Looking Back, February 2024
By Mark Albertson

Air Defense Tactics of Soviet Airborne Units

By Thomas M. Salisbury, III
Edited by Mark Albertson

[Thomas M. Salisbury, III, an Intelligence Analyst with the Red Team, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, HQDA, attended the Virginia Military Institute and served in the U.S. Army Security Agency from 1966 to 1970.]

* Army Aviation, pages 49-52, Vol. 29, No. 11, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., November 30, 1980.

* * * * *

Soviet military journals categorize the primary threat to parachute and heliborne assault forces on landing to be an immediate attack by armored units or attack helicopters.[1]

Since the adoption of the forward defense strategy by the U.S. Army in Central Europe, the attack helicopter unit’s quick reaction time, mobility, firepower, and availability to the commander make it the most likely asset for immediate response to Soviet airborne battalion or regimental parachute landings in the corps rear area. Therefore, the air defense tactics and weapons of Soviet airborne units warrant the attention of both air cavalry scouts and our attack helicopter crews.


Recent major Soviet exercises such as BEREZINZA, held in the Belorussian military district in 1978, and NEMAN, held in the Baltic military district in 1979, indicate an intent to use airborne battalions and regiments, equipped with the BMD airborne combat vehicle, to carry out parachute assault landings within the tactical zone of defense.[2]

BMD Vehicle

These assaults would probably occur beyond the 50 kilometers from the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) advocated by the Soviets for heliborne landings of motorized rifle units[3] but considerably short of the 300 kilometer depth advocated for division size operational landings.[4]

A Soviet landing force does not normally drop and hold an objective in static defense until link-up; rather it conducts an offensive battle of maneuver in the rear area.

In addition to initial objectives, the Soviet landing force may raid targets of opportunity (usually nuclear missile, command and control, or air defense related targets) along the route of maneuver to a final objective or area many kilometers from the original landing area.[5] The direction of maneuver in the enemy rear area is usually oriented towards friendly ground formations carrying out the offensive in the enemy main battle area.

Organic Support

SA-7 Launcher

A Soviet airborne battalion has one man-portable SA-7 surface-to-air missile (SAM) squad,[6] probably three launchers,[7] organic to each airborne company for a total of nine SA-7 launchers in each battalion. Thus, a minimum of 27 SA-7 launchers would be organic to a Soviet airborne regiment. In addition to other organic light automatic weapons, each BMD is capable of providing short range air defense fire from a turret mounted 7.62 mm machine gun.

ZU-23-2 23 mm Mount

One air defense battery of six towed ZU-23-2 twin-barreled 23 mm anti-aircraft guns (each weapon providing a combined rate of fire of 2,000 rounds per minute) is organic to the Soviet airborne regiment.[8] Altogether, a Soviet airborne defense is credited with 200 SA-7 and 36 ZU-23-2 air defense systems in its table of organizations.[9]

Other Support

Although this low-level air defense umbrella only provides effective coverage out to about 3,000 meters, or a maximum of 7,000 meters, air defense weapons not organic to airborne divisions have at times been associated with Soviet airborne troops.

For example, SA-4 GANEF SAM launchers with airborne markings were displayed offloading from AN-22 transports at the July 1967 air show in Moscow.[10] Also, one Soviet airborne battalion as described as having been reinforced during a recent exercise with unidentified mobile SAM launchers (which could be interpreted to suggest a platoon of SA-9 GASKIN missiles).[11]

Neither of the above systems is known nor likely to become organic to the Soviet airborne division. However, special tailoring of a combat force with attached weapons should never be ruled out. Soviet authors have consistently pointed out since the 1960s that airborne forces will be reinforced by air-landing whatever weapons, equipment, or non-airborne personnel are deemed necessary to carry out specific missions successfully.[12]

Additional support is provided by frontal aviation fighters which escort the airborne transports to the landing area and may provide limited air cover during the course of rear area operations by the airborne unit.[13] Advancing Soviet units that begin to close with the airborne troops also bring an increasing number of army and front level SAM’s into range to extend air defense coverage over the airborne unit prior to link-up.[14]


During the maneuver in the rear area the Soviet airborne unit takes these basic air defense measures:

  • Routes of movement are used which offer tree cover or masking terrain for concealment.
  • Folds in terrain are used to assist in breaking up low level anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) fires delivered from long range.
  • Security on the flanks, rear, and front of the column give advance warning of the approach of scout or attack helicopters.
  • One SA-7 gunner is usually attached to each group of patrol vehicles deployed in a column security role.[15]
  • All-around observation is conducted by designated personnel in the column.
  • Scout helicopters may not be engaged if the column or security elements have reached concealed positions before discovery. If a delay in movement is not feasible, scout helicopters will be engaged on order of the commander.[16]
  • All fires, including small arms, are used to engage helicopters.

If a decision is made to move to cover when helicopters are engaged during the march, SA-7 gunners may dismount and cover their BMDs until the vehicles take position and their 7.62 mm fires to the engagement.[17] During an attack, SA-7 gunners cover tactical command posts and the main enveloping platoons of the companies in the attack.[18]

ZU-23-2 (23 mm) firing platoons have the mission of covering the main body of the airborne regiment during the march or in the attack. When the regiment is in march column the ZU-23-2 firing battery marches between the two battalions of the regimental main body.[19]

During the attack, ZU-23-2 platoons deploy in positions to cover the main attack of the regiment or, more often, are attached to those battalions attacking separate objectives that are of the most importance to the regiment’s mission.

Some Words of Caution

The 3,000 meter effective range of the airborne battalion or regiment’s air defense barely reaches maximum standoff ranges of current U.S. Army attack helicopters, yet some tactical methods and other factors increase the lethality of this short range Soviet air defense.

In Central Europe masking terrain not only shields the approach of attack helicopters—it will also make engagement at maximum standoff range difficult.

Soviet parachute assault training, as described in their military journals, indicates that wartime jumps will be carried out mostly at night or in low ceiling/poor weather conditions. These factors, combined with the airborne unit’s ground mobility and its tactical intention to move and maneuver during most of the operation, make the early fixing, engagement at maximum range, and destruction or containment of the airborne force before it can accomplish its missions a difficult task.

Unconventional Tactics

Soviet airborne troops can be expected to employ some unconventional tactics to defeat attack helicopters. The Chief of Staff of Soviet Airborne Troops, General Lieutenant P. Pavlenko, recently stated that airborne units had experimented with using BMD 73 mm main guns and anti-tank guided missiles against helicopters.[20] Although no details were given, such experimentation indicates the degree of attention being given to defending airborne troops from attack helicopters.

Although the main body of a Soviet airborne regiment or battalion will be a lucrative target for attack helicopters while in march column—caution should be exercised. While the scout may escape untouched by ground fires to report and guide in the attack helicopter flight, attack helicopters may be ambushed while approaching at nap-of-the-earth altitudes by undetected SA-7 and BMD 7.62 mm fires from security elements deployed well out from the main body.

Finally, unlike heliborne insertions of motorized rifle companies and battalions stripped of their usual air defense umbrella provided by regimental ZSU-23-4 and SA-9 systems, Soviet airborne operations in the rear area will be well covered by air defense systems.

These systems are a threat at the low altitudes and varying ranges at which attack helicopters would be forced to engage in Central Europe. Soviet airborne unit organization, air defense tactics, and training all reflect an awareness of U.S. Army attack helicopter tactics and the measures necessary to counter them.

Figure 1. Air Defense Weapons Organic to Soviet
Airborne Battalions or Regiments

AD Weapon Effective Range Maximum Range
BMD Turret 7.62 mm MG Up to 1,000 meters Up to 3,000 meters
SA-7 Man-portable SAM 45 to 3,000 meters 5 to 6,000 meters
ZU-23-2 23 mm AA Gun 2,500 meters 7,000 meters

NOTE: Data is based on the USAITAC Report IAG-13-U-78, Soviet Army Operations, 1978; Understanding Soviet Military Developments, OACSI, 1977; Artillery of the World, C.F. Foss, 1974; FM 30-40, HQDA, 1975; and Soviet Tactical Air Defense, DDB-1140-6-80, Defense Intelligence Agency, 1980.


[1] Colonel I. Kabachevskiy, et al, “The Anti-Air Defense of Airborne Landings,” Voyennaya Mysl, USSR, No. 8, 1968, pages 42-49.

[2] Lieutenant Colonel I. Dynin, et al, “A Front Line Tradition,” Krylya Rodiny, Moscow, No. 10, 1979, pages 16-17, and “The Chords of Combat,” Sovietskaya Rossiya, Moscow, 11 February 1978, page 4.

[3] Soviet Army Operations, IAG-13-U-78, USAITAC, 1978, page 7.

[4] ibid, page 7.

[5] This emphasis on maneuver and raid by parachute units has intensified in Soviet open-source military journals since about 1974. Maneuver in the rear area instead of static defense has been part of Soviet airborne tactics for some time, but it is the BMD that makes this tactic a reality.

[6] Lieutenant Colonel V. Sinoshenko, “When a Landing is Attacked by Helicopters,” Voyenniy Vestnik, No. 10, 1978, pages 43-44.

[7] The Soviet Motorized Rifle Battalion, DDB-1100-197-78, DIA, 1978, page 31.

[8] USAITAC, op. cit., pages 2-18.

[9] Soviet Tactical Air Defense, DDB-1140-6-80, DIA, 1980, page 9.

[10] General-Lieutenant I.I. Lisov, Parachutists: Airborne Landing, (translation) USAFSTC, 1969, page 274.

[11] General-Lieutenant P. Chaplygin, et al, “If an Assault is Attacked by Helicopters,” Voyenniy Vestnik, No. 10, 1974, pages 51-54.

[12] Colonel Kabachevskiy, and Lieutenant Colonel Dynin, op. cit.

[13] Lieutenant Colonel Dynin, ibid.

[14] Colonel Kabachevskiy, op. cit.

[15] General-Lieutenant Chaplygin, op. cit.

[16] Lieutenant Colonel Sinoshenko, op. cit.

[17] Sr. Lt. O. Oleynik, “Behind Aggressor Lines,” Krasnaya Zveszda, 23 May 1979, page 1.

[18] Lieutenant Colonel Sinoshenko, op. cit.

[19] Colonel M. Muslimov, “A Battalion Captures a Mountain Pass at Night,” Voyennly Vestnik, No. 5, 1979, pages 39-43.

[20] General-Lieutenant P. Pavlenko, “The Great Patriotic War and Postwar Period,” Voyenno-Istoriccheskly Zhurnal, No. 1, 1980, page 9.

Looking Back, December 2023
By Mark Albertson

Philosophy of Command

By Brigadier General George P. Seneff, Jr.

General George P. Seneff, page 38, Army Aviation, January 31, 1999 issue.

The following was written by Brigadier General George P. Seneff, Jr. in 1966, while he was commanding the 1st Aviation Brigade in Vietnam.

* * * * *

A World War I division commander whom I knew fairly well, and who was a great gentleman and fine commander, said to me one evening in 1945, “I have finally come to realize that the only way to be a good commander in wartime is to be a first-class SOB.”

I have thought this statement over many times in the past 20 years because it has had very special lessons for me. I know, thanks to excellent hindsight, that he was voicing his disappointment with others whom he had led—and who were not as high principled and devoted to duty as he was—had let him down, and unnecessary cost in life and with damage to the furtherance of the effort.

Nicholas Monsarrat, in his superb accounting of human relationships on wartime, “The Cruel Sea,” traces the development of the same philosophy in the words of a British corvette command: “At the beginning, there was time for all sorts of things–making allowances for people like sensitive human beings, and wondering whether they were happy, whether they liked you or not—but now—the war has squeezed out everything except the essentials. You can’t make any allowances now, you can’t forgive a mistake. The price may be too high. It’s too serious now for anything except a 100 percent effort—a 100 percent toughness.”

This is a point in the philosophy of leadership with which successful combat leaders have always had to come to grips: You can’t afford to be a ‘nice guy’ if this means letting standards of training and performance slip, because in a combat situation slippage means death.

Now the point of all this, as far as we aviators are concerned, is that we are always in a combat situation—because we are always fighting the sky; which with great impartiality as we all know, can be intensely beautiful and serene one moment, but which can kill you (and the people you’re responsible for) deader than a mackerel the next.

