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Laying the foundation of a mighty air force: civilian schools and primary flight training during World War II.


In 1938, the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) confronted the enormous task of expanding its power at the moment that the United States government was constrained politically by the Great Depression and isolationism. Meanwhile, Japan and China were at war and Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany sought one with Czechoslovakia. War in Europe was averted on September 30 when leaders of Germany, Britain, France, and Italy met at Munich and agreed to Hitler's acquisition of the Sudetanland, territory composed predominantly of Germans but vital to Czechoslovakia's security. Sensing that Hitler's ambitions were not sated, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to simultaneously build up America's air strength, while producing fighters and bombers to sell to Britain and France to hold Hitler at bay. The day before the Munich Conference commenced, Roosevelt met with key military and civilian advisers to discuss expanding U.S. aircraft production to 10,000 planes a year. (1)

The burden of creating a larger air force at a critical moment in history fell on the shoulders of Maj. Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, who became Chief of the USAAC on September 29. During the meeting with Roosevelt, Arnold explained that Germany possessed 6,000 combat aircraft, with 2,000 in reserve. Congress had only approved expansion of the USAAC to 2,320 aircraft. Arnold wanted 7,500 combat aircraft and 2,500 trainers. Not only did Arnold need more fighters and bombers, but he needed pilots to fly them. The USAAC's total strength was 1,650 officers and 16,000 enlisted men. (2) By contrast, the USAAC believed that Germany's Luftwaffe consisted of one million officers and men.

Committing the USAAC to train more pilots required considerable expansion of USAAC infrastructure. Between 1933 and 1937, it produced an average of only 208 pilots a year. Not until 1938 did it generate more than 300 pilots, when 301 pilots received their wings. Randolph Field and Kelly Field, both in Texas, were the only two facilities committed to Elementary, or Primary, and Advanced training. Worse, it took a cadet an entire year to complete his training: eight months of Primary training at Randolph Field followed by four months of Advanced training at Kelly Field. A USAAC study later called the annual addition of 300 pilots a year "ridiculously inadequate." (3) Yet, Arnold needed to produce hundreds, if not thousands, of pilots each year. The question was how?

One answer was for the USAAC to simply build new airfields and schools and use only Air Corps instructors. Arnold rejected building new "Randolph Fields" because it took too much money and time when "speed was of the essence." The other answer was to utilize civilian flight schools, which had been certified by the Civilian Aeronautics Authority (CAA). They were scattered across the country and consisted of airfields, planes, hangars, and experienced instructors and administrators. Many became involved in the Civilian Pilot Training Program established by Congress late in 1938 for the purpose of creating a pool of potential combat pilots and to help the struggling aviation industry. Universities across the country partnered with local flight schools to offer government scholarships to men and women either in college or with some college experience interested in getting a pilot's license and other certifications. (4) Although Col. John R. Morgan and Lt. Col. Howard Davidson, who were in charge of the USAAC's Training Center, were credited with suggesting using civilians to relieve the USAAC of the burden of providing Primary training, the idea was not entirely a new one. Prior to World War I, the nation's first army pilots, including Arnold, were trained at schools operated by the Wright Brothers. During the war, a handful of contractors trained American and Royal Flying Corps cadets. Although the method had been tried-and-tested, there were skeptics in the USAAC who argued that civilians could never offer the same quality of training comparable to Randolph Field, the "West Point of the Air." (5) Years later, Ira Eaker and Carl Spaatz, who were then colonels on Arnold's staff, claimed they told their commander that the use of civilians to train air corps cadets was just "plain murder." (6)

After the war, Arnold specifically remembered this moment when he "overruled the Air Staff," and insisted on relying on civilian contractors. However, he needed to determine if they were willing and able to assist the USAAC. In October 1938, Arnold met with Oliver Parks, president of Parks College in St, Louis, Missouri, Corliss C. Moseley, owner of the Curtiss-Wright Technical School in Glendale, California, and Theophilus Lee, director of the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California. He asked them if they would be "willing to go out and set up at his private school the facilities to house, feed and train flying cadets for the Army Air Corps?" Being straightforward, Arnold told them that he did not have any money, but he would work to get it from Congress. He proposed that they send their instructors to Randolph Field for "indoctrination in the Air Corps' method of training." In return, he would provide them with training aircraft, and would pay them a certain amount per head for those who graduated and a lesser amount for those eliminated. Arnold remembered that the civilians were "flabbergasted." Nevertheless, the contractors claimed they could do the job, but the cost would be $200,000 per school. When Arnold asked, "You can borrow the money, can't you, until I can get a congressional appropriation?" Again, the answer was yes. (7)


