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September 2021
Pilot Training Was Major Part of USAAF’s
Plan for Victory in World War II
The U.S. Army Air Forces, like the U.S. itself, planned for victory in World War II and pilot training was a big part of that plan. The USAAF's wartime training story was detailed in a special museum presentation on August 25 by Lt. Col. Don Johnson, a retired U.S. Air Force officer with 20 years of service and more than 11,000 hours of flight time, and a museum docent.

Johnson told how, beginning in 1939 in reaction to such world-shaking events as Germany's invasion of Poland, the U.S. started to grow its military forces. And the growth was dramatic. By the end of the war, the air branch of the U.S. Army had gone from 23,435 people and 2,500 planes to 2,282,259 people and almost 80,000 planes.

The "gentlemen's flying club within the Army" had become "a world-beating, world-dominating offensive delivery package that [was] the biggest the world had ever seen, and probably will ever see," and it was all done in just five years, Johnson said.

He traced the growth this way: The invasion of Poland, the official beginning of World War II, prompted the USAAF to set a requirement of 1,200 pilots per year. The fall of France in 1940 increased the number to 7,000. Germany's defeat of Yugoslavia and Greece in March of 1941 boosted it to 30,000. The requirement grew to 50,000, then 70,000 and, with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, to a final requirement of 93,000 new pilots per year.

But how to get there? "They're going to start with recruiting," Johnson said. But there were challenges. Only 20 percent of those who applied would meet acceptance standards, and only a little over half of those would successfully complete pilot training. So, to meet the goal of 93,000 pilots per year, they would have to recruit far more -- 930,000 per year.

The Army had several ways to attract recruits. One was to pay more. "There was a statutory limit on how much they could pay their pilots, and the Navy was paying more. So they went to Congress," which allowed a raise in pay and allowances, Johnson said. The Army also dipped into the enlisted ranks to find qualified men.
And they established travelling recruiting teams. "America was very different back then,” Johnson said. “In rural America, there might not even be a telephone line, and that's where [the recruiting teams] were going to find some of their candidates." The teams "asked for help from community leaders like preachers, teachers, politicians" who would identify potential candidates.

The Army also launched a publicity campaign using newspaper and radio ads, and posters that said things like, "’Keep 'Em Flying’ Is Our Battle Cry! First Class Fighting Men Needed."

In the photo at the right, Alan Wojciak checks the T-6.

More examining boards were established to process the flood of new recruits.

The Army and Navy both had basic standards for pilots -- vision, height and weight, and age among them. Age was 18 to 26, but 17 with permission of parents. That's how President George H.W. Bush "became the youngest ensign ever to graduate from Navy pilot training," Johnson said. "He was only 17 but had his parents' permission."

Once pilot candidates were selected, they were sent to basic training, or Ground School, where they were introduced to Army life, getting a full dose of drill and ceremonies, firearms and physical training, for instance. Pay was $75 per month plus $1 per diem. Flight-pay came when candidates started flying. They got $10,000 of free government life insurance. The term "buy the farm" may have had its origins here, Johnson said. "It was about $10,000 back then to buy a small family farm, so if you died and they paid the family $10,000, you 'bought the farm.'"

After Ground School, the candidate moved to Undergraduate Pilot Training, which took about 27 weeks. and consisted of three phases -- Primary, Basic and Advanced.

Primary Training was conducted by civilian contract schools because the Army recognized early on that it couldn't train the huge number of pilots in this phase by itself. The civilian schools provided the instructors and the Army provided the planes, like the Stearman PT-13, an example of which was flown following Johnson's presentation, and the Fairchild PT-19, one of which was on display in the WestPac Hangar during Johnson's talk. There were initially six civilian contracts schools, but the number grew to 63 by D-Day in 1944.

In the Basic Training phase, trainees were sent to military bases with military instructors. They trained in the more complex BT-13, learning to fly at night, in formation, on cross-country flights, and by instruments.

A "huge force multiplier" here, Johnson said, was the Link Trainer, which taught students to fly on instruments. The U.S. and its allies did much more of this kind of training than the Axis powers. Some 10,000 Link Trainer were built during the war. The museum's Link is demonstrated to visitors during our operating hours.

"We got a big increase in our capabilities in 1943 when we went to the full [instrument] panel system that [the Army] borrowed from the Navy," Johnson said. It “added two very important instruments, a gyroscopic attitude indicator and a gyroscopic compass, so you always know which way is up and which way is north, two very important things to know if you're a pilot."

Advanced Training divided students into two groups, Single Engine for fighters and Multi Engine for bombers and transports. Both groups continued instrument training. The Single Engine course, using the AT-6 trainer, included combat maneuvering. The Multi-Engine curriculum, with the AT-17 Bobcat, included formation flying, among other things. Upon completion of the Advanced phase, trainees became Second Lieutenants and were awarded pilot's wings.