I’ve personally investigated a lot of accidents in the past few years and I’ve read the reports on a lot of others. In 90 percent of the really nasty ones I’ve seen—where people were killed or maimed or burned—regardless of the immediate cause of the accident, command supervision had a lot to do with allowing it to become a nasty one as opposed in just resulting in bent equipment. The guy’s emergency procedures weren’t good enough, or he tied it up, or he just wasn’t sufficiently well trained to cope with the situation that confronted him.

Practice Often Avoided

There is a tremendous tendency in this business to avoid practicing the hairier aspects of our operations, such as short-field work, night-and-day formation work, night confined area operations and living at low altitude. This is a natural tendency because, in itself, practicing means exposure can lead to what we are trying to avoid. It can build up accident rates which, when they become high, reflect poorly upon command.

Nonetheless, it is only through diligent and unceasing practice of these aspects of the game that our people become good enough at them to perform them safely, or at least with minimum risk. Good aviation organizations, just like good organizations of any other sort, have proven time and again that they can do it safely and effectively. They gained this capability by increasingly diligent practice and training.

Intelligent Planning Needed

I must emphasize that they didn’t get this way overnight, nor did they start off tackling the most difficult facets of operations on a large scale on the first day. They built up to it gradually by making sure first that their people as individuals were trained and standardized and that they knew what they were doing, leading them very gradually up the stairs of difficulty, in balance with demonstrated capability.

For example, you teach people how to avoid wires by having them fly low and learning to recognize the signatures that indicate wires, but you don’t let them leap into this without looking. You work your way into it gradually by having an experienced instructor pilot aboard, by working down to low altitude from a somewhat higher altitude (say 50 to 100 feet), by the use of carefully surveyed courses which the IP has taken the precaution to fly at reasonable altitude on any given morning before taking students out, to insure that some knucklehead hasn’t strung new wire up between a couple of trees during the night. In short, you teach this by taking an intelligently planned approach.

But the big thing is that you make the approach, and you make your people do it and you make them practice. You drill them on emergency procedures and teach them all the tricks that your older hands can give you until you can tell yourself truthfully that your people are trained and are capable of coping with any situation that is likely to confront them. On emergency procedures, a good tip an Air Force friend passed to me was that of having the approved emergency procedure for one of the likely emergencies for the aircraft owned by the unit thoroughly reviewed by a different member of the organization every morning at the preflight briefing.

The challenge lies with you. If, after an accident, you can tell yourself, “I have done everything within my power in training, in maintenance and in discipline to prevent this,” then you are a good commander. If you can’t, you aren’t. One word about who is a commander—we all are. We have battalion commanders, platoon leaders, and section and team leaders. We also have aircraft commanders. If you are the lowest-ranking guy in this business, you are still, if you’re commanding an aircraft, responsible for the airplane and the lives of other people who might happen to be aboard.

Finally, a word about the first paragraph of this dissertation: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you really have to be an SOB in order to accomplish the desired results. You have to lead—preferably by example. Precisely how you do it is a matter of your personality, the organization and the situation. Some of the best leaders I have known have been very pleasant people, but they very pleasantly insisted on extremely high standards. How you achieve them is secondary. Just make sure you do—you are preparing your people for combat in a dangerous game.

Source: See pages 38 and 39, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., January 31, 1999.

* * * * *

An Alternative View on the Philosophy of Command

There is more than just a single philosophy of command. General Seneff’s is the result of his being a product of American society, typically Middle Class, with a different perspective towards war. But then again, what type of war. This can most certainly make a difference. And that leads us to the perspective of a gentleman named, T.E. Lawrence or the famous Lawrence of Arabia.

T.E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia.  Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain image.

He led a revolt, an Arab revolt. For he joined battle not merely to defeat Ottoman forces in league with the Triple Alliance, Imperial Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, but for the rise, perhaps, of an Arab nation, as perceived with the Damascus Protocol. Arguably Lawrence was one of the last of the romantic warriors in the modern era.

Below is T.E. Lawrence, from, The Evolution of a Revolt:

“My own personal duty was to command, and I began to unravel command and analyze it, both from the point of view of strategy, the aim in war, the synoptic regard which sees everything by the standard of the whole, and from the point of view called tactics, the means towards the strategic end, the steps of its staircase.

“In each I found the same elements, one algebraical, one biological, a third psychological. The first seemed a pure science, subject to the law of mathematics, without humanity. It dealt with known invariables, fixed conditions, space and time, inorganic things like hills and climates and railways, with mankind in type—masses too great for individual variety, with all artificial aids, and the extensions given to our faculties by mechanical intervention. It was essentially formulable. . . .

“The second factor was biological, the breaking-point, life and death, or better, wear and tear. Bionomics seemed a good name for it. The war-philosophers had properly made it an art, and had elevated one item in it, ‘effusion of blood,’ to the height of a principle. It became humanity in battle, an art touching every side of our corporal being, and very warm. There was a line of variability (man) running through all its estimates. Its components were sensitive and illogical, and generals guarded themselves by the device of a reserve, the significant medium of their art. . . .

“Nine-tenths of tactics are certain and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals. It can only be ensued by instinct, sharpened by thought practicing the stroke so often that at the crisis it is as natural as a reflex. . . .

“The third factor in command seemed to be psychological, that science (Xenophon called it diathetic) of which our propaganda is a strained and ignoble part. . . . The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander, and we, being amateurs in the art of command, began our war in the atmosphere of the twentieth century, and thought of our weapons without prejudice, not distinguishing one from another socially. The regular officer has the tradition of forty generations of serving soldiers behind him, and to him the old weapons are the most honored. We had seldom to concern ourselves with what our men did, but much with what they thought, and to us the diathetic was more than half command. In Europe it was set a little aside and entrusted to men outside the General Staff. In Asia we were so weak physically that we could not let the metaphysical weapon rust unused. We had won a province when we had taught the civilians in it to die for our ideal freedom: the presence or absence of the enemy was a secondary matter. . . .

“Napoleon had said it was rare to find generals willing to fight battles. The curse of this war was that so few could do anything else. Napoleon had spoken in angry reaction against the excessive finesse of the eighteenth century, when men almost forgot that war gave them license to murder. We had been swinging out on his dictum for a hundred years and it was time to get back a bit again. . . . Our cards were speed and time, not hitting power, and these gave us strategical rather than tactical strength. Range is more to strategy than force. The invention of bully-beef has modified land-war more profoundly than the invention of gun-powder.

“My chiefs did not follow all these arguments, but gave me leave to try my hand after my own fashion. We went off first to Akaba, and took it easily. Then we took Tafilah and the Dead Sea: then Azrak and Deraa, and finally Damascus, all in successive stages worked out consciously on these sick-bed theories. . . .

“In character these operations were more like warfare than ordinary land operations, in their mobility, their ubiquity, their independence of bases and communications, their lack of ground features, of strategic areas, of fixed directions, of fixed points. ‘He who commands the sea is at great liberty, and may take as much or as little of the war as he will’: he who commands the desert is equally fortunate.”

Source: See pages 285 and 286, “T.E. Lawrence: From: ‘The Evolution of a Revolt,’” The Sword and the Pen: Selections from the World’s Greatest Military Writings, by Sir Basil Liddell Hart, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1976. Edited by Adrian Liddell Hart.

Looking Back, October 2023
By Mark Albertson

“Which Way Did He Go? Up!”

By Lieutenant Colonel Jack W. Hemingway
Army War College
Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania
Edited by Mark Albertson

Source: Pages 228, 250-252, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 6, Army Aviation Publications,
Westport, Ct., June 22, 1959.

* * * * *

Lieutenant Colonel Jack W. Hemingway, received his commission in 1942 by way of the Citizens Military Training Program. Following his assignment to the 35 th Infantry Division, he joined the 78 th and fought with that division on the European Theater of Operations. A unit commander at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin after 1945, he was later transferred to Japan and assigned to GHQ, SCAP. Next he was sent to Camp Carson, where he served as a company commander and later as battalion S3 with the 14 th Regimental Combat Team before he was reassigned to Fifth Army Headquarters. In Korea, he was assistant G3 of the 40 th Infantry Division, and battalion commander and executive officer of the 223 rd Infantry Regiment. Upon return to the United States, he served on Third Army HQ, followed by duty with the Command and Staff Department at the Infantry School. At the time of this article, Lieutenant Colonel Hemingway was attending the Army War College.

* * * * *

Thirty-five years ago Dr. Bothezaat broke the world’s helicopter record at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, by remaining in the air two minutes and forty-five seconds at a height of fifteen feet. It seems strange that a vehicle developed at such an early date would not come into prominent usage until some twenty-seven years later in the Korean War. Why?

It is an irrefutable law that demand will pace progress. In 1923, the helicopter was ahead of its time. There was still room for improvement in surface mobility and in fixed wing aviation. Improved power plants, fuels, suspension systems, hydraulics, terrestrial and aquatic flotation and advances in metallurgy provided man with the means to move faster and with greater freedom using the simple vehicles he then possessed.

Factors Affecting Development

The helicopter has come into its own since World War II. What, then, has occurred to create the demand required to convert an inventor’s dream into a practical aerial vehicle? Two factors influenced this development more than all others: the limitations of the fixed wing aircraft and the atomic weapon.[1]

The first of these is most influential as it pertains to both civilian and military applications of the helicopter. During the period starting in the late thirties and continuing today, America has taken to the air like toads to hopping. The mass acceptance of air travel paved the way for its integration into all enterprises.

Militarily, the air machine proved an able troop and supply vehicle as well as an effective weapon of destruction.

Yet, both militarily and commercially, there was need for a maneuverable aerial vehicle which was not tied to highly developed landing facilities. Oil and ore exploration, feeder and connecting air lines in congested areas, reconnaissance of vast timber, cattle or agricultural acreages are but a few of the many commercial applications of the helicopter for which fixed wing aircraft was not well suited. In this same vein the first military applications of the helicopter were in the command and evacuation fields.

Dispersion and Speed All-Important

The second, and militarily the most significant, factor influencing the development of the helicopter has been the introduction of the atomic weapon into the arsenal of war. The atomic weapon has placed a premium on dispersion and speed. The best insurance against atomic destruction is to keep concentrations of any tools of war below the levels which are militarily and economically lucrative for the employment of atomic weapons.

Yet, to be effective it is necessary at the proper moment to mass men and material quickly and then with equal rapidity to disperse below the level of danger. Ground contact vehicles were reaching their practical limits in speed and flexibility. It was necessary to look elsewhere. The answer was in the air. The fixed wing aircraft did not offer the freedom of action and versatility necessary for tactical mobility. The rotary wing aircraft was a vehicle in being which offered great potential. Its vertical takeoff and landing characteristics freed it from the restraints of prepared landing strips or roadways; its freedom from support by the earth permitted it to leap over territorial obstacles; and its speed and maneuverability equipped it to achieve surprise.

Applications to Atomic Battlefield

What are some of the applications of the helicopter to the atomic battlefield? General William G. Wyman in an address to the Air War College stated that the Army “. . . must have tactical aerial vehicles that will permit us to:

  • One: Move patrols and assault forces up to battle group size to seize critical terrain and exploit tactical atomic blows.
  • Two: Move reinforcing elements in depth or laterally to meet or counter an enemy threat or create one of our own.
  • Three: Effect rapid shifting of weapons with crews and other combat equipment within the battle area—particularly across natural or manmade obstacles.”

General Wyman’s classification of the needs of the Army for tactical vehicles recognized the already accepted use of these craft in logistical, medical evacuation, reconnaissance, fire direction, command and communication roles. He has only listed requirements beyond these.

In the first category established by General Wyman are those missions primarily offensive in nature. The atomic weapon is not a cure-all to the problems of attack. To realize the most from firepower it is imperative that it be exploited by ground oriented action. In order not to telegraph an offensive blow, to provide protection to friendly forces from atomic weapons effects or to capitalize on an unforeseen tactical development, atomic or other fires may be massed in an area distant from forces planned for their exploitation. Troop-cargo vehicles with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) characteristics must be used to realize the most from these situations.

