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1920-1939: Between the Wars

Men on the Flying Trapeze, an Army flight demonstration team organized by then-Capt. Claire Chennault in 1932, at one time included two enlisted pilots who continued to serve after their release from active duty as reserve officers. From left are Sgt. William C. McDonald, Capt. Chennault and Sgt. John H. Williamson. Later, each helped train China's air force prior to World War II. SSgt. Ray Clinton also flew solo stunt and backup for the team. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Men on the Flying Trapeze, an Army flight demonstration team organized by then-Capt. Claire Chennault in 1932, at one time included two enlisted pilots who continued to serve after their release from active duty as reserve officers. From left are Sgt. William C. McDonald, Capt. Chennault and Sgt. John H. Williamson. Later, each helped train China's air force prior to World War II. SSgt. Ray Clinton also flew solo stunt and backup for the team. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Between the world wars, at least 263 enlisted pilots served in the Air Corps. They were encouraged by the Air Corps Act of 1926 which directed at least 20 percent of pilots assigned to tactical units be enlisted, a rate that was never achieved, however. Enlisted pilots flew many different aircraft and such diverse missions as weather reconnaissance, test flights following maintenance, anti-aircraft target towing, cargo and passenger hauling, parachute drop tests, photo mapping, and scientific test flights.

During the Depression, enlisted pilot training ceased in June 1933. Some reserve officer pilots, released from active duty due to funding cuts but eager to continue flying, reenlisted as privates, bolstering their meager salary with flight pay. Enlisted pilots on active duty peaked in April 1935 at 117. Only a handful remained in late 1939, but this would change abruptly in World War II.

Click here to return to the Enlisted Pilots Overview.

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