake when flying in formation. Even when planes became large enough to carry many officers and men, the one at the controls would have to make instantaneous decisions. To Mustin, the uncertainty of the length of an officer's assignment to aviation was "a constant source of worry." As he saw it, it appeared obvious that no one would care to risk his life in learning to fly if he had in mind the constant thought that he might at any time be transferred to some entirely different duty. This would be particularly true if it also meant possible recall to aviation at a future date when lack of practice had left him quite unprepared for advances during his absence.

As far as these recommendations might be pertinent, Mustin wanted them applied to enlisted men as to officers. He strongly urged permanent duty for the men, with the establishment of definite ratings to which they might advance without worry about  p91 service aboard ship. Since the new law provided flight pay for the permanent enlisted corps, he suggested that only those in the ratings of airmen and machinist, aeronautics, be made "permanent" members. This would obviate the injustice of allowing extra pay to men of other ratings not required actually to go into the air.

Some of these views of Mustin's were eventually adopted. On the other hand, although the act of 1916 is still on the statute books, some of its provisions have never been put into full effect. The men who flew for the Navy in World War I were not a separate air force but a part of the Navy. In World War II they were again an integrated part of the Fleet and it seems safe to predict that they will be just that for years to come. Nevertheless, Mustin's proposals were of the greatest benefit in setting the new course for Naval Aviation and in speeding its advance.

As far as immediate action went, the Navy Department's opinion of a separate air corps force was embodied in Captain McKean's letter to the Chief of Naval Operations. He urged "that all legislation . . . relating to the Flying Corps be repealed," and that "all officers required in the air service be from the regular Navy and Marine Corps, trained in their naval duties before going into Aeronautics and returning . . . after their greatest usefulness" as aviators was over, which he estimated would be after five years of flying. To provide for more officers he recommended that "legislation be enacted increasing the appointments to the Naval Academy . . . which [will] provide . . . 30 graduates each year in excess of the present number and thus permit the detail of 30 commissioned officers [to] . . . Aeronautics." Noticeably, in these recommendations, the captain appears to have made no provision for immediately producing naval aviators nor, for that matter, to have considered that the need for these aviators was immeasurably greater because of the imminence of war. His views were fully supported by the Chief of Naval Operations, who commented that he found the legislation impossible to put into effective operation. The outcome was that Naval Aviation on April 6, 1917, mustered but 48 officers with only 230 enlisted men — hardly what would be called a "striking force" today.

It has already been remarked that the same act provided for a civilian reserve. As part of this the Naval Reserve Flying Corps was planned, to include all officers and men who might be authorized to transfer to it from the regular service, as well as all civilian  p92 fliers, designers, builders, photographers, and all others who could be of use, enrolled "in time of war or . . . national emergency declared by the President." No limit was placed on the size of the Reserve, but all members must serve three months on active duty during each enrollment, the periods of duty to be at least three weeks long. Enlisted men who had had 16 years' service with the regular Flying Corps might transfer to the Reserve, where they would receive an annual retainer of two months' pay in addition to full pay for any active duty. It was this corps that would attract many collegians and others and grow, in early 1917, so fast that it eventually furnished most of the naval fliers in the war. A case in point was the "Yale Unit" formed into Aerial Coast Patrol Unit Number One, under F. Trubee Davison. After training at its own expense at Port Washington this unit would take part in the late summer maneuvers of the volunteer "Mosquito Fleet" in Gravesend Bay, spotting mines and practicing other exercises. Early in the winter its members would leave college to gather at Rodman Wanamaker's Florida seaplane base. Eventually, through Towers and Assistant Secretary F. D. Roosevelt, all hands would enroll in the Reserve Flying Corps, to be followed by another unit from Yale and several from Harvard, Princeton and other sources.a

A third important feature of the act of 1916 was the provision for buying 12 planes to lend to the naval militia. To Bristol and his associates this appeared a great step forward, because they had not been able to carry out the terms of the department's General Order No. 133, issued in June, 1915, authorizing the loan of the Navy's planes to the militia. Indeed, any legislation for the organization was welcome because its development had been a problem ever since authorization of its air component by Congress two years earlier, in April, 1914.

Rear Admiral Fiske, as one of his last helpful acts before leaving the Office of Naval Operations, had come out strongly for an air arm in the militia. Like Bristol, he had sought to take advantage of the offers of such men as those led by A. B. Lambert of St. Louis, enthusiastic amateur pilots who had wanted to fly with the Navy at Vera Cruz. They were men like Glenn Martin, Chance Vought, Lincoln Beachey, and Roy Knabenshue; a score and more who were flying their own hydroaeroplanes and who would jump at joining an air militia. To get them in, Fiske proposed that each state naval militia establish an air station of two officers and six men, with two planes. "This is suggested," he wrote,  p93 "because the time is not far distant when aeronautic service in the Navy will not be considered as only voluntary."