The medium and heavy helicopters are vehicles in being which are well suited for the delivery of troops, weapons, supplies and minimum transportation in a quick offensive thrust, irrespective of terrain barriers, to prevent an atomic shattered enemy force from reorganizing or to seize a critical locality to prevent withdrawal of enemy units. The tremendous powers of the atomic weapon offer great bonuses in surprise, destruction and disorganization of the enemy to a commander who is prepared to move rapidly into the atomic created vacuum. The VTOL air vehicle gives unfettered mobility to offensive forces so necessary for success on the atomic battlefield.

Defensive Tactics Enhanced

The second category delineated by General Wyman related primarily to defensive actions. This field suggests that the commander can increase the potential of his reserve by mounting it in VTOL aircraft. Such mobility will permit greater dispersion of reserves as passive protection from atomic weapons.

Yet this dispersion does not invite defeat in detail because of the speed of the carriers in massing the elements of the reserve. Where the size of an area may be such as to require a surface mobile force of a given size to ensure that time and space factors would permit accomplishment of its mission, it is possible that a VTOL vehicle transported force of half this size could handle the entire area. Of course, this force is smaller in size and could not meet on even terms a force of, say, twice its size. However, through its great mobility it may be able to defeat a force of a much larger size by achieving surprise or by catching the enemy near prostrate and in the throes of reorganization after an attack or being struck by friendly fires. A slower moving force would find a recovered enemy, possibly one too strong for it to defeat.

The VTOL carrier is also suited for the movement of forces disposed along or near the forward edge of the battle area. These forces can be moved by air in limited and controlled withdrawals in setting the trap for penetrating enemy forces. These aircraft similarly may be used to shift forces from one forward position to another in order to assist in canalizing an enemy, to reinforce another unit or a part of a master scheme of deception to deny the enemy current information of the location of friendly forces.

In delaying actions the VTOL carrier will be of inestimable value. It will permit forces to execute maximum delay before being whisked away as the enemy closes on the delaying position. Psychologically, the will of delaying forces to fight will be greatly enhanced by the knowledge that their withdrawal can be effected even if surrounded.

These carriers, coupled with firepower, will give the delaying commander a potent counter punch allowing him to conduct an aggressive delaying action. Enemy atomic delivery systems, supply installations or other critical points can be destroyed or neutralized by VTOL carrier delivered forces or by stay-behind units which are recovered by VTOL carriers. Again, the present helicopters offer as vehicles in being the means for achieving to a degree the mobility needed in defensive and retrograde operations on the atomic battlefield.

Finally, in the third category established by General Wyman we find the VTOL aircraft employed as a weapons carrier. The General’s statement of requirement emphasizes the concept of VTOL transport aircraft moving weapons and crews about the battlefield with the implication that they will be used in a ground role. This does not restrict the eventual use of the VTOL aerial vehicle as a mobile gun platform. The initial plans for employment of VTOL aircraft as purely transport vehicles to lift a combat ready force from one location to another to allow it to fight in a conventional manner are only the initial step in this field. As aircraft improve in their technical characteristics, become more available and eventually reach a numerical frequency rivaling that of the jeep, the low, slow flying gun platform must become part of the air mobile ground force. The ever present requirement for fire support with the same characteristics of mobility as the supported forces will demand their development.

Zero Ground Pressure Vehicle

It is obvious that the helicopter is not the ultimate vehicle. What is needed is a device best described as a “zero ground pressure” vehicle, one which can fly or hover a foot or two above the earth or soar to a few hundred feet. This vehicle must be easily operable. It is required in several sizes: small ones for light weapons platforms, command and reconnaissance, and messengers; larger one for small unit transports (squad or platoon), cargo vehicles, command posts and mobile medical installations. These vehicles must have great reliability and durability, be resistant to the effects of firepower, be simple to maintain and economical in the consumption of fuel.

Such vehicles are somewhat removed from the realities of today. We are, however, standing on the threshold of transition of battlefield mobility from the earth supported vehicle to that of the zero ground pressure vehicle. We will see comparatively small improvement in surface mobility while mobility in the air will make great strides. When the zero ground pressure vehicle becomes available, then the surface vehicle as well know it today will disappear. In the meantime we must be ever alert to utilize the means we have for improving our air mobility, the Army aircraft. Development is paced by ideas. Don’t be bound by convention. Keep the inventor’s horizon pushed ever farther away by progressive thought. Make the most of what is at hand and be mentally prepared to accept the developments of the future.


[1] The appearance of the Atomic Bomb in 1945 was an enticement most decisive in motivating the Army and Marine Corps towards the development of the helicopter and airmobility. Such is what Major General James M. Gavin and Lieutenant General Roy S. Geiger, USMC, saw very early on following Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The editor.

Looking Back, September 2023
By Mark Albertson

80th Anniversary of World War II
Army Aviation: Italian Campaign


September 3, 1943, the main weight of the British Eighth Army on Sicily crossed the Straits of Messina to establish a toehold on the Italian mainland. On September 9, elements of Eighth Army and 1st Airborne Division landed at the port of Taranto. That same day, General Mark Clark’s Fifth Army landed up the coast at Salerno.

Opening phases of the Italian campaign, featuring the invasion routes by Anglo-American forces.

“Fifth Army air artillery officer, Major John T. Walker, organized the Fifth Army Air Observation Post Section into two subsections: one dealing with operations, initially under Captain Gillespie [Eugene p.], and second with maintenance and supply, under Lieutenant Strok.”[1] The latter choice brings to mind the supply problems which existed during the North African campaign, with spare parts at a premium and a supply situation being less than desirable since it was the Army’s first major campaign of the war. Michael J. Strok, who for want of a better description can be viewed as a “scrounge,” organized Fifth Army’s Artillery Air Depot (Provisional). Strok’s efforts at “Keepin’ ‘em Flyin’” made up for the lack of support from the Army Air Forces, which was playing catch up as well. Strok not only organized maintenance schedules, but provided such services as safety bulletins and registering aircraft losses. Strok was able to acquire a few L-5s—in direct contravention to the Army Air Forces’ restriction limiting the Air OP to the L-4 Cub.

The work horse for the Air Observation Post, the ubiquitous L-4 Cub.

Paul De Witt observed that the primary task of the Air OPs at Salerno was to provide artillery fire direction. He also noted that early on in the operation, field commanders determined their front lines by using Cub pilots for reconnaissance. Five L-4s were sent aloft daily, at first light, to reconnoiter assigned sectors.

Later when crossing the Volturno River, Air OPs were employed to pinpoint German forward elements, which were then mapped for later pounding by the Field Artillery. Tank destroyer units and reconnaissance battalions would borrow Cubs from their division’s artillery and use them for recon purposes. The importance of Army aviation to combat operations was becoming readily apparent.[2]

On January 22, 1944, Operation: SHINGLE, an Anglo-American force stormed the beaches at Anzio in an effort to flank General Albert Kesselring’s defense line. The Germans held the high ground, an advantage countered by the Air OPs flying reconnaissance for the assault units.[3]

Regardless, the slugfest on the hotly contested beachheads caused heavy casualties among the assault forces. Blood was desperately needed for the wounded. Cub pilots, Lieutenants Paynee O. Lysne and Richard W. Blake, flew in 50 pints of blood to the Anzio beachhead. “In less than 24 hours after the plea had been sent, life-giving blood was being administered.[4]

As Allied troops fought hard to expand their beachhead and move inland, Army aviators helped to fend off German counterattacks. Captain Willian H. McKay, of Fifth Army, spotted a German force moving towards the beaches. Some 2,400 troops, backed by tanks, were suddenly bludgeoned by a 5,000 round downpour of American ordnance. A German officer, later captured, offered that casualties were upwards of fifty percent as a result of the lethal cooperation between McKay and the Field Artillery.[5]

Lieutenant Frank A. Perkins and his observer flew artillery missions at Anzio. The observer directed coordinated gunfire for American and British artillery and warships lying offshore. Two Italian towns, Littoria and Adria were reduced to rubble. These efforts extended to the nocturnal adjustment of artillery fire, from Anzio up to Cassino. At Anzio, Captain John W. Oswalt, 1st Armored Division Air Officer, focused 370 guns on a single target. Included here was naval gunfire from several cruisers, USS Brooklyn, HMS Dido and HMS Orion.[6]

Moonlight sometimes brought Cubs out like vampires. Distinct features betrayed themselves to the aviators, such as towns, rivers, coasts and road bends, which enabled the Air OPs to sharpen nocturnal bombardments. Returning Cubs were directed earthward by those on the ground armed with flashlights, who illuminated otherwise invisible strips.

A customer of the Air OPs, a 155 mm Long Tom in action, Nettuno area, February 1944.

German ground forces urged the Luftwaffe to hurry the eradication of the troublesome Cubs. The dilemma proved problematic. From the time a Cub had already completed its mission and had returned to base, or was on its way to another sector, it had already vacated the area in which it had been operating in. However because of the low operational altitude of the Cubs and the attendant anti-aircraft protection, enemy fighters had to be piloted by airmen of skill and daring so as to be able to down the elusive Cubs. The Luftwaffe even resorted to bogus messages of fighter direction to prompt Cub pilots to vacate patrol areas.

Air OPs pushed the envelope by flying deep into enemy territory. This drew fire from anti-aircraft batteries and even ground troops. To avoid damage aviators would push over to the deck and hedgehop their way to safety; or, simply zigzag out of harm’s way.[7]

Another German countermeasure was to locate the lairs of the pint-sized pests and bomb them; or, if possible, shell them. Like ground troops, Air OP personnel had to make sure that slit trenches and fox holes were dug. Planes were dispersed and camouflaged. And, if need be, contour flying on and off strips to prevent their location by the Germans.

A perspective on German efforts to counter the Cubs is offered by Howard Rudd, a veteran news correspondent and former Air OP aviator, reflecting on German fighter tactics. “German fighters in daytime were not a serious problem after North Africa, where the Luftwaffe lost air superiority forever. Some German fighter units did develop tactics to cope with L-4s: Two fighters attacked straight on, two from above and two from below. This usually brought down the L-4, but there were never enough German fighters available on the Western Front to make the technique widespread. The fact that it was used at all, tying up six scarce and valuable fighters against feeble, eight hundred dollar L-4s, is an indication of how the L-4s hurt the Germans.[8]

The Luftwaffe apparently concurred, showing how the cost outweighed the benefits. Fifteen Bf-109s were lost, resulting in seven pilots killed in exchange for eight Air OPs downed, not a very good swap.[9]

* * * * *

June 4, 1944, General Mark Clark made his triumphal entry into Rome. However, two days later, the spotlight focused on France with the Normandy invasion. This did nothing, though, to alleviate the fact that the Italian campaign was still a slugging match. Yet Anglo-American forces battling on the Boot were consuming German divisions that would have been employed elsewhere, such as in France or the Eastern Front.

The mountainous terrain made Close Air Support a problem, to the extent of producing friendly fire incidents. 1st Armored Division commander, Major General Ernest N. Harmon, threatened to shoot down Army Air Forces aircraft. However a solution presented itself.

An enterprising Captain John Oswalt, managed to acquire several L-5s. AAF pilots flew these aircraft which were equipped with VHF radios. Colored wing tops, Red, Yellow, Blue, etc., distinguished the liaison planes. The idea was to employ the Stinsons to direct fighter-bombers onto targets stalling the ground advance. Known as the Horsefly, “Flying Jeeps,” would perform the same function as the “Rover Joe” system of ground-based observers, mobile teams of radio-equipped Jeeps providing direction for fighter-bombers onto targets of opportunity. The ground-based observers were fighter-bomber pilots.

The Stinson L-5, the plane the Army Air Forces did not want the Air OPs to have.  Yet despite advantages of range, altitude, power and speed, the L-4 Cub proved the heart and soul of Ground Forces’ organic aviation; and, set the stage for the Army Aviation branch to come.

In the mountainous Italian terrain, the slow-flying liaison aircraft provided an advantage. Besides directing fighter-bombers onto ground targets, Horsefly assets determined friendly from enemy units for both air and ground forces. Continuous Horsefly patrols provided daily updates on targets of opportunity; kept advancing units apprised of natural obstacles and impediments affecting the line of march; much like the Air OPs, Horsefly missions were also found to deter German artillery fire for fear of revealing positions to American counterbattery fire.

