Report From Washington

[byline to Lieut Col Melvin J Maas, USMC, congressman from Minnesota]

By special arrangement, this monthly feature appears simultaneously in Flying and The Aeroplane, London

In studying the changing needs of aviation to ensure the greatest contribution to the war effort and air commerce, three things stand out as of paramount concern now. They are:

  1. The co-ordination of expenditures for military aircraft with Naval air transport.
  2. Youth glider training programs.
  3. Increased emphasis on landplane use, with the resultant decreasing dependence on the aircraft carrier.

In connection with the first point, I just have gotten a policy adopted by Congress to assure coordination of expenditures for military aircraft with Naval air transport. In the Public Works Authorization Bill (HR 6192) which I introduced, the Secretary of the Navy is authorized to see to it that every dollar spent for a Naval air transport system, so far as is consistent with the war effort, shall be with a view to postwar utilization of such facilities — as, for example, air bases, types of aircraft to be produced, military routes being synchronized with air routes, production facilities wherever possible being used instead of duplicating existing facilities and expanding to the fullest utilization of these existing ones.

Within the last 30 days this has come into operation as Congressional policy. It is now hoped that members of the Military Affairs Committee and the Army Air Forces will adopt a similar policy.

This I urge, since it is important that we dovetail our air-war program into postwar needs as closely as possible. In every sense, the better development of a more closely coordinated Naval air transport plan with military expenditures for aircraft — and attuning it to post-war needs — is a primary stimulus to a Win-The-War-First policy. At the same time it removes needless waste.

There is no justification for the United States to be profligate in its aircraft expenditures, confining them to single-purpose objectives. All other governments long ago projected their plans on a basis such as this new congressional policy sets forth.

Regarding the second of these points, I have introduced a bill for a nationwide youth glider training program. It is to be sponsored by the Federal Government through a system of aid to the States and local flying organizations. It is planned to provide glider training for youths 14 years of age and up. This bill (HR 1514) is known as "A Bill to Provide Adequate Aeronautical Training for the Youth of the United States." It has six major purposes:

  1. Create complete air-mindedness.
  2. Provide a reservoir of partly-trained pilots for further airplane pilot training.
  3. Elimination of the unqualified.
  4. Effect economy in the selection of flight-training candidates for our armed forces.
  5. Obtain the maximum out of the training program and cut training "washouts" to a minimum.
  6. Create a market for postwar aviation.

The recent announcement of the production in April of 7,000 planes makes this program mandatory, for this announcement really means that production of 10,000 planes per month can be attained easily — and with great emphasis on combat planes. Obviously more trained pilots will be needed and this glider training program is a pilot trainee reservoir.

Regarding the increased emphasis on landplanes, again we look to the happenings of recent months. The trend in production has swung toward planes of much longer range, both fighters and bombers. All this indicates that the day of the sea-borne plane — both carrier-based and flying boat — is drawing to a close.

The carrier has served its purpose and from now on its importance will decrease. The carrier plane cannot compete with land-based aircraft because of many inherent technical limitations. In addition to these limitations, which the aircraft designer cannot fully overcome, other factors also limit the carrier plane's utility. The carrier deck is short. This limits the size and range of aircraft it can base. An added weight factor, necessary to the carrier-based plane, cuts its maneuverability and range below that of a land-based plane of the same horsepower. The utility of the aircraft carrier itself is rapidly diminishing, for the carrier as a fighting ship and as a moving landing field has been demonstrated in this war to be too vulnerable. Whole combat fleets are required merely for the escort of aircraft carriers — and yet, withal, we still are unable to protect the carrier adequately. It is vulnerable to both air and submarine attack. In fact, every carrier so far sunk has been sunk by planes or subs. None is known to have been sunk by shell fire.

With the establishment of a comprehensive network of island air bases — and with the ever-increasing range of landplanes — the aircraft carrier is becoming less and less important.

This waning importance of the carrier requires increased emphasis on use of the landplane in our global air strategy. This emphasis must follow three basic concepts:

First, the airplane is the dominant striking weapon of the war.
Second, the airp1ane's versatility has evolved entirely new methods of combat.
Third, the airplane is the keystone of coordinated activity.

As to the first of these: At the outset of the war the relative importance of the role each branch of the armed services might play was not clear. But today the introductions, so to speak, are over, and it is obvious that the air arm has emerged as the dominant striking weapon of the war.

Not that the airplane has supplanted other weapons. Rather, it has doubly proved its value by making these older weapons more effective in giving them mobility. Thanks to the airplane, the machine gun, torpedo, bomb, tank — all have demonstrated new effectiveness.