But they were far from finished, Johnson said.

Transition Training was next. Those in the fighter pilot group would be taught to fly more powerful but obsolescent planes like the P-39 and P-40. The five-week course was formalized if the pilot remained in the U.S., but not so much if he was sent overseas because there was little time for such instruction. "They gave them the airplanes and the manuals and said, 'Figure it out, we're all counting on you,'" Johnson said. "They'd just hop into the airplanes and start flying."

Bomber pilots took longer to go through Transition Training, ten weeks, because of greater complexity. The emphasis was on instruments, formation flying, long-range navigation and high-altitude flight.

Once finished with Transition Training, pilots were sent to either Operational or Replacement Training. If you were chosen for Operational Training, you went overseas as part of a group. If it was Replacement Training, you took the place of an individual.
It took about a year from the beginning of Undergraduate Pilot Training to the end of Transition Training, when a pilot was deemed ready for combat.

"So," Johnson asked, "how did our training stack up against Germany and Japan?" For one thing, the USAAF was “able to maintain a consistently high level of training throughout the entire war." Fighter pilot training hours, for instance, remained at a base level of about 200 hours from 1939 to 1944. By the time a fighter pilot entered combat, however, he had logged about 450 hours.

In the photo to the right, John Nolan checks out his Stearman PT-13D.

German fighter pilots entered combat early in World War II with about 200 hours of flying time, Johnson said. But by 1944, this had dropped to about 116 hours. And by 1945 the Luftwaffe had effectively stopped all pilot training.

Japanese fighter pilots flew into combat early in World War II with about 350 hours of flying time. By 1944, however, a Japanese fighter pilot transitioning to combat "would be lucky to get about 60 hours," Johnson said.

Germany's failed 1941 invasion of Russia "started their irreplaceable losses," Johnson said. "To accommodate, they had to start taking instructors out of their schools to enter the front lines, which hurt their training." Allied attacks on oil supplies made it much worse.

Japanese losses in the 1942 Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway could not be replaced. Oil supplies also dried up.
At the same time, Germany and Japan failed to take advantage of the technology used in the Link Trainer. Their pilots thus got far less instrument training than their Allied counterparts, and were therefore unable to fight with full effect.

Ultimately, U.S. industrial power and wherewithal defeated the Axis powers. By war’s end, the USAAF, for instance, had 783 main and subbases and auxiliary airfields (compared to 17 in 1939), 12 air depots (4 in 1939), and 480 bombing and gunnery ranges (6 in 1939).

And, in addition to out-producing Germany and Japan in terms of aircraft (building some 300,000 planes), the U.S. trained more pilots -- 193,440 by the USAAF between 1939 and 1945. More than 74,000 USAAF students were under instruction at the service’s peak of training in December of 1943.

But, Johnson said, "Aerial combat is a deadly business [and] so was training for aerial combat in World War II." There were 40,061 USAAF combat fatalities during the war, and an additional 14,903 training fatalities or about one-third of the total deaths suffered by the USAAF during the war.

USAAF aircraft losses in combat totaled 22,948, while 21,530 USAAF planes were lost in training. The USAAF destroyed 40,259 enemy aircraft.

(Col. Gene Pfeffer (USAF-ret.), the museum’s Curator and Historian, contributed to this article.)
Rich Tuttle

Rich Tuttle
Tom Heaney Named Volunteer of the Second Quarter
Tom Heaney was selected as museum Volunteer of the Second Quarter of 2021. A ceremony was held in his honor at the museum on August 26. Bill Klaers, president and CEO, recognized Tom for his accomplishments.

Tom has used his creativity and artistic skills to improve the museum since 2013. He uses personal initiative in identifying potential projects and was instrumental in creating key display pieces throughout the new museum hangar. Tom typically volunteers between 40 and 80 hours per month, working on many projects at home in addition to hours spent at the museum. He painted the WWI mural near the museum entrance, the Ready Room exterior, the fireplace in the Home Front area, the stone arch façade in the Battle of Britain area, and more. Tom is dependable, enthusiastic, and creative. He is a behind the scenes “hero” and deserves this recognition. Congratulations Tom!
Museum supports First Plane Pull in Southern Colorado
The museum hosted a fund-raising contest, sponsored by Special Olympics Colorado, to pull our 28,000-pound PBY Catalina 15 feet in the shortest time. The event, held on September 18, attracted more than 20 teams of ten people each. It was the first of its kind in Colorado Springs. The museum saw over 500 visitors on that day. Other Colorado plane-pulls have been held at Denver International Airport and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield. This event raised more than $50,000 for Special Olympics Colorado, according to Alexandra Vander Pol, director of events for Special Olympics Colorado. The organization supports sports training and competitions for some 15,000 people with intellectual disabilities in Colorado.

