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Flying Schools

In the summer of 1911, additional pilot personnel were assigned to College Park, one of whom as Lt. H.H. Arnold, destined to be the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces during World War II. He made the first "long" cross-country flight from College Park on Aug. 21, 1911, when he flew 42 miles to a National Guard encampment at Frederick, Md., with Capt. Chandler as copilot. 

With the advent of winter weather, it was decided to move the flying school to a more favorable climate. On Nov. 28, 1911, five officers, 20 enlisted men and four airplanes, together with motor vehicles, wagons, horses and mules, moved by special train to Augusta, Ga., where tent hangars were erected in a field near the town. Despite heavy snows in January and February 1912 and subsequent flooding of the flying field by the Savannah River, the small contingent flew at every opportunity. One flight in particular was significant -- on Jan. 25, Lt. Arnold set an Army altitude record of 4,764 feet. The Augusta camp was closed on April 1, 1912, and the flying school returned to College Park.

The College Park school was closed again on Nov. 18, 1912. Some of the personnel took the Wright and Burgess airplanes to Augusta, Ga., while other personnel took the Curtiss airplanes to North Island in San Diego Bay, Calif., where Glenn Curtiss had established a civilian aviation school. However, on Feb. 28, 1913, the Augusta contingent left Georgia by train for Texas City, Texas, because of a tense border situation resulting from a revolution in Mexico. Arriving in Texas on March 2, the eight flying officers, one doctor and 22 enlisted men began operations as the "First Aero Squadron." Numerous practice flights were made at Texas City, but when it became evident there would be no military operations on the border, it was decided to transfer most of the personnel and equipment to San Diego to rejoin the contingent that had taken the Curtiss airplanes from College Park to North Island in November 1912. This move began on June 15, 1913, and by Nov. 28, flying operations at Texas City had ceased.

On July 18, 1914, the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was created, giving definite status to the air service for the first time. The only flying unit in the Aviation Section in addition to the Aviation School was the 1st Aero Squadron which, on Aug. 5, 1914, had 12 officers, 54 enlisted men and six airplanes assigned to it at North Island. Due to the shortage of aviation personnel and equipment, the officers and enlisted men of the squadron were also assigned duty with the Aviation School and the squadron's airplanes were used to teach aviation students how to fly. By October 1914, the squadron's strength had increased to 16 officers, 77 enlisted men and eight airplanes, but its personnel and equipment still had to be shared with the Aviation School.

The training program at North Island was expanded in 1915 and early 1916, and more airplanes were purchased, among them the first of the famous Martin TT and Curtiss "Jenny" planes. Officers with previous flying experience were transferred to the Aviation School, including Capt. F.P. Lahm as secretary and Capt. H.H. Arnold as supply officer, and additional men were selected for flight training, including Lt. Carl Spaatz, destined to become the first USAF Chief of Staff in 1947. As of Jan. 12, 1916, the Aviation Section had 46 officers, 243 enlisted men and 23 planes assigned.

The U.S. remained neutral when World War I began, so development in Signal Corps aviation progressed at a leisurely rate. Various experiments were conducted at North Island with automatic pilots, but results were of little practical value. Tests were also conducted on a Scott bombsight and bomb release mechanism, the results of which were impressive to the young flyers at North Island. However, they were not so impressive to the Army officers of higher rank and lesser vision who continued to insist that the airplane's major military use was for reconnaissance, not for dropping bombs.

Prior to mid-1916, the Signal Corps Flying School at San Diego had been adequate, but with greater emphasis gradually given to military flying because of the war in Europe, the Aviation Section decided it needed additional facilities for flight training. The first of these was opened at Mineola, N.Y., in July 1916. Airplanes began to arrive in August and by April 1917, a total of 40 airplanes of various types had been delivered. Although the base was originally established as a training site, the arrival of winter weather forced suspension of flight training and Mineola was used primarily as a testing ground for new ideas, methods, equipment and accessories.

The Aviation Section opened a third flying school in the summer of 1916 at Ashburn Field near Chicago, Ill., its fourth school in December 1916 inside a race track at Memphis, Tenn., and its fifth school in February 1917 at Essington, Penn., the latter for seaplane training. In addition to its five flying schools, the Aviation Section had several other facilities early in 1917, including the Air Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and the U.S. Army Balloon School at Fort Omaha, Neb.

Click here to learn more about Flying Schools.

Philippine Air School
North Island Flying School

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