The Massive Buildup
The Enormous Task of Training Pilots for WWII
The Chief of the Air Corps had stated in January, 1939, that the United States Air Corps was 5th or 6th rate. When Germany invaded Poland in September, 1939, the Air Corps has only about 800 first-line combat aircraft and 25,000 men, while the German Air Force had 4,000 planes and 500,000 men.
In 1939, Congress authorized the Air Corps to expand its fleet to 6,000 airplanes. On May 16, 1940, with the war in Europe expanding, President Roosevelt called for the U.S. to increase aircraft production to 50,000 per year. America’s massive military expansion was now underway.
The events of December 7, 1941, unleashed an unimaginable flurry of activity throughout the military, as well as massive expansion and mobilization of America’s Industrial Complex.
Army Aviation expenditures sky-rocketed, going from $74 million in 1939 to $3.9 billionin 1941 to $22 billion in 1942. Aircraft production soared from 3,611 in 1940 to peak at 96,270 per year in 1944. All told, the U.S. produced some 296,000 airplanes for WWII.
The U.S.’s three Flight Training Commands (Regions) were busy expanding, too. In August of 1940, the Air Corps was making plans to train 12,000 per year. In the spring of 1941 Congress called for training 30,000 new pilots. In 1942 they increased that number to 50,000 per year, and then raised the number to 70,000, then raised it to 102,000. The 102,000 per year level was never reached, but peaked at about 93,600 per year in the fall of 1943.
To meet these goals for training new pilots, the Air Corps (which became the Army Air Forces on June 20, 1941) would have to have many more new air fields. Within the Southeast Flight Training Command, a new air field was authorized and built at Helena in 1941. This was a Primary Flying School, operated by Civilian Contractor.
On Feb 28, 1942, a new Primary Flight School was authorized at Camden and on March 14, 1942, a new Basic Flight School was authorized at Dyersburg, Tennessee, and on March 30, 1942, an Advanced Twin-Engine School at Blytheville, Arkansas. On April 30, 1942, a new Advanced Twin-Engine School was authorized at Stuttgart, Arkansas and on May 1, 1942, a new Basic Flight School was authorized at Newport, Arkansas.
This rapid expansion continued, and ultimately, the 3 Flight Training Commands established 56 Contract Primary Flight Schools, 26 Basic Flight Schools, 44 Advanced and Specialized Schools, and 151 College Training Detachments for WWII aircrew training.
Meanwhile, as the survey for the Dyersburg Basic Flying School was nearing completion, it was determined that 5 million cubic yards of dirt would have to be moved to build the air field there. Washington said to find a new site quickly.
In early April 1942, a Board of three Army Air Forces Officers, Lt. Col Burton Hovey, Jr., Lt. Col. John R. Cume, Jr., and Capt. Blanton Russell took off in search of a new location. Their flight brought them over an area just northeast of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, which looked promising. Returning by car the next day, the Board looked over the site, and checked on the schools, housing, utilities and transportation.
The Board was favorably impressed with the Walnut Ridge location, and on April 15, 1942, recommended it be substituted for the Dyersburg site.
(Click Walnut Ridge AAF Tab [above] for additional details)