TRAINING ARMY AIR FIGHTERS (Sep, 1936)
TRAINING ARMY AIR FIGHTERS
A LARGE percentage of each year’s graduates of the West Point Military Academy enter the autumn class at the Air Corps Training Center, Randolph Field, Texas. This fact, and the further fact that the flying school is conducted along lines similar to the Military Academy, has caused this Air Corps school to be popularly termed “The West Point of the Air.”
The mission of the West Point of the Air is to turn out young military pilots competent to undertake the duties of second lieutenant in an Air Corps tactical squadron. The organization of the combat squadrons requires high ratio of young pilots to officers of higher grades. This ratio is maintained by pending each year from 200 to 250 pilots, trained at the Air Corps Training Center to tactical squadrons of the regular army. The graduates of West Point are officers when they enter the flying school but the other young pilots are continued on active duty as Flying Cadets during one year. If their service shows them to be competent, they are then commissioned as second lieutenants, Air Corps Reserve and given a further year of active duty.
Legislation has been passed recently authorizing the Air Corps to have 1,300 Reserve Officers on extended active duty for periods of five years each. This will enable the selection each year of approximately 270 graduates of the Training Center for duty with tactical squadrons. The proposed law provides for payment, upon discharge from active duty after a minimum of three years active duty, of a bonus of five hundred dollars. The West Point of the Air is organized to receive new classes at the Primary Flying School every four months. Each class has four months in the “Primary Stage” and four months in the “Basic Stage” at Randolph Field. The “Air Cadets” then move over to Kelly Field for their last four months at the Advanced Flying School, where they are graduated as pilots. During the Primary Stage trainees receive ground in- struction and flying instruction on “Primary Training Airplanes” or PTs, as they are known. In the Basic Stage the flying training is conducted in “Basic Training” or BT airplanes, larger, speedier and more maneuverable airplanes. These provide an intermediate step in piloting between the PTs and the service types such as pursuits, bombardment, attack and observation used in the flying training at the Advanced Flying School.
Since a knowledge of the equipment he is flying is essential to the student, and a continuous diet of flying would make a trainee “stale,” it is convenient and advantageous to combine with the flight training, ground instruction in airplane engines, theory of flight, radio, ground gunnery, air navigation, meteorology, flight maps, airplane maintenance and other subjects. This ground instruction is continued until graduation. At the Advanced Flying School it emphasizes the tactics of each class of aviationâ€”bombardment, pursuit, attack and observation.
The student body is made up of Flying Cadets and student officers. Each new class consists of approximately 150 men. The class beginning in October of each year usually is composed of from 50 to 80 second lieutenants from the graduating class at West Point The Flying Cadets in this class therefore are reduced to such number as to make a total for the class of approximately 150. The Flying Cadets, with the exception of a few ex-enlisted men from the army, are drawn entirely from civil life. In the period of one year at the Training Center the young student receives a total of 323 hours flying instruction. For the fiscal year 1935 the flying for the Training Center, computed in airplane flying time, amounted to 113,802.8 airplane hours. The flying time for the remainder of the Regular Army for the same period was 312,575.4 hours, that of the National Guard 40,606.7 hours, and that of the Organized Reserves 23,204.8 hours.
About 45 per cent of the students entering the Primary Flying School successfully complete the course and graduate from the Training Center. Most of the failures are due to unsatisfactory progress in flying. Therefore, the fact that a candidate has passed the rigid physical and the educational requirements does not insure his graduation. The Training Center, and The Faculty of the School of Aviation Medicine, now, as have many others during the past, are endeavoring to find out, “why can some people fly when others cannot.” Is it heredity, physical or mental make up, diet, habits of life, or perhaps our varying inherent fear of high places. Who knows but perhaps they will find the answer some day and say with certainty, “This young man can be taught to fly but this one never will learn.”
The Flying Cadets are all young, unmarried citizens, between the ages of 20 and 27, inclusive, of good character, sound physique, and who have had at least two years of college work. If lacking the required educational credentials, they must demonstrate their proficiency by successfully passing examinations in United States history, English, general history, geography, higher algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and physics. The educational equation is simplified for many of these aspirants by their possession of diplomas and degrees from the country’s many colleges and universities.
Professionally, these trainees are from all walks of life. Geographically, all states in the United States are represented, with occasional applicants from our various foreign possessions. Students from foreign countries are frequently included in the student officer classification. However, regardless of their former occupations, or their native country, all are trained alikeâ€”all live in accordance with the same rules and regulations.
