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Enlisted Pilots: 1912-1945


"It is not the policy of the War Department to train enlisted men in flying aeroplanes ..."

This was the rebuke to Lt. Frank P. Lahm's message announcing that one of the two new aviators he had trained was a corporal. Yet in USAF history about 4,150 pilots trained and flew not as commissioned officers but as enlisted men -- almost 3,000 rated pilots and nearly 1,150 liaison pilots.

On July 18, 1914, Congress authorized the training of enlisted pilots and William A. Lamkey became the second on record, but he purchased his discharge and flew in Mexico for Pancho Villa. The third enlisted pilot was Pvt. William C. Ocker (1914), who was commissioned in 1917. Later he and Lt. Carl Crane revolutionized aviation by developing a system of flying by instruments that made all-weather flight possible. By April 1917, 26 other enlisted regular Army personnel had become pilots. During World War I, 60 enlisted mechanics earned wings in France and ferried aircraft from French factories to U.S. aero squadrons at the front but none are known to have flown in combat.

Click on the following links to learn more about enlisted pilots.

Cpl. Vernon L. Burge
Sergeant Pilot WWI-Era Uniform
1920-1939: Between the Wars
1941-1945: World War II Sergeant Pilots
Staff Sergeant Pilot Jacket
End of an Era
Liaison Pilots

Click here to return to the World War II Gallery.