Drawbacks included a vulnerability to enemy flak and fighters, so air superiority was a prerequisite. And repeated use of Horsefly provided that indication of impediments to fighter-bomber activity.[10]

Of greater significance, here, was the prospect of L-5s operating under the control of Army aviators. Beginning in North Africa, with light aircraft beginning to show real promise in Ground Forces operations, requests began to filter in for the L-5s, since the more powerful engine enabled the Stinson to operate in higher climes than the L-4, which in comparison was underpowered. Both the War Department and the Army Air Forces conspired to prevent the Air OPs from attaining an aircraft of higher performance.

Fort Sill was training Air OP pilots with the L-4. And since this was so, it was considered expedient to deploy aviators in the same aircraft under combat conditions. There were also production concerns, since the Army Air Forces needed the Stinsons to equip their liaison squadrons. And lastly, the War Department frowned on the Ground Forces’ upgrade since the L-5 needed more runway for landings and takeoffs; and, was less adept at avoiding enemy fighters as opposed to the Cub.

Another issue affecting the Ground Forces was that of photo reconnaissance. Ground Forces units resorted to L-4s for terrain photography; since the Army Air Forces efforts with this tactical chore had fallen short. 1st Infantry Division urged that photographic equipment be made available to the Air OP. The Field Artillery Board tested photographic equipment aboard

Cub aircraft and solicited the War Department to attach photographic capabilities to the Field Artillery Headquarters and batteries. The Army Air Forces disagreed.

Photoreconnaissance was among the duties within the tactical responsibilities of the Army Air Forces. The War Department turned down the Ground Forces’ request. The Air OP’s raison d’etre was the direction of artillery fire; while snapping pictures and seeking aircraft of greater sophistication and performance was moving beyond the original intent of Ground Forces aviation.

The status of the Italian campaign, September 1944.

* * * * *

Sky-Jumping Cubs

By December 1944, Fifth Army was north of the Arno River, occupying mountains south of the Po Valley. The mountainous terrain presented difficulties for Fifth Army commander, General Lucian Truscott,[11] and so persuaded him to address the issue. Truscott ordered Captain Jack Marinelli, air officer of the Fifth Army, to build a strip close to the CP. The ground settled on provides an intriguing piece of engineering.

The strip was laid out on a mountainside, with a downhill slope for takeoffs and an uphill run for landings. The runway stretched 735 feet by 30 feet; and, was 97 feet higher on the upside than on the cliff side, which featured a ski jump, the lip of which overlooked a valley some 2,000 feet below.

“The interesting feature,” according to Colonel Marinelli, “was that we had to use full throttle to taxi to the top of the strip and landing. But you could also take off down the strip without power.”[12]

* * * * *


[1] See page 166, Chapter 5, “Initial Deployment and Combat in the North African and Mediterranean Theaters,” Eyes of Artillery: The Origins of Modern U.S. Army Aviation in World War II, by Edgar F. Raines, Jr.

[2] See pages 38 and 39, “The Air OP of the Armored Artillery,” Military Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 6, September 1944, by 1st Lieutenant Paul DeWitt, instructor in Department of Air Training, Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

[3] See page 48, Chapter 4, “Air Observation Posts,” A History of Innovation: U.S. Army Adaptation in War and Peace, U.S. Army Center of Military History, by Jon T. Hoffman, General Editor.

[4] See page 43, “The Army Aviation Story,” Part VI, The War Years: North Africa, Sicily, Italy, U.S. Army Aviation Digest, 1962, by Richard K. Tierney.

[5] See page 106, “The Most Lethal Plane in the World,” Mr. Piper and His Cubs, by Devon Francis.

[6] See page 84, Richard K. Tierney.

[7] See page 276, “Air OPs . . . ,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 34, No. 5, May 1944, by Major Edward A. Raymond, FA.

[8] See page 4, “When I Landed the War Was Over,” American Heritage, Vol. 32, Issue 6, October/November 1981, by Hughes Rudd.

[9] See page 271, “Air OP Causes Trouble: Extract From the History of the German Fighter Force in Italy,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 36, No. 5, 5 May 1946.

[10] See pages 14-17, Part Two, “Horsefly Control of Fighter-Bombers,” Liaison Aircraft With Ground Forces Units, United States Forces, European Theater, Study N. 20, 1945, U.S. Army Center of Military History, August 4, 1998.

[11] On November 25, 1944, General Mark Clark was ordered to relinquish command of Fifth Army and take over 15 th Army Group; which meant command of Allied armies in Italy. General Lucian Truscott assumed command of Fifth Army. See page 170, Chapter Nine, “Starving Time: The Failed Advance and the Second Winter,” Flawed, but Essential: Mark W. Clark and the Italian Campaign in World War II, by Jon Mikolashek.

[12] See page 138, “The War Years: North Africa, Sicily and Italy,” The Army Aviation Story, by Richard K. Tierney with Fred Montgomery.

* * * * *


“Air AP Causes Trouble,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 36, No. 5, U.S. Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., May 1946.

DeWitt, Lieutenant Paul A., “The Air OP of the Armored Artillery,” Military Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 6, Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, September 1944.

Francis, Devon, Mr. Piper And His Cubs, The Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, 1973.

Greenfield, Colonel Kent-Roberts, Inf. Res., Chapter VII, “Practical Steps Toward Air-Ground Cooperation,” Army Ground Forces and the Air-Ground Battle Team, Including Organic Light Aviation, Study No. 35, Historical Section, Army Ground Forces, Department of the Army, Fort Monroe, Virginia, 1948.

Headquarters, 34 th Infantry Division, APO 34, U.S. Army, Italy, “Lessons Learned in Combat, November 7-8, 1942 to September 1944—Algiers, Fondouk, Cassino, Anzio, Rome, Hill 609, Benevento, Civitavecchia, Volturno River, Cecina, Rosignano, Mt. Pantano, Livorno,” September 1944. Source: Charles L. Bolte papers, Box 6, U.S. Army Military History Institute Library, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

Raines, Edgar F., Jr., Eyes of Artillery: The Origins of Modern U.S. Army Aviation in World War II, Army Historical Series, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 2000.

Raymond, Major Edward A., FA, “Air OPs . . . “ The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 34, No. 5, U.S. Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., May 1944.

Rudd, Hughes, “When I Landed The War was Over,” American Heritage, Vol. 32, Issue 6, October/November, 1981, www.americanheritage.com/when-i-landed-war-was-over

Tierney, Richard, with Montgomery, Fred, The Army Aviation Story, Colonial Press, Northport, Alabama, 1963. Introduction by, General Mark W. Clark.

Tierney, Richard K., 20 th Anniversary of Army Aviation: Part VI, “The Army Aviation Story,” U.S. Army Aviation Digest, Fort Rucker, Alabama, November 1962.

Vance, William E., “History of Army Aviation,” U.S. Army Aviation Digest, Vol. 3, No. 6, U.S. Army Aviation School, Fort Rucker, Alabama, June 1957.

Looking Back, August 2023
By Mark Albertson

Army Aviation:
Some Gems from Art and Dottie, 1959
“The Coop That Flew”

Development of a new highly mobile, air transportable communications center, designed to direct fast moving U.S. Army forces was announced recently by the Department of the Army. The system, which has an extremely high degree of mobility, can be set down almost anywhere by helicopters, and be flown out immediately for relocation elsewhere. It can also be moved rapidly from place to place on conventional Army trucks.

Developed by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, it provides the vital nucleus for a communications network of radio, telephone, telegraph and teletypewriter combat links.

The system can be carried by helicopters to a remote destination in hours rather than days, or can be set up on otherwise inaccessible mountain tops. With its communications tentacles spread over hundreds of miles, the new system can get an urgent message through to a distant outpost even with direct lines broken or destroyed.

Speed and flexibility in communications would be vital on a battlefield where troops would have to be continuously on the move and widely dispersed to avoid annihilation by a nuclear warhead.

For prompt transportation and added versatility, the center is made up of separate aluminum houses or “shelters,” each fully equipped and independent. These can be hooked up quickly to fit any battle situation. Small centers for the front lines would have two or three shelters; larger headquarters would have as many as 24.

Each shelter carries its own independent supply of electricity, but can also plug into a central power source.

High priority combat messages flowing into the center from combat groups and other sources would be immediately available to the Army field commander. And the same network of communications lines carries his message with reflex speed to higher headquarters or to hard-hitting Army combat elements.

The new system, the first fully air transportable message center of its kind, is the result of 12 years of design and research.

Source: Page 8, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 1, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., January 24, 1959.

* * * * *

A look at how unmanned aerial vehicles used to be with, “Snooper.”

A small turbojet and pilotless aircraft that can swoop over the battlefield to gather military information is one of the newest surveillance drones under Army development.

The drone—called SWALLOW and designated SD-4 by the Army—will use a variety of advanced techniques for military surveillance purposes, including radar, infra-red and photography.

The SWALLOW is being developed and produced by Republic Aviation Corporation’s Guided Missile Division for the Army Signal Corps under a $25,000,000 contract. The contract calls for detail design and production of both the new drone and ground control units.

Source: Page 14, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 1, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., January 24, 1959.

* * * * *

“Ingenious Is The Word For It!”
By Lieutenant John A. Means

Can you tell when your leg is being pulled? Sometimes it is quite difficult to do so, especially in those instances when the raconteur backs up his “tale” with documentary evidence.

The envelope bore airmail postage and an official address. Here are the contents:
“The aviation platoon of Headquarters Troop, 16th Sky Cav, 2nd USAMC (M), now stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, is a unit that believes in developing new techniques to meet new problems.

Requirement Dictated Findings

In recent weeks the aviation platoon has had great need of a method of transporting several personnel over long distances to inaccessible areas.

The H-13 Sioux having certain range limitations and the larger helicopters and fixed wing aircraft being utilized in LARGE scale troop hauls precluding their use in smaller operations, the unit sought a vehicle that could deliver TWO troops to a confined area some 150 miles away and return. As always, the study called for low maintenance requirements and a low initial price.

Findings: the BIRD DOG!

Quick to adapt the equipment to the mission, fertile minds in the aviation platoon devised the ingenious piece of equipment as shown in the accompanying photo. An analysis of the possible missions for this hybrid revealed the following:
a) Delivery of replacements to squad-sized units.
b) Delivery of veterinarians to front-line war dog platoons.
c) Delivery of a chaplain (and assistant) with suitable card-punching equipment.
d) Delivery of COs to their units in those instances where map-reading deficiencies are expected.

Additional Uses

Additional uses for this equipment are expected to come to light with the passage of time. Equipping the two “wingman” with weapons could provide fairly accurate suppressive fire. Paymasters and couriers could be speeded to their objectives, the airfield to headquarters runs being obviated.

We offer this development to “Bird Dog” users throughout the world. We feel certain that they will see the simplicity involved in this development.[1]

Source: Page 123, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 3, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., March 18, 1959.

[1] The use of two passengers or “wingmen” brings to mind an observation offered by the remarkably astute Benjamin Franklin, after he had observed the Montgolfier Brothers balloon floating across Paris, November 21, 1783.

“It appears, as you observe, to be a discovery of great importance, and what may possibly give a new turn to human affairs. Convincing sovereigns of the folly of wars may perhaps be one effect of it, since it will be impracticable for the most potent of them to guard his dominions. Five thousand balloons, capable of raising two men each, could not cost more than five ships of line; and where is the prince who can cover his country with troops for its defense as that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not in many places do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?” See page 598, “On War From the Air,” Vol. 2, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiographical Writings, Viking Press, New York, 1945, by Carl Van Doren.

* * * * *

“Collins Develops Radical Aircraft”

Developed jointly by the U.S. Army Transportation Corps and the Office of Naval Research, the first full scale model of the “Aerodyne,” a radical wingless VTOL aerial vehicle is shown with its designer, Dr. Alexander Lippisch, during a roll-out at Collins Research Laboratories, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Incorporating a new philosophy in aircraft design, the “Aerodyne” achieves vertical take-off and landing capabilities, and transition to and from forward flight, by channeling the airflow (thrust) from its two-contra-rotating propellers internally through the craft’s fuselage, and deflecting downward and out through controllable vents in its belly. The need for wings is eliminated by this propulsion method.

