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Flight Training on the Eve of WWII

DAYTON, Ohio -- Trainer crash diorama in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Trainer crash diorama in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

During the Depression of the 1930s, the number of pilots the U.S. Army Air Corps trained decreased until in 1937 only 184 graduated from advanced pilot training. Facing resurgent German militarism and an aggressive Japanese military in 1939, the Air Corps planned to graduate 4,500 pilots in the following two years.

Lacking facilities to train such a large number of cadets, in mid-1939 the Air Corps contracted with nine of the best civilian flying schools to begin training pilots. When France fell to Germany in 1940, the Air Corps increased the number of pilots to be trained to 7,000 per year. By December 1941, the Air Corps had contracted with 45 civilian flying schools, and by 1943 the number increased to 63.

In the first class at Randolph Field in 1939, only 257 pilots graduated. In contrast, by the end of 1941 over 2,000 were enrolled in each class. At the end of World War II, the Army Air Forces Training Command had graduated 250,000 pilots from its schools.

Training Fields
During the 1930s, the Army Air Corps conducted primary and basic flying training at Randolph and Brooks Fields, and advanced training at Kelly Field. These fields were just outside of San Antonio, Texas. In 1940 the Army Air Corps planned the expansion of pilot training and began offering basic flight instruction at additional fields. By 1944 there were 31 fields involved in basic training.

Advanced training was originally given at Kelly and Brooks Fields; however, when the program expanded and was divided into single- and twin-engine instruction, other fields began to offer advanced instruction. Soon after, Brooks and Kelly Fields conducted only twin-engine training. Eventually, single- and twin-engine training fields spread across the country from coast to coast.

Flight Training Aircraft
At the beginning of the war, flight training lasted nine months, with three months of primary, three months of basic, and three months of advanced training. Each pilot had 65 flying hours of primary training and 75 hours of both basic and advanced training. During the war, each phase was reduced first to 10 weeks and then to nine weeks. Primary training was accomplished in aircraft such as the PT-17, PT-19, PT-22 and PT-23 while basic training took place in mostly in the BT-9, BT-13, BT-14 and BT-15. Advanced training for fighter pilots took place in the AT-6, and training for multi-engine aircraft occurred in the AT-9 and AT-10 aircraft. The AT-11 was used to train bombardiers and navigators.

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