During the interval embraced by the dates of October 15, 1931, and March 1, * 1935, a total of 2,022 would-be pilots have reported to the Air Corps Primary Flying School. During that period there were 20 foreign students who came from countries as follows: 7 from Mexico, 2 Brazil, 2 Philippines, 3 China, 2 Turkey, and 1 each from Germany, Guatemala, Cuba and Colombia.
Of the 2,000 cadets who enrolled only five have been killed. This figure deserves especial consideration as it represents the infinitestimal percentage of less than one-half of one per cent of the total number graduated.
When compared with similar statistics for training during the war period or with the peace time records of the schools of the armies of other nations, this small proportion is a monumental tribute to the efficiency of the Air Corps training method.
What of the future of the trainee? This answer can be made: Practically all who finish at the Primary Flying School graduate four months later from the Advanced Flying School and following that, the Americans are assigned to Air Corps stations for duty with tactical troops. The Flying Cadet continues in grade for an additional year for seasoning and experience. This is followed by a year, or perhaps two, of active duty as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve. Upon completion of this period he reverts to his former civilian status, but he may maintain active contact with the service through membership in the National Guard or Organized Reserves. A civilian with this wealth of flying experience behind him, is in a favorable position to seek employment with a commercial aviation company. Then, too, there is the recent possibility of securing a permanent commission in the Air Corps.
From the start of training all students think of but a single topicâ€”flying. During the first or second week in November the all-absorbing topic of conversation is the first solo. Some morning after a particularly rough landing, the instructor clambers out of the ship and says: “Well, you can’t do any worse alone.” The fledgling gulps twice to swallow his thumping heart and gives her the gun. At 400 feet he wiggles the stick a couple of times, tentatively, just to see if the ship recognizes him. A few turns and he glides in to a breathlessly happy landing. The solo is sucessfully accomplished! That alone has been sufficient recompense for hours of study and training. If a “washing out” takes place next week, the solo has made it all worthwhile.
Although construction of Randolph Field was started in 1928, it was not officially dedicated until 1930. The first buildings were occupied by school troops on Oct. 15, 1931, when the Primary Flying School and the School of Aviation Medicine from Brooks Field, the Air Corps Training Center Headquarters from Duncan Field, and the Primary Flying School from March Field, Calif., took up permanent residence. The project as it now stands represents a total investment of some $12,000,000 exclusive of aircraft, supplies and equipment.
The land, on which stands the most complete and modern air training center in the world, consists of 2,368 acres, of which 400 acres in its geometric center are confined to the building area. The remaining 2,000 acres, comprising four distinct landing areas, known as the “NORTH,” “EAST,” “SOUTH,” and “WEST” fields, completely surround this central web-like pattern of buildings and streets.
Officers Have Own Homes The Administration Building, which houses the photo section, administrative offices, War Department theater and the post office is the predominating structure on Randolph Field. It rises to a height of 175 feet and overlooks the surrounding plain. At night, the beams from a powerful revolving beacon atop the tower can be seen by flyers for a distance of 50 miles.
The circular residential area in the center of the great flying field has in its exact center the Officers’ Club. The officers’ homes surround the club, being symmetrically spaced on the concentric circular streets and radial spoke-like roads. The majority of the homes are of two-story design, but a number are of the bungalow type.
Flanking the administration building at the left of the main double boulevard entrance to the field stands the Post Chapel, a magnificent structure of Spanish design. Just across the main traffic artery is located the Post Exchange. This building consists of three separate wings. One houses the Post Exchange proper, the second is occupied by a grocery store and meat market, and the third by a restaurant and beauty parlor.
Flying Cadet Club Organized Forming the boundary on the west and east sides of the building area are eight hangars. Each one measures 220 feet in length, 110 feet in width and is 47 feet high. On the northwest boundary, two large warehouses house the Post Quartermaster and the Air Corps Station Supply.
The organization of the new Flying Cadet Club in San Antonio is indicative of the constructive and ceaseless activity towards bettering conditions with the Cadet Detachment. It is largely through this effort that the Cadets now find themselves enjoying club rooms and privileges which are far superior to those of the recent past.
Such is the institution which today receives, trains, educates and transforms into pilotsâ€”the youth of America. Young men, who yesterday were no different from thousands of others throughout our Country, upon graduation are the equal of any airplane pilot in the world.