Directional control of the Army-Navy developed “Aerodyne” is governed by a conventional rudder and elevator. The cockpit (not shown) will be located aft under a canopy in the vertical stabilizer.

The experimental aircraft is scheduled for early shipment to Ames Laboratory at Moffett Field, California, where it will undergo full scale wind tunnel testing. Credited with the world’s first rocket-powered fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 163, Dr. Lippisch led the Collins research team responsible for the “Aerodyne’s” design and construction.

Source: Page 130, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 4, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., April 20, 1959.

Looking Back, May 2023
By Mark Albertson

Army Aviation:
Part I:  70 Years Ago: Korea

The Korean War opened spectacularly on June 25, 1950.  In blitzkrieg-like fashion, over 90,000 troops of the North Korean People’s Army, backed by upwards of 150 Soviet-supplied T-34 tanks, crashed over the 38th parallel.  However strongman Kim Il-sung’s bid to unify the peninsula failed.  For in one of the decisive actions of the war, Kim’s army failed to liquidate the Pusan abscess in the southeast corner of South Korea; which together with General Mac Arthur’s bold stroke at Inchon on September 15, 1950, tilted the momentum in favor of the Republic of Korea and its UN allies.

Opening phases of the Korean War, condition at the front, July 13, 1950.

UN forces, including ROK troops[1] crossed the 38th parallel heading north.  With the North Korean People’s Army reeling, now was the time to unite the Korean peninsula under Syngman Rhee’s banner and bring the Korean civil war to a successful conclusion.  But as the advance drew nearer the Chinese border, the course of the conflict was suddenly changed in the most profound way.

Developing Pusan Perimeter, 14 July-1 August 1950.

On November 26, 1950, hordes of “volunteers’ from the Democratic People’s Republic of China slammed into United Nations forces closing on the frozen Yalu River.  UN troops were thrown back, retreating pell-mell over ground recently occupied.  Seoul once again fell to the Communists.  A UN counterattack checked the advance of the Chinese steamroller and promptly threw it into reverse.  Seoul changed hands for the fourth time before the seesaw phase of the conflict gave way to trench warfare.  Both sides became locked in a bitterly contested stalemate reminiscent of the Western Front, 1914-1918; a costly morass characterized by Communist flesh and blood battering itself senseless against the superior equipment and technology of the Allies.  This new war, bereft of movement, provided the habitat for that instrument of mobility that would showcase its promise for the future . . . the helicopter.[2]

* * * * *

In 1954, General James M. Gavin, U.S. Army airborne soldier extraordinaire, fashioned a game-changing criticism of the performance of Allied troops during the fall and winter of 1950.

The retreat of the UN Eighth Army from the Chinese flood, December 1-23, 1950.

Here we see the Allies breaking out of the narrow waist of North Korea and rolling across the swelling hinterland towards the Yalu River in rival prongs, Eighth Army and X Corps.  The spearheads, though, were not mutually supporting, and into the void poured 300,000 Chinese.

The Allied advance, wedded to heavy mechanized transport, was confined to the few roads available.[3]  This provided a golden opportunity for the foot-borne Chinese Communist Forces.

At the outset of the Chinese intervention, Mao’s forces relied on tactics used with great success against the Japanese in World War II and again employed to defeat Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist armies during the great civil war in China.  And this conventional army’s use of irregular warfare tactics enabled Mao’s troops to roll back UN forces in a retreat which sometimes resembled a rout.[4] We see here, then, that Mao-Tse-tung’s well-tried tactics of infiltration and maneuver worked to the disadvantage of the retreating UN armies, since being heavily mechanized restricted South Korea’s allies to the few roads then available.

However, like any other army, the farther south the Chinese Communist Forces rolled, the more of a strain the advance put on the Red’s rudimentary system of supply.[5]  This, together with UN stiffening, caused the Red steamroller to seize up, then be thrown back.  A Communist rally ended the UN counter thrust, giving way to a stalemate in and around the starting line of the war, the 38th parallel.  With the war mired in gridlock along the lines of France in World War I, the Chinese advantage of infiltration and maneuver based on control of the rugged Korean landscape no longer applied.  Chinese Communist Forces were consigned, then, to a form of warfare to which they were hardly prepared and with which lacked the technological capability to reverse; as opposed to some of the UN contingent—British, French, Canadian, Australian, as well as American forces—which had a history of experience with such a stalemate from the War to End All Wars.

General Gavin saw the problem differently.  His analysis was inspired, in part, by the disastrous retreat of the United Nations’ forces from North Korea during the winter of 1950-1951.  Again he understood that the manpower advantage enjoyed by the Communists enhanced their ability to dictate the ebb and flow of battle and insured their command of the countryside.  Thus he argued, “Cavalry is supposed to be the arm of mobility.  It exists and serves a useful purpose because of its Mobility Differential [6]—the contrast between its mobility and that of other land forces.  Without the differential, it is not cavalry.  Cavalry is the arm of shock and firepower; it is the screen of time and concentration.  It denies the enemy that talisman of success—surprise—while it provides our own forces with the means to achieve that very thing, surprise, and with it destruction of the enemy.”[7]

General Gavin goes on to explain the lack of mobility following the Inchon landings and how air cavalry might have altered the outcome in the winter of 1950-1951:  “Finally, when the landings at Inchon took place September 15 there was the promise of fluid action.  I was present at Inchon, and after the first crust of resistance was broken, it seemed to me there was nothing worthy of the name in front of X Corps.  The situation screamed for highly mobile cavalry forces to exploit this unprecedented opening.  We should have pressed south to the rear of the Naktong River in hours.  Instead, we took almost two weeks to establish a link between the two forces.  [He refers, of course, to the Pusan Perimeter.]  When the first breakout of our forces from the south perimeter moved northward it was a combined tank-truck column, essentially an infantry column limited in its performance by its road-bound equipment.  We are fighting an Asiatic army on Asiatic terms.”[8]

It is certainly not imprudent to consider for even just a moment, that in September 1950, General Gavin’s idea of air cavalry could have impacted the war.  “An estimated thirty thousand NKPA soldiers escaped over the border, with an additional thirty thousand in northern training camps.  Combined these numbers represented enough troops to fill six divisions, and South Korea’s military force were, if anything, even weaker then they had been before the invasion of South Korea.”[9]

Obviously here, General Gavin was asserting that air cavalry could have accomplished something road-bound troops could not have:  The cutting off for capture or even destruction of the 30,00 fleeing North Koreans before they crossed the 38th parallel to fight again; and, fight again they would.

But there was the larger picture.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff urged President Harry Truman to cross the 38th parallel and destroy the NKPA to 1) To prevent another invasion of South Korea, and 2) unite the peninsula under the Seoul banner.  The National Security Council differed.  This august body urged the President to go no further than the agreed upon border.  By doing so, the President would be in accordance with the policy of Containment as put forth by George Kennan.[10]  In addition, an invasion of North Korea would only prompt responses from the Soviet Union and newly minted Red China; this was particularly true with the latter.  For North Korea provided that buffer zone between China and the Western satrapy of South Korea.  Add the Nationalist occupation of Formosa,[11] and one must readily appreciate Beijing’s political, strategic and historical sensibilities.  However on September 27, 1950, the Joint Chiefs ordered General MacArthur to proceed north, having won their point with President Truman over the NSC.

* * * * *

As UN forces advanced up North Korea, Beijing issued warnings not to approach the Yalu River.  CCF attacks on UN spearheads, primarily South Korean units, were seen by MacArthur as token gestures as opposed to the prelude of a major attack.  Yet between October 14-November 1, 1950, some 180,000 Chinese Communist Forces crossed the Yalu River.[12]

On October 15, General MacArthur and President Truman gathered together at Wake Island to discuss the final aspects of the war.  In answer to the President’s inquiry as to the chances of a Chinese or even a Soviet intervention, MacArthur replied, “Very little.  Had they interfered in the first or second months it would had been decisive.  We are no longer fearful of their intervention.  We no longer stand with hat in hand.  The Chinese have 300,000 men in Manchuria.  Of these probably not more than 100,000 to 200,000 are distributed along the Yalu River.  They have no air force.  Now that we have bases for our air force in Korea, if the Chinese tried to get down to Pyongyang there would be the greatest of slaughter.”[13]

On the night of November 25-26, 1950, more than 300,000 Chinese “volunteers” slammed into the advancing UN forces.  The Chinese were helped measurably by MacArthur’s dispositions of Eighth Army and X Corps.  Both forces advanced as rival prongs, not as mutually supporting spearheads, separated as they were by the Jaeback Mountains; therefore, both forces were opened to being flanked.[14]

Battlefront, Korean War, November 23, 1950.

Chinese hordes filled the abscess between the UN spearheads with the obvious results.  The skies, though filled by UN air forces, could not stem the retreat south.  Here Gavin believed that air cavalry units could have linked the rival prongs of Allied troops; moved supplies and men to units cut off; provided blocking forces, seized and hold road junctions and bridges for retreating Allied troops.  Rotary wing aircraft, unimpaired by the rugged Korean landscape, could have offset the advantage enjoyed by the Reds and quite possibly have changed the complexion of the battle.  Of course, such use of the helicopter was not to be until Vietnam.[15]

However the stalemate in Korea proved to be the selling point for the helicopter as a viable tool in war.  For rotary wing aircraft proved effective in overcoming those earthly impediments which hinder ground transportation, and therefore, enhance the mobility of the foot soldier.  And the Marines showed the way.

The battleline of Korea, stalemate, 10 July-31 October 1951.

Part II next month.


[1]  ROK or Republic of Korea.

[2] See page 58, “Helicopters in Korea,” Part I, July 31, 2013, by Mark Albertson.

[3]  Hitler’s Wehrmacht faced a like predicament with the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union.  Some 95 percent of Soviet roads were not paved.  Following rainy seasons and melting snows, many Soviet roads were reduced to quagmires, impeding the German Army’s mobility.

[4]  A better understanding of the Chinese Communist Forces’ initial success can be found on pages 103 and 104 of Mao Tse-tung’s On Guerrilla Warfare, where he writes, “When the situation is serious, the guerrillas must move with the fluidity of water and the ease of blowing wind.  Their tactics must deceive, tempt and confuse the enemy.  They must lead the enemy to believe that they will attack him from the east and north, and they must strike him from the west and south.

Guerrilla initiative is expressed in dispersion, concentration and the alert shifting of forces,”  In addition . . .

“. . . Throughout the Resistance War . . . our strategic line was to extend guerrilla warfare . . . we chose the positions where the enemy was relatively weak to concentrate our forces there and annihilate manpower.”  See page 139, People’s War, People’s Army, by Vo Nguyen Giap.  Both these able practitioners are bolstered by the writer who influenced them . . .

“. . . When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him; when well fed, to starve him; when at rest, to make him move; move swiftly where he does not expect you.”  See page 96, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, translated by Brigadier Samuel B. Griffith, USMC, (Ret.).

[5]  What must be appreciated is just how much of an accomplishment the initial Chinese thrust really was . . . in the face of overwhelming UN (American) air superiority.  Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Close Air Support bolstered by Air Force carpet bombing, could not stem the Chinese flood south.  This situation would arise again later in South Vietnam, where the concerted use of airpower could not eliminate the Ho Chi Minh Trail of supplies from North to South Vietnam.

[6]  Italics added.

[7]  See pages 54 and 55, “Cavalry, and I Don’t Mean Horses!” Harper’s, April 1954, by Major General James M. Gavin, www.xombatreform.org/cavalryandidontmeanhorses.htm

[8]  See page 55, Gavin.

[9]  See page 29, “Breakout and Pursuit,” The Korean War:  The UN Offensive, 16 September-2 November 1950, by Stephen L.Y. Gammons.

[10]  Sovietologist and influential policymaker, George Kennan, wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1947—an article famously seen to have been authored by a Mr. X—that America should, in response to provocations and threats of expansion, contain the Soviet Union.  This would insure that the West (primarily America) would not expend inordinate amounts of blood and treasure; while at the same time, playing to its economic and financial strengths to not only rein in Soviet ambitions, but eventually undermine same and see to its eventual demise.  Indeed, . . .

