Training mechanics, pilots and observers to maintain and fly the large numbers of aircraft needed by American forces in World War I presented great challenges. Schools in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, France and Italy sprang into action to turn recruits and draftees into experts in the new field of military aviation.
Thousands of Mechanics
The Army quickly established training courses for mechanics in the U.S. at civilian vocational schools, aircraft and engine factories, and military flying fields.
Some men even trained in Canada with the Royal Flying Corps. The training program operated smoothly after overcoming some initial obstacles. By the Armistice in November 1918, 28 schools in the U.S. had graduated 14,176 enlisted mechanics.
Even more Americans trained as mechanics in Great Britain. The British set up a revolving pool of 15,000 students, and although German submarines prevented the U.S. from sending a constant flow of men from the United States, 22,059 Americans had been trained in Great Britain as mechanics by the end of the war. More than 11,000 went on to serve in France, and a small number of U.S. mechanics learned their trade from the French. Despite this great surge in training, and even though the U.S. Army Air Service had 51,229 enlisted men in France at the time of the Armistice, American forces still had a serious shortage of mechanics.
Pilots and Observers
Because of the lack of combat airplanes, American flying cadets received only primary flight instruction in the U.S. and Canada. They had to wait until they went overseas to receive advanced instruction prior to flying in combat.
To accelerate the pilot training program, more than 2,000 cadets were sent to England, France and Italy for primary flight instruction. Some saw action with these foreign air services before being assigned to U.S. squadrons.
By war's end in November 1918, 16,587 cadets had graduated from ground schools and 8,689 from primary flight schools in the U.S. European schools had trained 1,674 men as pilots and 851 as observers. Flight training had its price, however -- in Europe, for every 18 flying officers fully trained, one died in an airplane accident.
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