Shortly after this meeting, Arnold received a message from Louis Johnson, the Assistant Secretary of War, to develop a plan to mass produce pilots. In response, Arnold appointed a Board of Officers to determine the feasibility of using civilian schools. After inspecting civilian facilities and observing training methods, the Board recommended that the USAAC implement a pilot mission or plan that would produce 4,500 pilots over the next two years, commencing July 1,1939. The plan called for using civilian schools, approved by the CAA to provide advanced training (the CAA version of advanced training was the equivalent of the latter stages of Primary training under the USAAC), to offer Primary training to 666 cadets, with new classes starting every six weeks, using the contractors' planes until more were provided by the USAAC. (8) The civilian schools would also hire their own instructors, and provide fuel, oil and maintenance. In return, they would receive a flat rate of $20 per flying hour. Under this scheme, the civilian contractors did not replace, but rather supplemented, the existing USAAC training schools. Some cadets would be assigned to Randolph Field for Primary and Basic flight training while Kelly Field continued in its traditional role as the Advanced training center. The USAAC expected that 52.5 percent of the flying cadets who entered Primary training would graduate. (9) Instead of one full year, the total training time would be reduced to thirty-six weeks.

Two boards of officers were responsible for selecting civilian contractors. In 1938, there were fourteen flying schools with the necessary CAA approval whose owners were anxious to win a government contract. The boards inspected these facilities during the winter, and further required that each contractor have a ground school, a satisfactory airdrome, auxiliary fields and necessary housing and dining facilities. The boards determined that the cost of running the program from July 1,1939, to January 1, 1940, would exceed $3.5 million, but still slightly less than the Randolph School. (10)

Despite these preparations, the overall scheme underwent modifications. In January 1939, the 4,500-trainee plan was slashed to 2,238 pilots within two years, with 396 cadets forming each class. (11) President Roosevelt insisted that funding to expand the Air Corps be limited to $500 million. The plan submitted by Louis Johnson and "Hap" Arnold required Congressional appropriations of over $1 billion. Isolationist Congressmen would never support such a plan especially when the aircraft manufacturers were balking at producing thousands of planes a year. (12) Although there was no opposition, when Congress approved the plan to expand the Air Corps on April 3, it appropriated only $300 million. (13)

Meanwhile, there were questions inside and outside of the military about what the civilian contractors could accomplish for the USAAC. There were certainly doubts on the part of the contractors who worried about the financial aspect of the scheme. During World War II, Colonel Morgan recalled that the contractors "were a little afraid. Some were low on funds and others were in doubt as to the cost of operating." Opposition also remained within the USAAC. Col. J.B. Brooks, who commanded the Primary Training Center at Randolph, insisted that the scheme be "shelved," calling it "radical" and "inefficient." But Arnold remained steadfast. Although the USAAC was short 230 Primary trainers and was not authorized to loan government aircraft to civilians, the plan was implemented. On April 3, Congress permitted these aircraft loans, but added an unexpected stipulation: one of the civilian contractors had to offer training to "Negro air pilots." (14)

By May 1939, the two boards of officers had selected nine schools operated by eight contractors: Parks, who owned both Parks Air College, St. Louis, Missouri and the Alabama Institute of Aeronautics, Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Moseley, who headed Cal-Aero Flight Academy, Glendale, California; Allan Hancock, president of Hancock College of Aeronautics, Santa Maria, California; T. Claude Ryan, owner of the Ryan School of Aeronautics, San Diego, California; W.G. Skelly and John Paul Getty, owners of the Spartan School of Aeronautics, Tulsa, Oklahoma; Maj. William Long, operator of the Dallas School of Aviation & Air College, Dallas, Texas; Rev. Ernest J. Sias, owner of the Lincoln Airplane & Flying School, Lincoln, Nebraska; and Harold Darr of the Chicago School of Aeronautics, Chicago, Illinois. (15) The schools in Nebraska and Illinois were given a lower priority because of harsh weather conditions, but received contracts nevertheless. Because the funds allocated by Congress to pay the contractors would not be available until July 1, the schools took the risk and prepared for the arrival of cadets. A USAAC study later noted that if the contractors had not gone ahead without a "guarantee of compensation, the revised 4,500 mission would have failed." (16)


Many of the original eight contractors selected by Arnold represented some of the best civilian flight schools in the country. In a time when heavier-than-air flight was not even forty years old, several had been involved in some aspect of aviation since World War I. Most had a military background and a few were wealthy businessmen. The USAAC later asserted, "These men, almost without exception, had had considerable experience in civilian flying training and their schools were considered among the best in the United States." (17) Arnold's insistence on using them paid off. Although there had been opposition by USAAC officers to using civilian schools, opposition that never went away during World War II or afterward, the initial assessments of the contractors' work were positive. The civilian schools, using the exact curriculum of Randolph Field, had a lower accident rate and better graduation rate than expected. The graduation rates for the first eight classes trained at all nine schools ranged from 61-70 percent. (18) More pilots, 1,786, were produced in those six weeks than had graduated between 1919 and 1939. (19) Of over 3,000 men trained, only two instructors and three cadets were killed, all at Love Field in Dallas, Texas. (20) The notion that it was "murder" to place such training in the hands of civilians proved false. Moreover, cadets trained by civilians had a better graduation rate in basic than Randolph-trained students. Some civilian-trained classes were rated superior to those trained by the military. The civilian contractors were now a vital part of the effort to provide the country with more pilots for defense. As a USAAC history noted several years later, "From the summer of 1939 on, the civil schools were considered an integral, even valued, part of the pilot training system." (21)