. . . “Kennan abhorred basing policy on sentiment.  He had little use for Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, but nevertheless believed the United States should oppose any attempt by the Chinese communists to forcibly take Taiwan.  He also warned in August 1950 that U.S. policy in Indochina risked putting the United States in a position of underwriting France in its efforts to maintain political control there, and assuming imperial responsibilities the way the U.S. had already assumed some of Britain’s.

“Despite this warning, Kennan initially supported America’s effort to contain communism in Indochina.  He was, after all, briefly a member of the Kennedy administration as the U.S. ambassador in Yugoslavia.  Gradually, however, Kennan soured on the Vietnam War, worrying that the United States was investing much more in that conflict than its interests required.  He did not believe that a communist victory would alter the global balance of power.  In 1966, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he invoked John Quincy Adams’ famous warning about not going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, and suggested that U.S. credibility would be better served by the ‘liquidation of unsound positions than by the . . . stubborn pursuit of extravagant or unpromising objectives.’”  See, “George Kennan’s Geopolitics of the Far East,” The Diplomat, by Francis P. Sempa, 2015.

[11]  Former name of the Island of Taiwan.

[12  See page 10, “Korean See-Saw,” War Monthly, Issue No. 9, by Brenda Ralph Lewis.

[13] See page 761, Chapter XXXIX, “The Big Question,” South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu, by Roy E. Appleman.

[14]  See page 10, The Chinese Intervention, 3 November 1950-24 January 1951, “Introduction,” by Richard W. Stewart.

[15]  See page 59, “50 years Ago:  Army Aviation:  Historical Perspective,” Army Aviation, November 30, 2013, by Mark Albertson.

Looking Back, April 2023
By Mark Albertson

Part III:  Completing the Circle

As with many of Man’s distinguished endeavors, success is attained most always with a decision that is hardly unanimous.  Why should the quest for branchhood be any different?  And so it was not.  Many had concerted opinions for; with others expressing convictions against; while there were some, such as Major General Robert L. Wetzel, commandant of Infantry at Fort Benning who, in Part II of this series, seemed to be mired in No Man’s Land.  Yet branchhood was coming, despite the contrarian viewpoints of the naysayers.  For it seemed to the confederates of branchhood, a powerful ally occupied the office of Army Chief of Staff.

Army Aviators have haggled over the issue of a separate Branch after WWII and the Korean War. The Vietnam postwar years are proving not to be an exception.

General Edward C. Meyer, Army Chief of Staff, June 22, 1979 to June 21, 1983, held the position of command owing, in part, to an impressive rap sheet of airborne soldiery.  First Airborne Battle Group, 501st Infantry; deputy commander, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), ending up as 1st Cavalry chief of staff, during the Vietnam War.  He was assistant division commander (support) of the 82nd Airborne Division. . . As Army Chief of Staff, General Meyer, “prosecuted an Army-wide modernization program with emphasis on quality over quantity, stressed the need for a long-term investment in land force material, and launched a unit-manning system to reduce personnel turbulence and to enhance readiness, retired from active service, June 1983.”[1]

GEN John R. Galvin, an infantry man who rose to serve as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO) from 1987 to 1992, helped define the need for an Aviation branch in his infamous “Training Panel” report during the 1982 Army Aviation Systems Program Review.

Another booster of aviation was not even cockpit qualified, Major General John Galvin, commander of the 24th Infantry Division.  He “presented his infamous Training Panel report to the assembled Army Aviation System Program Review (AASPR) general officer review board on March 25, 1982.  Galvin made the branch a key issue . . . Galvin’s immediate superior, Lieutenant General Jack Mackmull, the XVIII Airborne Corps commander had very strongly suggested to Galvin that the ‘branch’ was indeed the key issue.”[2]

AASPR GORB (General Officers Review Board), as noted above, “Was” co-chaired by General John W. Vessey, the Army’s vice chief of staff, and General Glenn K. Otis, TRADOC commanding general.

“These issues were directly related to fundamental elements of any Army branch:  concepts, doctrine, literature, training, personnel, management, equipment and organizational structure.

“At that time, aviation was decentralized to a multitude of other Army branches:

“The Armor branch owned scout and attack aviation, the Infantry owned utility aviation, the Transportation Corps owned transport and cargo aviation, and aviation maintenance; Military Intelligence owned intelligence gathering aviation; the Signal Corps owned the radio and electronic repairers, Field Artillery owned aerial observation and so on.

“All these issues culminated during the AASPR, when then Major General John R. Galvin, the 24th Infantry Division commanding general, presented his infamous ‘Training Panel’ report to the assembled GORB.”[3]

Among the recommendations suggested by General Galvin’s committee was more a concerted approach to training within Army Aviation.  That training should become “institutionalized,” that is, fashioned and arranged by Army Aviation, comprised of Army Aviation basic training followed by advanced training for commissioned Aviation officers.

“The need for a ‘heart’ for Army Aviation was no different than the ‘heart’ that existed for all other Army combat arms branches.

“The ‘heart’ General Galvin referred to was a branch, with a home where its subject matter experts taught the basic and advanced courses.”[4]

The Army Aviation System Program Review was now tasked to review the findings of General Galvin’s panel.  More directly, the ball was in the court of the co-chairmen of AASPR/GORB, General John W. Vessey and General Glenn K. Otis.  The former remarked, “Well, that horse just dropped a bunch of apples in the road.  You either sweep off the road and go on, or you pick them up and use them for fertilizer.  We need to wrestle this question to the ground.

“He then asked what Otis planned to do.  Without hesitation, Otis accepted the mission to deal with the branch question.”[5]

General Otis, commander of TRADOC ordered Major General Carl H. McNair, Jr., then in command of the Army Aviation Center, to have a study done concerning the various issues for branchhood, to be completed within a 90-day window, then to be forwarded to Army leadership for a final decision on the issue.  Such aspects included:

  • “Field visits to operational units and installations.
  • “Individual interviews and questionnaires.
  • “Field trips specifically to 11 corps and division level organizations.
  • “Field trips to five TRADOC centers and to three Army Material Command Organizations.
  • “Questionnaire data analysis.
  • “And a general officer advisory board’s (GORB) review of study results and recommendations prior to submission for an Army level decision.
  • “In June 1982, Otis approved the draft study directive and the TROAA Study Group[6] was formed.”[7]

The TROAA panel was staffed by Major General Benjamin L. Harrison, an infantryman and aviator who had commanded both air and ground units.  Lieutenant General Richard L. West, (Ret.), a former engineer officer who was a non-aviator and who had previously been a comptroller of the Army.  CW4 John P. Valaer, an experienced Army Aviator and Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.), an artillery officer and aviator, who had served as a Field Artillery battery and brigade executive officer as well as having commanded an aviation company and battalion.

In the course of approval, some 28 meetings were convened; a myriad of commands were visited; personal interviews were conducted; 603 questionnaires were reviewed; Army personnel, both aviator and non-aviator were consulted, ranging in rank from three stripes to three stars.

The resulting data from the initiatives conducted above was collated and prepared for a final draft report.  And at Fort Gordon, Georgia, a GORB collection of general officers was mustered for August 1982.

Chairman was General Glenn K. Otis.  He briefed the assemblage for more than three hours.  Following his singular presentation, he petitioned his fellow officers for questions, observations and counter points.  In the end, most concurred with the notion that the TROAA study be forwarded to the Army Chief of Study for approval or disapproval.

On April 12, 1983, Army Chief of Staff, General Edward C. Meyer, approved of Aviation taking its place on the masthead of Army branches.  This, in turn, was followed in February 1984 by:

No. 6

Department of the Army
Washington, D.C., 15 February 1984

ARMY AVIATION BRANCH.   Pursuant to the authority contained in Title 10, United States Code, section 3063 (a)(13), the Aviation branch is established as a basic branch of the Army effective 12 April 1983.
By Order of the Secretary of the Army:

General, United States Army,
Chief of Staff


Major General, United States Army
The Adjutant General

DISTRIBUTION:  Active Army, ARNG, USAR:  To be distributed in accordance with the DA Form 12-4 requirements for Department of the Army General Orders.[8]

LTG Carl E. Vuono, deputy commanding general of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command and the commanding general of Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., presents MG Bobby J. Maddox, right, commanding general of the Army Aviation Center and Fort Rucker, Ala., with the first proof set of the new Aviation branch insignia during a Jan. 16, 1984 ceremony. Shortly thereafter, the Secretary of the Army approved with General Order #6 the creation of the Aviation branch on Feb. 14, 1984, with an effective date of April 12, 1983.

* * * * *


*  There is one thing which was absolutely proved in the European War (reference to 1914-1918), and that is that nobody was capable of handling air units except flying officers who had learned by experience what flying was and how these things should be handled.[9]

*  The great trouble now is that, whenever an air question is up for discussion, mostly individuals who are not air officers are consulted.  No one is capable of passing on air matters except an air officer trained in the work.[10]

The above are remarks from General William “Billy” Mitchell.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.  He was writing about how the Air Service, Air Corps, later to become the United States Army Air Forces could become an autonomous service.  And the essence of the progression was the growing sophistication of this phenomenon known as airpower, marching along as it was, during the era of industrialized, corporatized, commercialized war, with land power and naval power.  All were becoming more mechanically and technologically oriented, leading to a specialization of tasks requiring airpower, for it was to be led by those best qualified to lead same, . . . airmen.

History, though, repeated itself again with the Korean War; that is, from the perspective of Army Aviation.  Only here, the Industrial Revolution was giving way to the Technology Revolution.  But the end result has been the same.  Horizontal Determinism again showcases to those astute enough to chart such progressions of history, and can view with accuracy, the results of Man’s endeavors, which are repetitive in nature.  Underscoring for us two journeys in the development of airpower, leading to results comparative in kind, in 1947 and again in 1983.


[1]  “Meyer—EC-U.S. Army,” Army Center of Military History.  History.army.mil/books/CG&CSA/Meyer-EC.htm

[2]  See page 32, “Dealing With the Aviation Branch Issue:  A Tough Sell to the Army,” Army Aviation, by Major General Benjamin L. Harrison, (Ret.), February 29, 2008.

[3]  See pages 34 and 35, “Dealing With the Branch Issue—Forming Aviation as a Combat Arm of the Army,” Army Aviation, by Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.), January 31, 2008.

[4]  See page 35, Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.).

[5]  See page 35, Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.).

[6]  TRADOC Review of Army Aviation.

[7]  See page 35, Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.).

[8]  Refer to GENERAL ORDERS No. 6, HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, Washington, D.C., 15 February 1984, ARMY AVIATION BRANCH, effective 12 April 1983.

[9]  See pages 8 and 9, “Fundamental Truths of Airpower,” William “Billy” Mitchell’s Air Power, by Lieutenant Colonel Johnny R. Jones, USAF.

[10]  See page 9, Lieutenant Colonel Johnny R. Jones, USAF.

Bibliography for Series

Albertson, Mark, “30th Anniversary of Army Aviation as a Branch,” Vol. 62, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March-April 2013.

“Aviation Branch,” www.usar.army.mil/Portals/98/Documents/ARCD/AA…  1 June 2017.

Bergerson, Frederic A., The Army Gets an Air Force:  Tactics of Insurgent Bureaucratic Politics, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1978.

Cook, Major Charles B., “Establishing an Aviation Branch,” Vol. 30, No. 11, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., November 30, 1981.

Cook, Major Charles B., “It’s Time for an Aviation Branch,” Vol. 30, Nos. 8 & 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., August-September 1981.

Cribbins, Joseph P., “Army Aviation in 1983-1992:  The Modern Era Arrives,” Vol. 41, No. 12, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., December 31, 1992.

Doty, Colonel Benjamin E, “Its to be a ‘Specialty,’” Vol. 24, No. 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., September 30, 1975.

Estes, Colonel Ernest F., (Ret.), “Dealing with the Branch Issue—Forming Aviation as a Combat Arm of the Army,” Vol. 57, No. 1, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., January 31, 2008.