The Navy Department's Division of Militia Affairs had accordingly distributed a circular letter to the state organizations announcing that the Navy would lend planes and also give "refresher courses" to militia aviators at Pensacola. It was estimated that these courses might draw, from 23 state organizations, some 64 officers and perhaps 300 enlisted men; a helpful number which might be increased if war came to stimulate enrollment. Ten states already had units and Curtiss had repeated his offer to train one aviator from each, without charge. The Aero Club had started a fund to give $40 toward the expenses of each of these Curtiss students, and, after Pancho Villa's raids into the United States the club had raised this contribution to $150. Moreover the club offered to let its members train civilian beginners and also offered to raise funds to buy reserve planes for the Navy. Since the Secretary of the Navy could not legally accept private funds, he suggested that the Aero Club concentrate on the militia. The club in June, 1916, opened a general subscription fund, under this strong statement:

The U. S. Army and Navy have, together, less than twenty aeroplanes available. Only half a dozen of the licensed aviators of the United States have made flights of more than fifty miles, and none know even the rudiments of military aeronautical requirements. Our Army, Navy, National Guard, and Naval Militia have had no experience in handling aircraft or operating with them.

If England with 3,000 aeroplanes and aviators and the output of eighteen thousand men cannot supply sufficient aeroplanes for its sea forces — what could Uncle Sam — who has less than a score of aeroplanes — do in case of immediate need?

To provide an aeronautical reserve, the Governors of the Aero Club of America have started a public aeronautical subscription, similar to the French and German subscriptions of 1912‑13. These netted $1,222,969 and $1,806,626 respectively, and were used to train aviators and to procure aeroplanes. As the New York Sun says editorially, "Surely we in America, with our greater resources, can do even better."

Rear Admiral Peary of North Pole fame, the chairman of the National Aerial Coast Patrol Commission, had been enthusiastically supporting the militia program, getting good backing from numerous noted civilians like John Hays Hammond for a plan to  p94 establish aerial picket scouts along the whole Atlantic coast. The Aero Club was ready to give money for this plan and Curtiss offered planes at reduced prices, with the same free training as for militia pilots. Stimulated by this interest, Bristol had recommended a board, either of regular officers only or with civilian members added, to establish qualifications for the militia that would let the candidates understand what was expected of each, and also to pick the right men. He had referred to Europe "where sentiment was unfavorable toward officers who did not strive to get to the front"; where those given posts at home felt "out of it." This, he said, must always be the case but "the fighting force of a country now is not only those . . . in contact with the enemy but [also] is the reserve, the supply trains, the factories . . . the general staff, and the business men and financiers. . . . The best organization . . . is the one that places each man in that place which he is best able to fill."

The requirements actually adopted included the passing of written examinations as well as practical demonstration of ability to fly. Under the terms of General Order No. 198, issued in March, 1916, the new course for militia aviators covered the Navy Regulations and all general special orders; the care of clothing, bedding, and equipment; knowledge of navigation and the principles of scouting; familiarity with aircraft and their fittings. Naval administration and business methods were also included, for officers of and above the rank of lieutenant commander. Special courses were in preparation for enlisted mechanics who would receive instruction at Pensacola even without advance training in flying.

Authority to borrow the Navy's planes under the new 1916 act was therefore a great help to the militia program. By November eight planes had been borrowed: one by California, two by Massachusetts, two by New Jersey, two by New York, and one by Rhode Island, all of them different types. The loans were made only where at least one officer of the militia had completed the prescribed three months' course at Pensacola, in each of which courses four officers and 16 enlisted men could be handled.

While members of the militia, like the members of the Coast Guard, might not be considered fully up to accepted naval standards in navigation, gunnery, and seamanship, there was not enough time available to train them completely in such subjects. Instead, the main effort must be directed toward training them to fly, and consequently these students never were designated naval aviators  p95 or given acting commissions such as had been provided for the new Flying Corps. But they did learn to fly and when they got into World War I they flew with great credit to themselves, their Service, and their country.


Thayer's Note:

a The story of the First Yale Unit is exhaustively told in a very good two‑volume book by R. D. Paine, although unimaginatively titled "The First Yale Unit". It is onsite in full.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 25 May 15