Months after Arnold implemented his new training scheme, the Germans overran Poland in September 1939, leading Britain and France to declare war on Nazi Germany. German forces later occupied Denmark and then Norway, but otherwise, the three major powers remained at a standoff known as the Phony War. The stalemate lulled Arnold into considering a reduction of Primary training until the Phony War came to an end on May 10, 1940, when Germany attacked Belgium, Holland and France. Within weeks, the British army barely escaped Dunkirk, Italy declared on war on Britain and France, and France was forced to surrender in June. In light of these events, President Roosevelt called Arnold to the White House to discuss how to expand the USAAC. (22)

On May 23,1940, Arnold held another meeting with the civilian contractors in Washington, D.C. He wanted the country to produce 7,000 pilots a year by July 1, 1941, while simultaneously training 3,600 bombardiers and navigators. The overall training schedule consisted of thirty-five weeks with ten weeks devoted to Primary; ten weeks to Basic; ten weeks to Advanced; and five weeks of specialized training. The 3,600 bombardiers and navigators would come from the pool of cadets eliminated from pilot training. Arnold asked each contractor to submit a plan to double their capacity for the 7,000Pilot Plan, and to establish "branch schools." In an effort to reduce the impact of weather on training, these "branch schools" were to be located south of the 37th north latitude, east of the Rocky Mountains, and south of rain areas near the Pacific Ocean. (23) Although the term, "Sunshine Belt," would not be used by the United States Army Air Forces until 1944, the U.S. military, since the days of the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss, knew that this geographical slice of the United States was conducive to year-round flight training. (24) Primary training would be done solely by the contractors, with Randolph Field becoming a Basic school. (25) In the meantime, Arnold assured Gen. George C. Marshall, a fellow Pennsylvanian, longtime friend and the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, that the peak of training would be reached by August 1941. (26)

On June 19, 1940, Henry Stimson, secretary of war, announced that another nine civilian flight schools were to be established by the original eight contractors though one was a relocation of an existing school: Ryan School of Aeronautics, Hemet, California; Mira Loma Flight Academy, Oxnard, California; Lakeland School of Aeronautics, Lakeland, Florida; Darr Aero Tech, Albany, Georgia; Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics, Jackson, Mississippi; Missouri Institute of Aeronautics, Sikeston, Missouri; Spartan School of Aeronautics, Muskogee, Oklahoma; Texas Aviation School, Fort Worth, Texas. The schools in Missouri and Mississippi were operated by Oliver Parks. Simultaneously, Cal-Aero Flight Academy relocated from Glendale to Ontario, California. In most cases, new facilities were required, and yet many were able to be completed by October 1940. (27) Each operator spent approximately $100,000 in building their new flight schools. The cost for the government to implement the expansion of flight and technical training using civilians was put at nearly $11 million. (28)

Under the 7,000-Pilot Plan, contractors were paid $20.50 per hour for every cadet hour flown. The USAAC noted that the costs of training under the civilians decreased. It was the contractor's responsibility to employ flight and ground instructors. The contractor also provided, staffed, and maintained: the main airfield; auxiliary and satellite airfields; all buildings and grounds; aircraft and parachute maintenance; cadet barracks; the dining hall; and other essential domestic facilities. The cost for each graduate of civilian flying schools was calculated to be $1,517. USAAC officers found this figure to be uniform across all civilian contract schools. In May 1941, in hearings before a House subcommittee of the Committee of Appropriations, Maj. Gen. George Brett told congressmen that if the military provided the same facilities and training, the cost would be $55 per hour. Brett also assured the politicians that "civil flying schools trained the young men as thoroughly as did the Army schools." (29)


After the defeat of France, Germany launched its air campaign against the United Kingdom known as the Battle of Britain. In November 1940, Arnold, who now wore the additional hat of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, announced that the USAAC would pursue a 12,000 Pilot Plan, and ordered that eleven schools be established. The contractors selected were to be capable of "further expansion," and that "each should present concrete evidence of ability to finance the expansion of existing facilities." Arnold was looking beyond the 12,000 Pilot Plan to the day when existing and newly selected contractors would expand to meet the demands of a pilot plan nearly triple that of the 12,000 Pilot Plan. The next month, eleven contractors met at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, to discuss the potential problems of running a Primary flight training program. The contractors were then required to select a site and start construction in preparation to commence training on March 22, 1941. The sites were to be located away from existing air routes, ten miles from any radio station or municipal airport, and ten miles from any army, navy or civilian training facility. (30) Cadet classes at each school would be 206 in size, but in the meantime, each school would operate at 75 percent capacity. (31)