In addition, the airplane has greatly increased the range of operations. The bombing of Tokyo, the continued demolition of targets in Germany, France and Italy are mute testimony of its globe-straddling ability. These advantages are enhanced in the knowledge that the airplane knows no barriers. Because of this ability fixed forts, artillery breastworks — even bodies of water hitherto practically unconquerable — can no longer prevent a rapid concentration of firepower, a most decisive factor in modern war.

Not all aircraft possess all of these advantages. The basic limitations of each type force the air staff to choose those characteristics of airpower most needed at the time at a given place. Just as no one fighter plane can excel in performance at all altitudes, so no one type of plane can embody all characteristics required to meet all conditions.

The role of aircraft in this war requires ever-varying emphasis. Since the particular job of each type is now well established, efficient use can be made of all by recognizing the performance limitations of each and emphasizing maximum use of each within its individual sphere. For example, the low-altitude fighter at sea level will climb 600 feet per minute faster than the medium-altitude plane. Obviously, for close co-operation with troop action, where rapid rate of climb may be tantamount to warding off enemy craft, the choice should rest on the former type of plane.

Conversely, the high-altitude airplane, supreme in climb and speed between 25,000 feet and 40,000 feet, must be assigned to its sphere. Even though the medium-altitude fighter is a usable airplane as high as 36,000 feet, at approximately 23,000 feet its speed falls off and its rate of climb declines to a rate that is 350 feet per minute slower than that of the high-altitude craft.

Since maneuverability is governed by wing loading, power ratios, sturdiness of design, speed and the pilot's susceptibility to over-rapid accelerations, these criteria must be considered in the performance assignments of the various planes in battle. And, since optimum speed, climb, maneuverability and operating altitude are not all attainable in one airplane, cognizance of the conflict between these qualities must be taken by the air staff directing the use of aircraft.

In this respect it should be emphasized that, even as proper choice must be made of each type of fighter craft for its chiefly-designed purpose, so must bombers, gliders, observation and transport craft be selected.

Airpower has evolved a new method of battle technique that may best be described as the technique of battle transport. In the opinion of many, this device has not yet reached its full stage of development. Airplanes now are used to transport troops, materials and gliders. Recent advances in the capacity of huge new air transports augur further surprises for those who once believed the practicality of tank-carrying aircraft to be a fabulous dream. Where troops once were forced to fight their way through enemy lines, it now is possible for entire regiments to drop behind strategic enemy positions, with devastating effect. Where enemy sources of production once were immune to attack, now, thanks to the heavy bomber, an entire industrial area may be leveled in the course of an hour's concentrated bombing. For the same reason rail, motor and sea shipping are no longer immune. Where beleaguered positions formerly found no means of support, now supplies and material may be provided by air.

Much has been made of the importance of the aircraft carrier in this respect. However, as stated before, its vulnerability as a floating seadrome may in the end mitigate its continued effectiveness. In contrast, land bases for aircraft do not have these limitations and are increasingly essential to us. For instance, consider the advantages had we possessed land bases on the Azores. In 1938, I urged the State Department to negotiate for the building of such land bases. Having served there in the last war, I could attest as to their value. Our failure to do so is now our military loss. Yet, since these land bases could be built quickly, it is not yet too late to learn the lesson.

The airplane is the keynote of coordinated activity. Much controversy has arisen about the relative values of land, sea and air forces, but the fact remains that only through coordination of all three we may expect ultimate victory. Crete has been cited often as an illustration of air superiority. Its capture was generally portrayed to have been largely the result of independent air action. But the proper picture is that Crete's airdromes were physically occupied by German ground troops. The dive bomber and the glider made this possible. The dive bomber knocked out final resistance. The gliders got the troops there. Thus the airplane acted in unison with other military forces. Then there was the Japanese expansion southward, our own glorious Allied victory in Tunisia — these were only accomplished through a coordination which goes beyond cooperation.

This war has demonstrated that all branches, including the air arm, are part of an indivisible team. Since the airplane is the most mobile artillery, it can strike without warning. But to capitalize on the plane's effect, other forces must be immediately available and should be under the direction of those directing the air effort. These forces must be ready to occupy the territory that airpower has softened. Aircraft must of necessity lead that team, for aviation is the eyes of the military and from its observations the brains of the military must direct and coordinate the efforts of the other branches. Other branches must be used to aid in following through and taking advantage of the initial victories won in the air.

It will be through already widespread recognition of the necessity for coordination, through the recognition of the air arm as a dominant striking weapon, and through the utilization of airpower for new methods of attack that the war will be brought to a quicker, more conclusive end.

This column was originally published in the July, 1943, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 33, no 1, pp 46, 169, 171.
The original article includes a portrait of the author.
Photo is not credited.