The New Army Air Force

By Major General H H Arnold
Chief of Air Corps, USA

The defense plans are working themselves into shape more and more each day. As we go to press, Congress in holding hearings on additional appropriations for our Army Air Corps — some $1,500,000,000 that will give it a total of 25,000 planes and nearly 140,000 mechanics and flyers.

I can remember when the Army had but one airplane, the world's only military airplane. I can recall when it had but one squadron — nine mousetrap airplanes represented our whole air force.

I saw that squadron grow to one hundred fifty thousand men, thirty thousand pilots and twenty thousand planes in 18 months as we tardily speeded up during World War I.

So, I was not appalled when we were asked last year to expand to an Air Corps of five thousand five hundred planes, forty-five thousand men and four thousand five hundred flyers. Likewise, more recently I have neither been dumfounded nor dismayed when, as the iron hail began to fall from the war clouds on the other side, we were given funds for an additional increase before the first expansion was finished. I am not pessimistic now about the ability of the Army and the civil aeronautic industry to meet this new expansion for which the present 76th Congress has given us over seven hundred fifty million dollars to build an Air Corps of about ninety-five thousand mechanics, twelve thousand pilots and ten thousand planes.

There have been critics who say that we cannot efficiently expand the Army Air Corps from its size of a year ago — 20,000 men, 2.000 pilots, 2,000 planes — to the proportions I have just outlined above within a period of two or three years. There is criticism even today of the methods we are pursuing to give this nation an adequate air defense. I am convinced that these critics are public-spirited and patriotic citizens, who are not antagonistic to their country's interests, but that they are merely misinformed or uninformed. I think it is in rare cases only that their criticism is malicious or destructive. These misguided patriots are deeply concerned about the future welfare of their country. For this reason I propose to outline briefly our purpose, plan and objective in producing this new enlarged American Air Force.

Remember what we had when we started, the foundation we are building on: about 20,000 men; less than 2,000 Air Corps Officers; a little more than 2,000 airplanes, less than 500 of which were of modern combat types; and 60 squadrons.

Here is what we mus accomplish with the funds appropriated so far: enlist, train, and organize an Air Corps of about 95,000 men; train 10,000 flyers; build more than 10,000 new airplanes; and organize, equip, and train about 75 new squadrons.

Between those differentials lies our task. The principal factors which we have to employ, are money, time, and labor. The total money appropriated to date with which to accomplish these expansions is more than a billion dollars. We have two years in which to accomplish the task. It must be completed before June 30, 1942.

By way of labor, we have 20,000 old and experienced men and 2,000 trained officers aided and abetted by the civil aeronautic industry, employing more than 100,000 skilled workers and superior craftsmen.

There you have it. It is no simple task.

Germany began more than seven years ago to build a great air force, which was designed and fashioned to conquer Europe. Only during the past summer did that air army reach its present vast size and demoniac efficiency. England began in 1933 to build up here air force. In 1938, she redoubled her effort. Only recently has she been able to accomplish the results she desired, and she was aided tremendously by foreign aircraft industries. Air forces are not built in a day.

Of the three factors I outline above; money, time and labor, perhaps the most important and indispensable is time. There is no substitute for time. It cannot be bought nor improvised. A keen Army officer recently made a sad but astute observation, "In years gone by we had all the time in the world but no money. Now we have all the money in the world but no time." He was talking about the good old American habit of waiting until the house is on fire before we take out insurance. Money can buy labor and materials, but that indispensable third variable, which God chose to measure second by second, is supplied alone by natural laws.

We know now that we can enlist and train enough air mechanics to reach an air corps of 95,000 within a year. We know this because last year without difficulty we enlisted and trained nearly 30,000, and we were just starting then.

We know that we can train 7,000 flyers within a year — thanks to the able cooperation of the nine civil flying schools which are giving our primary training. We shall reach that 7,000 pilots per annum capacity within twelve months by enlarging those civil schools about three times and by creating two additional training centers, similar to the flying schools now operating at full capacity at Kelly, Brooks and Randolph Fields, San Antonio, Texas.

We know that the aeronautic industry in this country can build 10,000 planes within the next two years for our Army Air Corps, in addition to those we may sell abroad and build for our Navy. We know this because we have made the most accurate survey of the present capacity of our aircraft industry and because we are well acquainted with its leaders, executives, directors, engineers, and skilled labor.

I take little stock in this business that the American aircraft industry cannot supply our needs. I can remember the last World War. In the beginning the American aircraft industry had a capacity of less than 100 planes a year. I saw one factory sign a contract eighteen months later to deliver 100 planes a day! Within that period of eighteen months, the American aircraft industry turned out more than 30,000 engines and 20,000 planes. The American aircraft industry today is incomparably superior in every regard to the state it had reached even at the close of the last World War. It has millions more square feet of floor space. It has many times the tools and labor-saving machines. It has more engineers and designers, and it has nearly ten times as many skilled laborers.

So, make no mistake about it, we shall train the mechanics; we shall train the flyers; and we shall build the planes. We shall have, then, but two other tasks to accomplish. We shall have to take these mechanics, pilots and planes, organize them into flying squadrons and teach them to fight, to shoot, to bomb, to overcome any enemy in the air. It takes from six months to a year after the planes, pilots, and mechanics are poured into the hopper (the flying field), before the units are formed and equipped, and the personnel is adequately trained, so that we can point to it and proudly say, "There is an air force!"

That remaining task is this: We must organize these squadrons into groups, wings, air divisions, and finally into a General Headquarters Air Force. We must train the air force to fight with the Army and carry out independent air force missions. We must school and instruct a body of able officers in command and staff functions, capable of leading intelligently in any air battles that may confront us this air force which we have created.

There lies the task. When it is accomplished, less than two years hence, we shall have the New American Air Force. We can do it. We could do more under pressure of grim necessity.

It will not be the largest air force in the world, it may not be enough, but it is a giant stride in the right direction.

This article was originally published in the August, 1940, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 39, no 8, pp 36-37.
The PDF of this article [ PDF, 2.1 MiB ] includes a photo of General Arnold, a flight shot of a B-17 from 2 o'clock, and photos of a DB-7 and a PT-19.
Photos are not credited, so are probably from the USAAC.