The eleven schools selected and the sites established were: the Rankin School of Flying in Van Nuys, California in 1939; (32) Lou Foote Flying Service, Stamford, Texas; (33) Brayton Flying Service, Cuero, Texas; (34) Graham Aviation Company, Americus, Georgia; (35) Riddle-McKay Aeronautical Institute, Carlstrom Field, Arcadia, Florida; (36) Pine Bluff School of Aviation, Pine Bluff, Arkansas; (37) Southern Aviation School, Camden, South Carolina; (38) Southwest Airways, Thunderbird Field, Glendale, Arizona; (39) Air Activities of Texas, Corsicana, Texas; (40) Oklahoma Air College, Cimarron Field, Yukon, Oklahoma; (41) and Palo Alto Airport, Inc., King City, California. (42) Many potential contractors were obviously disappointed that their bids had been rejected. The USAAC mailed them all a form letter that explained that operator experience in flight training, the "nucleus ... for expansion," suitability of selected site and nearby terrain, and financial ability were all factors that affected the final decision. (43)

Over opposition from the Gulf Coast Air Corps Training Command (GCACTC), which believed that it should assume authority for all civilian contractors in the United States, Arnold insisted that the 12,000 Pilot Plan would operate more effectively within three separate geographic training centers drawing candidates from fairly equal-sized populations. (44) This resulted in the establishment of the Southeast Air Corps Training Command (SEACTC) and the West Coast Air Corps Training Command (WCACTC). The WCACTC's eastern boundary extended from the 108th to the 103d meridian to encompass southern California, southern Arizona, New Mexico and part of west Texas where the weather proved more favorable for flight training. (45)

The projected cost of the 12,000 Pilot Plan was nearly $40 million. Several USAAC generals met with Congressional leaders and testified before various committees to discuss the program and praised the civilian contractors for their work. In March 1941, Gen. Brett informed Congress that "the civilian primary flying school has replaced the Government primary flying school." Despite opposition from some in the USAAC, Brett announced that by May, three civilian schools would provide Basic military flight training, the next stage beyond Primary: Cal-Aero Flight Academy, Ontario, California, Georgia Aero Tech, Augusta, Georgia, owned by Harold Darr, and Dallas (Brady) Aviation School, Brady, Texas, owned by Maj. Long. Once the 12,000 Pilot Plan got underway, Brett praised its accomplishments before Congress, saying that the cadets being produced were "better pilots than we had 5 years ago." (46)

Before the USAAC even implemented the 12,000 Pilot Plan, it was already planning to expand the number of schools. In October 1940, Henry Stimson asked Arnold to do a separate study to determine the number of facilities needed to train 30,000 pilots. In December 1940, all three training centers were ordered to recommend sites for building more civilian schools. In March 1941, Gen. Davenport Johnson, Chief of the Training and Operations Division and one of Arnold's assistants, told the Senate committee for appropriations that since the USAAC expected an attrition rate of 7-10 percent (the percentage of cadets eliminated from or killed during training), the 30,000 Pilot Plan was necessary to provide replacements and avoid a pilot shortage. The near tripling of pilots would double the striking power of the USAAC. A USAAC report noted that forty-eight schools, including one to train African-American pilots, would be necessary to carry out the 30,000 Pilot Plan. (47) Although it still had the final say, the USAAC decided to make the contractors responsible for selecting the sites to establish their schools. As one USAAC report explained, "contractors should be selected without regard to site for that can be determined later." Eventually, the USAAC, renamed the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on June 20, 1942, selected fifteen contractors. (48)


To meet the demands of the 30,000 Pilot Plan, SEACTC added three new schools under existing contractors, and four under new contractors: Lodwick Aviation Military Academy, Avon Park, Florida; Riddle-McKay Aeronautical Institute, Dorr Field, Arcadia, Florida; Southern Airways, Inc., Decatur, Alabama; Georgia Air Services, Bennettsville, South Carolina; Raymond-Richardson Aviation, Douglas, Georgia; Hawthorne Flying Service, Orangeburg, South Carolina; Greenville Aviation School in Ocala, Florida; and Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama (which was supposed to open under the 12,000 Pilot Plan, but did not start training until August because of delays). (49) The GCACTC added seven schools, all but one in Texas and Oklahoma: Bonham Aviation School Bonham, Texas; Hangar Six Inc., Uvalde, Texas; Wilson & Bonfils, Chickasha, Oklahoma; Harman Training Center, Ballinger, Texas; the Austin Flying School, Coleman, Texas; Ritchey Flying School, Vernon, Texas. (50) Only one school was opened in the WCACTC under the 30,000 Pilot Plan: J. Lloyd O'Donnell's Visalia School of Aeronautics. (51) The contractors were required to obtain financing of $500,000 or more. (52)

The decision to implement the 30,000 Pilot Plan proved prudent. The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and declarations of war by Germany and Italy within a few days brought the United States firmly into World War II. The country now faced a two-front war that would require an untold number of pilots and aircraft. On December 29, nearly three weeks after Pearl Harbor, Arnold ordered an immediate expansion under the 50,000 Pilot Plan that required building more civilian-operated schools. (53)