Fardink, Lieutenant Colonel Paul J., (Ret.), “The Army Aviation Branch Creation—A Look Back:  An Interview With Major General Carl H. McNair, Retired, the First Army Aviation Branch Chief,” Vol. 62, No. 5, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., May 31, 2013.

Gant, CW5 Randall, “Chief Warrant Officer of the Branch Update:  The Aviation Branch, 25 Years of Great Service,” Army Aviation, Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

GENERAL ORDERS NO. 6, HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, Washington, D.C., 15 February 1984, ARMY AVIATION BRANCH, effective 12 April 1983.

Grualing, CW3 William G., (Ret.), “No, We Have One Now!” Vol. 24, No. 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., September 30, 1975.

Harrison, Major General Benjamin L., (Ret.), “Dealing with the Aviation Branch Issue:  A Tough Sell to the Army,” Vol. 57, No. 2, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., February 29, 2008.

Jones, Lieutenant Colonel Johnny R., USAF, William “Billy” Mitchell’s Air Power, Airpower Research Institute, College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, September 1997.

Kalagian, Colonel Samuel P., “Pandora’s Box,” Vol. 24, No. 5, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., May 21, 1975.

Kinnard, Lieutenant General Harry W.O., “Aviation as a System,” Vol. 17, No. 1, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., January 27, 1968.

Knudson, Brigadier General Wayne C., “Branching Out in the 80’s!” Vol. 33, No. 3, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., March 31, 1984.

Maddox, Brigadier General William J., Jr., Director Army Aviation, OACSFOR, DA, “The Question of a Separate Branch,” Vol. 20, Nos. 7 & 8, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., July-August 1971.

McNair, Carl H., Colonel, Infantry, Fort Rucker, Alabama, “No, Says Another Veteran!” Vol. 24, No. 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., September 30, 1975.

McNair, Major General Carl H., (Ret.), “Birth of the Army Aviation Branch, April 12, 1983,” Army Aviation, Vol. 56, No. 12, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., December 31, 2007.

“Meyer—EC-U.S. Army,” Army Center of Military History.  History.army.mil/books/CG&CSA/Meyer-EC.htm

Meyer, General Edward C., (Ret.), “Looking Back as We Look Ahead to the Next 25 Years of Army Aviation,” Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

Miller, Colonel James H, Commander, 12th Aviation Group and Kitterman, Colonel James H., Commander, 11th Aviation Group, “Aviation as a Branch,” Vol. 30, No. 11, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., November 30, 1981.

Packett, Major General Virgil L., II, “From the Aviation Branch Chief:  25 Years of Army Aviation, Securing Aviation’s Role in the Profession of Arms,” Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

Parker, Brigadier General Ellis D. Parker, “Potpourri:  Atlanta, the New Branch and Modernization (AAMP),” Vol. 32, No. 5, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., May 15, 1983.

Putnam, Lieutenant Colonel (P) Carl M., “Close Pandora’s Box,” Vol. 24, Nos. 7 & 8, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., July-August 1975.

Sanders, CSM Donald R., “Command Sergeant Major Update:  Looking Back at a Quarter Century of Our Great History and Service,” Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

Thompson, A.C., Colonel, USA, (Ret.), “A Separate Branch? . . . Yes!” Vol. 24, No. 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., September 30, 1975.

“U.S. Army Aviation Branch, 25th Anniversary,” Army Aviation, Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

Looking Back / Army Aviation, March 2023; By Mark Albertson



Part II: Discourse and Debate

Within a three-and-a-half-year study conducted by the Officer of Personnel Management System in the seventies, Major General George Putnam, Director of Military Personnel Policy, recommended that Army Aviation should be organized as a branch.  Such was disapproved by General Bernard Rogers, then Chief of Staff.  “Aviation is an ‘entry specialty’ within a combat arms affiliated ‘carrier’ branch, stressing that aviators, . . . ‘must be experts in aviation.’”[1]

Yet, even among the Aviation community, opinions varied with regards to branchhood.  For instance, Brigadier General William J. Maddox, Director of Army Aviation OACSFOR, DA, began his criticism with the issue of Centralization versus Decentralization of aerial assets in the wake of World War I.  He acknowledged the growing sophistication of aircraft and aviation techniques and skills that would eventually require the divorce of the Air Force from the Army in 1947.  However, . . .

. . . he continued with, “Those who supported decentralization of aviation did so as an extension of the normal philosophy of organizing Army units.  For example, the tank is a ground striking weapon which, when massed, has the capacity for breakthroughs, exploitation and victory on the battlefield.  Similarly, artillery, when massed, can provide a devastating effect on the enemy.

“The question is at what level should tanks or artillery or other ground weapons be massed and how and at what levels can they be appropriately controlled to gain the maximum combat advantage.  Rather than concentrate all artillery and tanks at the Army level, we normally decentralize so that battalions of tanks and artillery work for division commanders and massing can occur at battalion, brigade, or division level.  We give corps and army commanders the capability to influence the battle and implement priorities of effort by providing non-divisional tank and artillery battalions for their use.  They can also mass divisions.”[2]  At the same time, Artillery and Armor are branches within the Army masthead.  Again however, . . .

. . . “When advocates of decentralization emerged from World War II, only the artillery had its own aircraft.  These were Piper Cubs which were assigned permanently to artillery battalions.  Immediately after the war those of us from cavalry, infantry, and other branches began flight training so that other ground organizations could have regularly assigned aircraft.

“The Army has followed this philosophy constantly so that we now have aviators in most arms and branches of the Army.  The Medical Service Corps mans medical evacuation aircraft; Signal Corps aviators are assigned to signal battalions and groups; Transportation Corps officers, in addition to administering maintenance, also man heavy lift aircraft; rated Ordinance Corps officers administer aerial weapons projects, and so it goes throughout the Army.

“The decentralization philosophy also has been followed in the assignment of proponency for aviation units.  General Westmoreland assigned branch proponency for assault helicopter units to the infantry.  The Infantry Center is concerned with lift company TO@Es, and the doctrine for their employment.  Heavy lift companies come under the proponency of the Transportation Corps.  Armor is responsible for air cavalry organizations and for attack helicopter companies which bear a relationship to cavalry and tank units.  The Artillery, of course, has cognizance over aerial artillery.  Military Intelligence is concerned with Mohawk companies whose mission is to gather intelligence material.

“When you view the organization of the Army in this manner, it becomes clear that the Army will be much stronger in its capability to perform its combat tasks if it continues with the decentralization philosophy.  We have been down the centralization path previously and find that it does not meet our requirements.  We utilize the centralized resources provided by other services as an ad-on to our own capabilities which we must possess on a full-time basis.  Thus the close air support fighter can be an occasional contributor to the battlefield effort of a front line unit but Army resources are available on a full-time basis.”[3]

The issue of Centralization versus Decentralization was not the sole basis of argument for or against branchhood.  Others were fielding arguments beyond those brought forth by General Maddox.  Colonel Andrew J. Miller, Commander, 12th Aviation Group, wrote, “With the exception of branch intensive schooling, we have the ideal situation for incorporating our Aviation officers into a new Aviation Branch.

“Aviation technology is exploding.  The new UH-60 is arriving in field units.  The CH-47 modernization program is underway.  The YAH-64 will become a reality in the near future.  Deficiencies in our Scout helicopters have resulted in the Near Term Scout Helicopter (NTSM) and AHIP.

“These and other major advances in technology will dictate large changes in Aviation operations.  Technicians and logisticians will be required to respond with new tactics, incorporating ever increasing Aviation capabilities, to better integrate Aviation into the combined arms team.”[4]

Colonels Miller and Kitterman were seconded by Major Charles B. Cook, who had stated just two months previously, “We’ve been fortunate to acquire some remarkable new aircraft, such as the UH-60 ‘Black Hawk,’ which is presently being fielded, and the pending AH-64 attack helicopter.  These new ‘state-of-the-art’ aircraft open up some tremendous opportunities for growth in aviation tactics and doctrine.  They’ll significantly alter the shape and outcome of today’s and tomorrow’s mid-to-high-intensity battlefields.”[5]

Major Cook also suggested, in an addendum to his article, that Army Aviation was the medium for an “Open Forum” on branchhood, to which he remarked, “I’ve been appalled at the apathy shown by most aviators regarding a separate Aviation Branch.  We need to discuss this in open forum—the vehicle of the magazine is excellent—and we should stimulate some of your Tigers in developing pro and con views in this area.”[6]

General William Wallace Ford

The man who started it all, Brigadier General William Wallace Ford, who organized and then led the Air Observation Post, the proverbial seed of Army Aviation. Ford was the first Director of Air Training.

Colonels Miller and Kitterman took Major Cook at his word, for they followed up in support with a literary effort two months later.  Yet, six years earlier, a contrary opinion was rendered by Lieutenant Colonel (P) Carl M. Putnam, HQ, ARR-IV, Atlanta, Georgia.  Lieutenant Colonel Putnam wrote in response to an article, “Pandora’s Box,” which appeared in the May 1975 issue of Army Aviation: 

“Airmobility:  The crucial question is not what can the Army do for aviators but rather what can the proposed Aviation branch do for the Army.  Since aviation is not an end in itself, the answer is ‘nothing.’

“The doctrine of airmobility upon which aviation is founded,[7] is defined as using aerial vehicles to better accomplish traditional Army missions; missions which are already a responsibility of the various branches.  Branch schools currently teach the principles used in accomplishing these missions.

“Therefore, if expensive vehicles are needed to accomplish a type of mission, then the branch primarily responsible for that, already established and its assigned mission, should provide the expertise to operate and control these machines.

“Branch qualification is, or should be, important to that concept.  On the other hand, if branch expertise is not required to accomplish the Army’s missions, then the branch school system is out of date.”[8]

The article Lieutenant Colonel Putnam had referenced and upon which his riposte had been based had been published in Army Aviation two months prior.  The author, Colonel Samuel P. Kalagan, had focused his argument on personnel, the aviators themselves, as to what effects branchhood would have or, even would not have, on aviation personnel.

Midway through his article, Colonel Kalagan compared, weighed and measured the amount of personnel in aviation as opposed to the other branches of the Army, “. . . there are 9,500 commissioned and 5,000 warrant aviators on active duty.  Do you realize that these totals make us the second largest branch in the Army?  MI is a separate branch of intelligence specialists and they only total 4,600.  The JAG, a pure specialist branch, has only 1,700 officers.  Signal is a biggie specialist group with 6,000 officers.[9]

Lieutenant Colonel Carl Putnam took a contrary position most definite.  In this he referenced the “Law of Supply and Demand.’  “When the war in Vietnam was over, the number of aircraft in the Army was reduced, of course, and the need for aviators became much less.  Thus, many aviators became victims of the RIF.  It should be noted that the law of supply and demand applies to every skill, not just aviators.

“For example, Finance, Quartermaster, Signal, and a few other branches were short officers so some aviators avoided the RIF by transferring to these branches.  The formation of an Aviation branch, could only make matters worse and perhaps cause a further RIF of aviators.

For example, “Branch requirements based on cockpit seats would be short of 15,000 aviators now on active duty.  Under the present system, aviators in excess of requirements are absorbed by their using ‘ground allocations.’  The branches are willing to do this because they recognize talent and the contribution of aviators to increased combat effectiveness on the battlefield.”[10]

Again, the above was in response to an earlier point made by Colonel Kalagan in “Pandora’s Box,” to which:

“Argument:  If we place all aviators in a single branch, we lose effectiveness in aviation support because the aviator would lose his coincidence of interest with the other branches and be less effective.

“Answer:  Before RVN, the aviator was programmed to serve one year in every five, by regulation, to be considered ‘carrier qualified.’  This year could be met by attendance at an Advanced Course; by a tour with an ROTC unit; by a tour as the S-1, S-2, S-4, or Assistant S-3 (Liaison Officer) with a branch TO&E battalion; as the Commander of any HQs Company; and occasionally, if one were lucky, by commanding a rifle company or a firing battery or a recon troop.

“Some aviators served the minimum of nine months to a year in such assignments; others, got a much as 24 months or more.  It was erratic, however, and did not equate to even one year in five.

“If the aviator took charge of his own career and shopped around hard enough, he could get more than the minimum.  If one waited for OPD managers to arrange for the ground tour, the one in five principle didn’t work too successfully.  Sure, they’d place you in the environment, such as USAREUR, but from arrival on, you were on your own.