Shown right is the Colorado Military Academy, Squadron 805 with the Catalina in tow.
Did You Know...
Brigadier General Benjamin S. Kelsey, a mechanical and aeronautical engineer and pilot, played a major role in the development and testing of U.S. fighter planes before and during World War II.
According to his official Air Force biography, Kelsey learned to fly at an early age. He joined the Army and was commissioned in 1929. In 1934, he joined the Air Corps Materiel Command as a fighter project officer where he was involved with writing and reviewing specifications for advanced pursuit aircraft, one of which would become the P-38 Lightning.
After war broke out in Europe, he was hand-picked by General Hap Arnold to accompany General Tooey Spaatz to England to study British and German fighter and bomber operations. He came away convinced that bombers would need escort fighters and that the range of fighters had to be increased.
He then spear-headed efforts to develop drop tanks that eventually let U.S. fighters escort bombers into Germany and back. After the U.S. entered the war, Kelsey led the first ferry flight of fighters across the Atlantic to England.
Shown to the right is First Lt. Benjamin Kelsey (later Brigadier General) stepping out of the cockpit of a P-36A fighter after a flight test at Wright Field in 1938.

In 1943, Kelsey became deputy chief of staff of 9th Fighter Command, the Army Air Forces’ ground-support element for the Normandy invasion. In early 1944, he was appointed chief of the Operations Engineering Section of the 8th Air Force and flew combat missions over Europe.
"Along with Gen. James H. Doolittle, General Kelsey participated in the first test of an
instrument-guided takeoff and landing, on Sept. 24, 1929, at Mitchel Field on Long Island," the New York Times said in its obituary for Kelsey, who died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 74. In the test, Doolittle flew a Consolidated NY-2 from the rear cockpit, which was covered with a hood, while Kelsey rode in the front seat as safety pilot. "The achievement is considered more significant than General Doolittle's famous bombing raid on Tokyo in 1942," the Times said.
Kelsey had number of memorable experiences, some in P-38s like the museum’s rare P-38F
White 33. The P-38 Association relates a couple of his experiences. It says Kelsey "is most well-known by P-38 fans as the pilot who first flew the Lightning” across the country.
The goal of that flight was to break the record set two years earlier by Howard Hughes. Kelsey’s “total elapsed time was 7 hours, 45 minutes, 36 seconds” but his “actual flight time was 7 hours, 36 seconds,” according to the website “This Day in Aviation”. The flight failed by 17 minutes, 11 seconds to break Hughes’s record. But, it says, Hughes flew his plane, the H-1 Racer, “nonstop from coast to coast, while the XP-38 required two time-consuming fuel stops”, one in Amarillo, Texas, and the other in Dayton Ohio.
Kelsey took off from March Field, in Riverside, California, and intended to land at Mitchel Field in New York. But "On approach to Mitchel, the XP-38 was behind several slower training planes, so Lieutenant Kelsey throttled back the engines. When he tried to throttle up, the carburetor venturis iced and the engines would not accelerate, remaining at idle. With insufficient power to maintain altitude, the airplane crashed on a golf course short of the airport," according to “This Day in Aviation”.
"The XP-38 was damaged beyond repair, but its performance on the transcontinental flight was so impressive that 13 YP-38A pre-production aircraft were ordered from Lockheed by the Air Corps," the website says. By the end of World War II, Lockheed had built 10,037 P-38s.
Kelsey "...stayed in close contact with [the P-38] during every phase of its development and
implementation," the P-38 Association website says.
"According to author Jeff Ethell," it says, "Kelsey flew extended long-range ferry missions,
combat missions and potentially dangerous equipment tests. One such flight took place on April 9, 1943, when Kelsey performed a flight test on a modified P-38G to see if Lockheed's newly developed dive flap could be engaged after terminal velocity was reached in a dive. After climbing to 35,000 feet, Kelsey initiated a dive. At maximum speed, he pulled the lever to engage the new flaps but nothing happened. Pulling harder, the handle came off in his hand. Kelsey applied full rudder and aileron at the same time, and suddenly the aircraft lost one wing and the whole tail, and entered an inverted flat spin. Kelsey bailed out and suffered a broken ankle upon landing. The P-38 crashed upside down into a hillside near Calabasas, California."

(Col. Gene Pfeffer (USAF-ret.), the museum’s Curator and Historian, contributed to this article.)
Rich Tuttle

Rich Tuttle