All three geographic training centers, soon to be known as Flying Training Commands, were confronted with different problems in the effort to meet the increased demand for pilots. The Pacific War and fear of Japanese attack forced the Western Flying Training Command (WFTC) to relocate the Ryan School of Aeronautics, San Diego, to Tucson, Arizona, and start a new one, Southwest Airways, Inc., in Phoenix, Arizona, where the desert was flat and relatively free of obstructions. (54) Three other schools were opened in California and Texas: Morton Air Academy, Blythe, California; Coast Aviation Corporation, Dos Palos, California; Pacific Air School, Ft. Stockton, Texas. (55) The largest expansion of civilian schools occurred in the Eastern Flying Training Command (EFTC) which added seven new schools: Wiggins-Marden Aero Corporation, Camden, Arkansas; Lafayette School of Aeronautics, Lafayette, Louisiana; Clarksdale School of Aviation, Clarksdale, Mississippi; Cape Institute of Aeronautics, Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Georgia Air Service (Southeastern Air Service), Jackson, Tennessee; Riddle-McKay Aeronautical Institute, Union City, Tennessee. (56) The Gulf Coast Flying Training Command (GCFTC) did not add any new schools, but it converted an existing school that trained Royal Air Force cadets into a Transport Command Pilot School with the intent of establishing a Primary school. Instead, it became the Women's Air Force Service Pilot's School, which encompassed Primary, Basic, and Advanced flying training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. (57) Schools that had been training 2,035 cadets under the 30,000 Pilot Plan were expected to matriculate 3,206 by the end of 1942. Total class sizes jumped from 7,285 to 11,797. Each school saw individual class sizes increase from an average of 178 to 230. Pressure from Washington to add new schools also reflected Arnold's belief that further expansion would occur in the future. (58)

In the meantime, the USAAF made the decision to purchase the airfields used by the civilian contractors. The civilians still retained control over management, but the Defense Plant Corporation (DPC), a subsidiary of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, purchased the schools and their assets, and assumed the leases of auxiliary airfields. The DPC also assumed responsibility for expenditures during the war as many schools expanded to take in more cadets. The USAAF took this measure so as to "relieve" the contractors of the "financial problems and risks." (59) Not all contractors took advantage of the relief. Tuskegee Institute and the Hancock School of Aeronautics retained ownership. Oliver Parks retained ownership for two of his fields, but did sell the two in Jackson, Mississippi, and Sikeston, Missouri. Spartan retained owner ship of the field in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but sold the one in Muskogee. (60) Although the DPC may have been a financial godsend, problems arose. Because of demands from the USAAF, contractors rushed to make additions to their schools, but the approval process was slow and unwieldy. Many contractors simply carried out the construction at their own expense and expected reimbursement only to have such requests denied by the DPC. This instilled much bitterness between the contractors and the DPC. (61)


The year 1943 represented the final expansion and the peak of the USAAF training program during World War II. For a time, Arnold spoke of implementing 70,000, 75,000, 85,000 and possibly even 102,000 Pilot Plans. The Central Flying Training Command (CFTC), formerly the GCFTC, noted that the calls for expansion in 1942 had been so common that in 1943, they "sounded a little like Wolf, Wolf.'" (62) To fulfill the initial 75,000 (5,000 foreign) Pilot Plan, it was believed that fourteen additional schools were required. (63) The CFTC added one new school: Oklahoma Air College, Mustang Field, El Reno, Oklahoma. (64) The school at Fort Stockton, Texas, was transferred from the WFTC to the CFTC. (65) The WFTC converted two former glider schools into Primary schools: Claiborne Flight Academy in Wickenburg, Arizona, and Twenty-Nine Palms Air Academy, in Twenty-Nine Palms, California. (66) Oliver Parks' schools in East St. Louis and Sikeston, Missouri were transferred to the EFTC, since Parks already had two schools under the EFTC's authority. Otherwise, the EFTC only added one new, and its last, primary contract school: Anderson Air Activities, McBride, Missouri. (67)

In June 1943, Arnold ordered what became known as the "All-Out Effort." When he ordered that no application for cadet training be disapproved, he seemed bent on launching the 102,000 Pilot Plan. Apparently, the commanders for each of the flying training commands recognized that they were not prepared to fulfill such an ambitious plan, which the CFTC labeled as "premature." Within two months, the "All-Out Effort" was fixed at the 93,600 Pilot Plan. (68) Nevertheless, in October 1943, 14,000 students entered Primary training with classes averaging 250 cadets, putting the rate at 98,000 per year. (69)

The USAAF's pressure to increase pilot production led to serious problems, especially the labor situation at the civilian contract schools, which struggled to retain and hire instructors and mechanics. As a result, some consideration was given by the U.S. government to completely militarize the civilian contract schools. Yet, the civilian contractors had their supporters. Robert A. Lovett, Assistant Secretary of War for Air, acknowledged that the use of contractors had been the "best course for us to have followed up until this time." Col. Kenneth P. McNaughton, director of training under the CFTC, gave a speech before a conference of contractors in which he declared that their schools were "performing the most important single function in the war, in that they provide the basis for the Army Air Forces." (70)

