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Air Corps Development, 1919-1935

Ninety-three Curtiss P-1 Hawks were ordered between 1925 and 1929. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Ninety-three Curtiss P-1 Hawks were ordered between 1925 and 1929. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This was one of 20 Martin MB-2 bombers purchased in 1920. An additional 110 were ordered from other contractors in 1921-1922. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This was one of 20 Martin MB-2 bombers purchased in 1920. An additional 110 were ordered from other contractors in 1921-1922. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Following World War I, many Americans believed the United States should never again become involved in European entanglements. Military appropriations were reduced dramatically and the Air Service was cut to only 10,000 men as of June 30, 1920. This reduction in funds had a paralyzing effect upon the large aircraft industry created during the war, and by 1920, 90 percent of it had been liquidated.

In 1921 most aircraft were "leftovers" from the war. With limited funds for new planes, the Air Service had to retain its old planes in service. In a one-year period beginning July 1, 1920, there were 330 crashes involving these old planes, resulting in 69 men with less than 900 flyers on duty being killed.

Various new types of planes were purchased prior to 1926 but because of limited funds, they were seldom procured in quantity. As a result, the Air Service had only 229 modern airplanes at the time Congress decided to authorize a five-year expansion program. The Air Corps Act of July 2, 1926, set a goal of 1,800 serviceable planes and 16,650 personnel by June 30, 1932, but the Depression prevented this goal from being fully attained. As of June 30, 1932, the Air Corps had 1,709 planes and 14,705 personnel.

Despite the austere funding, the Air Corps continued to advance technologically and to purchase limited numbers of improved aircraft. By setting new world records, primarily in altitude, speed, endurance and distance, it focused the nation's attention on the potential of military aviation and gained great international prestige for the United States.

Less spectacular, but still important, were other projects, such as blind flying, aerial photography and airborne communications. Also, the Air Corps flew forest-fire patrol and border patrol, crop dusted farm fields, bombed ice jams in swollen rivers, flew relief supplies into disaster areas, dropped feed to snowbound livestock and even experimented with the dispersal of ground fog.

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