Militarization, though, became a moot point in late 1943. In November, Arnold called on all training commands to prepare for retrenchment. The USAAF now faced a pilot surplus. The separate commands were to consider which Primary schools to close in light of the general drawdown that became the 85,000 Pilot Plan starting in January 1944; 60,000 in February; 40,000 in April; 17,000 in September; and then 10,000 in December. The first group of schools would close in April 1944 followed by closures in the summer and fall. In December 1943, a secret letter went out to the commanding officers stating that contractors would be retained on the basis of their school's physical plant, its location and weather conditions, size and the contractor's performance. Senior contractors were to receive preference. The decision to close certain schools was supposed to remain a secret until the USAAF felt the time was opportune, but unfortunately there were leaks. Not only were local communities disappointed, but morale plummeted at the schools where the training would be discontinued. Arnold came under such harsh criticism that the contractors held a conference in May 1944 and issued a statement expressing no confidence in the general. (71) Gradually, the schools were closed especially after the surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945.

From 1939 until 1945, Arnold relied on these civilian flight schools to be the pilot training engine of the evolving wartime USAAF. The responsibility for training the bulk of America's air force was unprecedented, something never seen before World War II or since. The civilian contractors and employees played a key role in providing the aviation foundation for young men necessary to fly the fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft that formed the crux of American air power. In no other aspect of training for either the U.S. Army or Navy could any civilian contractor make a similar claim. The contractors were patriots, but they were also businessmen. Some clearly sacrificed a great deal financially to win and fulfill their contracts. Ultimately, most wanted to succeed for the benefit of the country and their reputations and make a profit. Some would fail, Arnold and the USAAF had no choice but to find another contractor to replace them. The relationship between the civilians and the military was not perfect. Arnold never spelled out who truly ran the schools: the civilians or the military. Mistakes were made on both sides. Although most contractors and their local USAAF officers got along well, there were conflicts that led to calls to militarize the schools. In the end, Arnold never militarized a Primary school. He simply ignored opposition to his reliance on the civilian contract system and stayed the course, showing considerable trust. Or it showed the extent of his hope and the considerable risk that he was willing to take to get the air force he needed to win the war.

By 1945, the fruits of the civilian contractors were too obvious. In the WFTC, 75,651 cadets completed their Primary training. (72) The EFTC graduated 73,982 plus an additional 1,376 African-Americans from Primary. (73) Records for the CFTC are not complete, but the CFTC probably experienced comparable graduation rates. In 1943, Col. John R. Morgan, an early skeptic of using civilian contractors despite being one of the officers that suggested the concept, was asked in an interview whether, if he had to do it all over again, he would still turn to civilians to mass-produce pilots and if that was the best solution. Morgan answered, "Yes. The results were gratifying, and certainly exceeded expectations at the Training Center. It was a life saver, and the only solution." (74)


The author would like to thank Dr. James Libbey for reading the manuscript, and Dr. Gilbert Guinn, for helpful suggestions and making available some of the primary documents on which this article is based.

(1.) Keith D. McFarland and David L. Roll, Louis Johnson and the Arming of America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), pp. 58-62.

(2.) Thomas M. Coffey, Hap: The Story of the U.S. Air Force and the Man who Built It-General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold (New York: Viking Press, 1982), pp. 183-89.

(3.) "History, Army Air Forces Central Flying Training Command, January 1, 1939-December 7, 1941," United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell Air Force Base, reel A2306. (Hereafter CFTC History).

(4.) The program and its purposes are described in Dominick Pisano, To Fill the Skies with Pilots: The Civilian Pilot Training Program, 1939-1949 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993); See also, Patricia Strickland, The Putt-Putt Air Force: The Story of the Civilian Pilot Training Program and The War Training Service, 1939-1944 (Washington, D.C.: Department of Transportation/Federal Aviation Administration, Aviation Education Staff, 1971).

(5.) CFTC History

(6.) Coffey, Hap, p. 196.

(7.) H.H. Arnold, Global Mission (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1949; Reprinted, Blue Ridge Summit, Penn.: Tab Books, 1989), pp. 180-81.

(8.) "History, AAF Flying Training Command and Its Predecessors, January 1, 1939 to July 7, 1943," USAFHRA, reel A2285. (Hereafter AAFFTC History)

(9.) CFTC History.

(10.) AAFFTC History.

(11.) CFTC History.

(12.) McFarland and Roll, Louis Johnson and the Arming of America, p. 65.

(13.) "History of the AAF Flying Training Command and Its Predecessors, January 1,1939 to July 7,1943."

(14.) CFTC History.

(15.) For more information on Parks, see Willard Weiner, Two Hundred Thousand Flyers: The Story of the Civilian-AAF Pilot Training Program (1944), p. 166; "History, 62nd Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics, Jackson, Mississippi," USAFHRA, reel A2492; for Moseley, see, "History, 2nd AAFFTD, Ontario, California, 1939-December 7, 1941," USAFHRA, reel A2463; "History, 7th AAFFTD, Oxnard, California, June 28, 1940-December 7, 1941, USAFHRA, reel A2492; for Ryan, see, William Wagner, Ryan, the Aviator: Being the Adventures & Ventures of Pioneer Airman & Businessman T. Claude Ryan (New York: McGraw-Hill 1971); for Darr, see, Gilbert Guinn, Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South and the Allies Daring Plan (Charleston: History Press, 2007), pp. 127-28; for Long, see, Tom Killebrew, The Royal Air Force in Texas: Training British Pilots in Terrell during World War II (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2003), pp. 1113; for Skelly, see Roberta Louise Ironside, An Adventure Called Skelly: A History of Skelly Oil Company Through Fifty Years, 1919-1969 (New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1970), pp. 24-44; for Sias, see, "History of the Lincoln Airplane and Flying School, Lincoln, Nebraska, July 1,1939-November 25,1940," USAFHRA, reel A2748; "47th Army Air Forces Training Detachment, October 7, 1940-November 15,1943," USAFHRA, reel A2748.

(16.) CFTC History.

(17.) CFTC History.

(18.) Robert F. Schirmer, "AAC & AAF Civil Primary Schools, 1939-1945," Journal of American Aviation Historical Society (Fall 1991), p. 8.

(19.) AAFFTC History

(20.) Robert F. Schirmer, "AAC & AAF Civil Primary Schools, 1939-1945: Part VII, Dallas Primary," Journal American Aviation Historical Society (Fall 1992), p. 220.

(21.) "History of the AAF Flying Training Command and Its Predecessors, January 1,1939 to July 7,1943."

(22.) CFTC History; AAFFTC History.

(23.) CFTC History.

(24.) Gilbert S. Guinn, "A Different Frontier: Aviation, the Army Air Forces, and the Evolution of the Sunshine Belt," Aerospace Historian (Spring 1982), pp. 34-45.

(25.) CFTC History.

(26.) AAFFTC History.

(27.) CFTC History.

(28.) AAFFTC History.

(29.) AAFFTC History

(30.) CFTC History.

(31.) AAFFTC History

(32.) "History, Air Corps Training Detachment, Tulare, California, February 5-December 7, 1941," USAFHRA, reel A2501.

(33.) http/

(34.) "History, 303rd Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Cuero, Texas, January 1, 1940-March 1, 1944," USAFHRA, reel A2462.

(35.) Guinn, The Arnold Scheme, pp. 108-10, 240-51, 531.

(36.) Stephen G. Craft, Embry-Riddle at War: Aviation Training During World War II (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009).

(37.) "History, 312th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Grider Field, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, January 1, 1941-March 1, 1944," USAFHRA, reel A2500; "History, 69th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Clarksdale School of Aviation, Clarksdale, Mississippi, Activation to December 31,1942," USAFHRA, reel A2466.

(38.) Guinn, The Arnold Scheme, pp. 73-92, 217-23; "History, 64th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, January 1-December 7, 1941," USAFHRA, reel A2502.

(39.) "History, 6th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Thunderbird Field, Glendale, Arizona, October 1940-December 7,1941," USAFHRA, reel A2506.

(40.) "The History of the Corsicana Air Field Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas," txnavarro/war/corsicana_air_field/corsicana_air__field_history.htm.

(41.) Weiner, Two Hundred Thousand Flyers, pp. 169-70.

(42.) "History, Air Corps Training Detachment, King City, California, January 1, 1939-December 7, 1941," USAFHRA, reel A2499.

(43.) CFTC History.

(44.) Ibid.

(45.) AAFFTC History.

(46.) Ibid.

(47.) Ibid.

(48.) Richard F. McMullen, "The Role of Civilian Contractors in the Training of Military Pilots," Historical Division, Headquarters Air Training Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, n.d.

(49.) "Historical Report, 55th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Bennettsville, South Carolina, January 1, 1939-December 7, 1941," USAFHRA, reel A2479; "History, 63rd Army Air Forces Contract Pilot School (Primary), Raymond-Richardson Aviation Company, Douglas, Georgia, Activation to December 7, 1941," USAFHRA, reel A2502; "History, 2162nd Army Air Force Base Unit, (Contract Pilot School, Primary), Hawthorne School of Aeronautics, Orangeburg, South Carolina, June 1941-February 1,1944," USAFHRA, reel A2483; "Historical Survey, 57th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Ocala, Florida, Activation to December 31, 1942," USAFHRA, reel A2481; "History, 66th Flying Training Detachment, Moton Field, Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, Activation to December 7,1941," USAFHRA, reel A2513.

(50.) "History, 302nd Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment and Bonham Aviation School, Jones Field, Bonham Texas, January 1, 1939-April 1, 1944," USAFHRA, reel A2461; "History, 305th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Gamer Field, Uvalde, Texas, January 1, 1939-March 1, 1944," USAFHRA, reel A2482; "History, 316th Army Air Forces Contract Flying School (Primary), Chickasha Field, Chickasha, Oklahoma, September 15, 1941-January 1, 1943," USAFHRA, reel A2521; "History, 2556th Army Air Forces Base Unit, Bruce Field, Ballinger, Texas, July 1941-June 1944." USAFHRA, reel A2482; "History, 304th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Coleman, Texas," USAFHRA, reel A2467; "History, 2567th Army Air Forces Base Unit, Vernon, Texas, February 1, 1941-March 1, 1944," USAFHRA, reel A2485.

(51.) "History, 8th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Visalia-Dinuba School of Aeronautics, Visalia, California, Activation to December 7, 1941," USAFHRA, reel A2519.

(52.) McMullen, "The Role of Civilian Contractors in the Training of Military Pilots."

(53.) "History, Army Air Forces Central Flying Training Command, December 7, 1941-December 31, 1942," USAFHRA, reel 2306.

(54.) "History, West Coast Training Center, December 7, 1941-December 31, 1942," USAFHRA, reel 2314; "Historical Record, 11th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Tucson, Arizona, December 7,1941-January 1, 1943," USAFHRA, reel A2504; "History, 12th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment," USAFHRA, reel A2484.

(55.) "History, Flying Training Detachment, Blythe, California, 1942" USAFHRA, reel A2494; "History, 13th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment," USAFHRA, reel A2467;"History, 9th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Gibbs Field, Fort Stockton, Texas," USAFHRA, reel A2498.

(56.) "History, 71st Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Wiggins-Marden Aero Corporation, Camden, Arkansas," USAFHRA, reel A2420; "History, 70th Army Air Forces Contract Pilot School, Lafayette, Louisiana, December 7, 1941-January 1, 1943, USAFHRA, reel A2487; "History, 69th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, Clarksdale School of Aviation, Clarksdale, Mississippi, Activation to December 31,1942," USAFHRA, reel A2466; "History, 73rdArmyAir Forces Flying Training Detachment, Harris Field, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, January 1, 1943-April 25, 1944," USAFHRA, reel A2464; "History, 68th Army Air Forces Training Detachment, Army Air Forces Contract Pilot School (Primary), Jackson, Tennessee, June-December 1942," USAFHRA, reel A2479; Craft, Embry-Riddle at War.

(57.) "History of the Army Air Forces Central Flying Training Command, December 7, 1941-December 31, 1942," USAFHRA, reel 2306.

(58.) McMullen, "The Role of Civilian Contractors in the Training of Military Pilots"; AAFFTC History.

(59.) AAFFTC History.

(60.) McMullen, "The Role of Civilian Contractors in the Training of Military Pilots."

(61.) "History of the Army Air Forces Eastern Flying Training Command, December 7, 1941-December 31, 1942," USAFHRA, reel 2294.

(62.) "History of the Army Air Forces Central Flying Training Command, January 1-December 31,1943."

(63.) McMullen, 'The Role of Civilian Contractors in the Training of Military Pilots."

(64.) "History, 320th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment, El Reno, Oklahoma, Activation to March 1, 1944," USAFHRA, reel A2498.

(65.) "History of the Army Air Forces Western Flying Training Command, January 1,1941-December 31, 1943," USAFHRA, reel 2315.

(66.) "History, Army Air Forces Western Flying Training Command, January 1, 1941-December 31, 1943," USAFHRA, reel 2315.

(67.) "Station History, 74th Army Air Forces Training Detachment, Army Air Forces (Contract Pilot School, Primary), Anderson Air Activities, McBride, Missouri," USAFHRA, reel A2457.

(68.) "History of the Army Air Forces Central Flying Training Command, January 1-December 31,1943."

(69.) McMullen, 'The Role of Civilian Contractors in the Training of Military Pilots."

(70.) USAFHRA, Reel A2261.

(71.) "History of the Army Air Forces Eastern Flying Training Command, January 1, 1944-June 30, 1944," USAFHRA, reel 2297.

(72.) "History of the 3000th AAF Base Unit and Western Flying Training Command, July 1-November 15, 1945," USAFHRA, reel 2319.

(73.) "History, Army Air Forces Eastern Flying Training Command, July 1-August 31, 1945," USAFHRA, reel 2301.

(74.) CFTC History.

Stephen G. Craft is a professor of Social Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Daytona Beach, Florida. He earned a Master's in history from Ohio University, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has authored two books, V.K. Wellington Koo and the Rise of Modern China, and Embry-Riddle at War: Aviation Training during World War II, and contributed numerous articles to such journals as Diplomacy & Statecraft, Pacific Historical Review, and the American Aviation Historical Journal In the 1980s and 1990s, he also worked in Asia and continues to do research in and lead study groups abroad visits to Taiwan and China.
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Author:Craft, Stephen G.
Publication:Air Power History
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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