“During RVN, ground duty was shut off to aviators unless individuals made their own special personal arrangement to serve in a branch TO&E non-aviator combat unit in-country.  DCSPER&OPD covered this gap in the commissioned aviator’s career by ‘advertising’ selection boards to give aviators due consideration for failing to do more than fly.”[11]

Before taking leave of the thoughts of Colonel Kalagan, we must regard his ideas on ‘aviators who got RIF’ed.’

“Did such instructions help?  During the 1974 RIF, 22% of all aviators in the OPD branches authorized aviators were RIF’ed, while only 18% of the eligible non-aviator officers got the axe.  How will selection boards look at aviators now that the RVN is completed.  Maybe the answer lies in how many eligible field grade aviators were selected recently for other than Aviation Troop Commands?

“This magazine used to print such ‘success’ stories—command selection, senior service school selection, etc.  The next such publication will be interesting.  Isn’t it odd that warrants who don’t attend combat and combat support branch career course nor serve in ‘branch qualification’ tours still provided same aviation support to the combat troops in RVN as their commissioned contemporaries, whether it be with an UH-1, an LOH, a Mohawk, an 0-1, or an RU-21?  Aviation WO’s are eligible to fill cockpit seats in an Air Cavalry Troop without the privilege of attending Armor Advance Course.  Without advantage of MSC School, they still fly a pretty fair DUSTOFF mission.  Right.  CW4 Novosel?  How effective must effective aviation support be?”[12]

Major General Carl A. McNair, the first Director of Army Aviation as a Branch of the U.S. Army. McNair played a pivotal role in Army Aviation on its way to branchhood, both in peacetime and in war.

But the possibility of Centralization in the guise of Army Aviation as a branch was becoming more and more a reality.  Most certainly this was observed by Major General Carl H. McNair, Jr., in his 2007 article in Army Aviation:

“Evolving Warfare, New Requirements:  When the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) was formed and AirLand Battle doctrine evolved in the mid-1970s, reorganization of Army units brought a new perspective for fighting close, deep and rear battles.

“Doctrinal and force structure analyses coupled with major personnel considerations led to a pivotal organizational decision, a precursor and major driver leading to the Aviation Branch.

“An aviation brigade was made organic to each of the Army’s divisions.  Heretofore aviation brigades were organic only in the air assault (air mobile) division with three separate aviation groups organic to the corps in Europe and Korea.

“Divisional brigades were a giant step providing multiple aviation battalions both attack and assault, within a colonel-level command comparable to the infantry and armor brigades and division artillery.

“Today’s brigade commanders have never known it otherwise.

“Further, in some doctrinal scenarios, the aviation brigade could be employed as a fourth maneuver brigade headquarters with command and control of ground maneuver units in deep battle scenarios, rear area or flank security—again another first for an aviation unit.

“Division commanders welcomed the flexibility with another command and control element over the expansive area of operation envisioned in AirLand Battle doctrine.”[13]

But life does not advance in a straight line.  For, “in January 1979, Brigadier General W.E. Sweet, after another in-depth study, and with support from Putnam, recommended the formation of an aviation branch to General Bernard Rogers, then Army Chief of Staff.  Rogers met with all of the Army’s four-star generals and not a single one concurred for an aviation branch.

“In October 1982, during the Army Chief of Staff’s commanders’ conference, GEN Otis briefed the senior officers, not changing a single word in our recommendations.

“There was strong opposition led by generals Frederick J. Kroesen, Commander of U.S. Army, Europe; and Richard E. Cavazos, commanding General of the Army’s Forces Command.  The most outspoken opposition came from two retired generals:  Hamilton H. Howze, who retired in July 1965, and Robert M. Shoemaker, a former FORSCOM commander; both aviators.”[14]

General Hamilton H. Howze

General Hamilton H. Howze, first Director of Army Aviation. One of his largest contributions was to the acceptance of Army Aviation: He was Army Establishment, which lent to the acceptability of Army Aviation at a time it was needed.

“At Fort Benning, Major General Robert L. Wetzel, the commandant of the Infantry School, opposed the formation of an Aviation branch because he thought it important for some infantry officers to continue to be aviators.

“When asked what an infantry aviator had to do to be considered a fully qualified infantry captain, he said that they should successfully command a rifle company.  After some thought, he said there should be adequate opportunities to do that.

“When asked what an infantry lieutenant colonel aviator needed to do to be fully qualified; Wetzel reasoned that there would not be adequate opportunity for their command of an infantry battalion.  Wetzel concluded that an Aviation branch was probably the best solution.”[15]

“Not so at the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  Major General Louis C. Wagner, the commandant, strongly opposed an Aviation branch.  One of his key points was that armor aviators frequently commanded reconnaissance squadrons and battalions.  He never wavered and fought the formation of an Aviation branch all the way.”[16]


[1]  See page 53, “Birth of the Army Aviation Branch, April 12, 1983,” Army Aviation, by Major General Carl H. McNair, Jr., (Ret.), December 31, 2007.

[2]  See page 10, “The Question of a Separate Branch,” Army Aviation, by Brigadier General William J. Maddox, Jr., July-August 1971.

[3]  See pages 10 and 11, Brigadier General William J. Maddox.

[4]  See pages 11, 60 and 61, “Aviation as a Branch,” Army Aviation, by Colonel Andrew J. Miller and Colonel James H. Kitterman, November 30, 1981.

[5]  See page 14, “It’s Time for an Aviation Branch,” Army Aviation, by Major Charles B. Cook, August-September 1981.

[6]  See page 14, Major Charles B. Cook.

[7]  Lieutenant Colonel Putnam’s analysis brings forth a pertinent point:  If, as he suggests, Army Aviation was founded on airmobility, then what is considered Army Aviation prior did not exist.  What was founded was the Air Observation Post, June 6, 1942.  The terminology, “Army Aviation,” does not appear within the narrative of the reputed “birth certificate.”  So what is actually considered Army Aviation did not truly become so until the early 1950s.

A like argument exists with regards to many of the uninitiated in this country labeling America a “Democracy.”  The Founders of this Nation were not fans of Democracy.  You will not find the term “Democracy” in the Constitution, attendant Bill of Rights or even The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America (Declaration of Independence).  This Nation was founded as a Republic, end of discussion.

[8]  See page 6, “Close Pandora’s Box,” Army Aviation, by Lieutenant Colonel (P) Carl M. Putnam, July-August 1975.

[9]  See page 25, “Pandora’s Box,” Army Aviation, by Colonel Samuel P. Kalagan, May 21, 1975.

[10]  See page 4, Lieutenant Colonel Carl M. Putnam.

[11]  See page 6, Colonel Samuel P. Kalagan.

[12]  See pages 6 and 26, Colonel Samuel P. Kalagan.

[13]  See pages 52 and 53, “Birth of the Army Aviation Branch. April 12, 1983,” Army Aviation, by Major General Carl H. McNair, Jr., (Ret.), December 31, 2007.

[14]  See page 33, “Dealing With the Aviation Branch Issue:  A Tough Sell to the Army,” Army Aviation, by Major General Benjamin I. Harrison, (Ret.), February 29, 2008.

[15]  See page 33, Major General Benjamin I. Harrison, (Ret.).

[16]  See page 33, Major General Benjamin I. Harrison, (Ret.).

Looking Back / Army Aviation, February 2023; By Mark Albertson


Branchhood, By Mark Albertson

Part I: Technology, Command and Control

Army Aviation breaks friction with the ground, operates in the ground regime, and greatly enhances the capability of the force. . . [1]


The remarkable evolution of aerial observation, together with the aerial direction of artillery fire within the United States Army, began with the War Between the States and a military application known to history as the Balloon Corps. The suitable starting date is June 18, 1861, when Thaddeus Lowe lifted off from the Columbia Armory[2] and from the balloon basket of Enterprise, Lowe’s telegrapher transmitted the first electronic message from an aircraft in the air to the ground. And one of the recipients was President Abraham Lincoln, marking the sixteenth president as the first head-of-state in history to receive an electronic message from an aircraft in the air to the ground.

Following America’s first industrialized conflict, the Army will again resort to the lighter-than-aircraft during the Spanish-American War. But with the maturation of aerial observation and reconnaissance, as well as the growing sophistication of the aerial direction of artillery fire, the appearance of fixed wing aircraft and the exciting promise of its mobility, consigned the gas bag to history. Then came the advent of the Air Observation Post, June 6, 1942, laying the groundwork for what would later become Army Aviation; to which the growing reliance on the helicopter during the Korean conflict, advanced this evolving medium of conveyance to becoming an absolute necessity in Vietnam . . . all showcasing, in a clear and unmistakable horizontal progression of history, the developing sophistication of this military exercise known as Army Aviation.

Indeed, Army Aviation is the product of American invention, innovation and the specialization of tasks; the result, too, of the Industrial Revolution which, together with Man’s penchant for technological innovation, we find Army Aviation is alive and well in the era of the Technology Revolution. A progression that has stimulated the specialization of tasks in the modern era.

L-4 Cub aboard and LST carrier during World War II.  Top flight technology for the Air Observation Post.

The profession of arms, as is seen in many other professions in the American economy, society and culture, has, thus far, not proven itself immune to the globe-changing continuum known as the Technology Revolution. The profession of war, again like other professions, has become less labor-intensive. Gone, too, are the days when the backyard mechanic, able to repair his ’36 Ford, could easily perform in-theater servicing of a Piper L-4 Cub; a hallmark of the pre-Army Aviation era of the Air Observation Post of the Field Artillery.

On the heels of the 1914-1918 chapter of the Great War and the interregnum period that followed till the resumption of the global conflict, the evolving nature of the strategic bomber proceeded apace; as did the specialization of tasks concerning those airmen who flew, repaired and directed this increasingly sophisticated aspect of modern war. To the point that the science of airpower had become too sophisticated to be properly administered by officers specifically trained and educated to prosecute a ground war. Hence, in 1947, the United States Army Air Forces became the United States Air Force, consummating a divorce long sought by the proponents of strategic airpower.

AH-1G Huey Cobra, providing Army Aviation the ability to provide support for the soldier on the ground.

Army Aviation, too, was not exempt from the natural laws of change. The Air Observation Post commanded by Colonel, then later General William Wallace Ford, minus the proponents of same, remaining oblivious to the strategic, tactical and material changes following 1945 and into the Korean War, set in motion a continuum that would culminate in branchhood by April 12, 1983. Take, for instance, a standalone issue such as technological changes. In less than ten years, compare the Sikorsky helicopter effort from the R-4 eggbeater to the H-19 Chickasaw used in Korea; to, in the following fifteen years, the Bell UH-1 Huey and later the Cobra attack helicopter in Vietnam; followed in the post-Vietnam era with the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache. Not many Black Hawk and Apache technicians were fixing their ’36 Fords in the family driveways.[3] The training and schooling today is beyond what was required to prepare the Class Before One. Such is Man’s tendency to improve, but which increases, many times, the sophistication of the task in question. Branchhood, then, was that result of a progression started on June 6, 1942 and, became more evident as the decades came and went. And so by the 1970s at the latest, the jury to some might have been out, but reality dictated a verdict that had already been delivered . . . it was just a matter of time, despite the pronouncements of naysayers, that branchhood was coming; verifying, indeed, that the progression of history is always fulfilled. . .

* * * * *

“. . . tools, or weapons, if only the right ones can be discovered, form ninety-nine percent of victory. . . . Strategy, command, leadership, courage, discipline, supply, organization, and all the moral and physical paraphernalia of war are as nothing to a high superiority of weapons—at most they go to form the one percent which makes the whole possible.”[4] There is certainly truth in what J.F.C. Fuller writes here. For instance, the technology or major tool for the existence and success for the Air Observation Post of the Field Artillery was the grasshopper-type aircraft. For Army Aviation it was the helicopter. This course was made easier when the Air Force, deciding to maintain strategic airpower in the nuclear era as its justification for existence, did not pay the proper regard for slow, rotary wing aircraft, since strategic airpower necessitated the constant improvement on aircraft for the implementation of that way of waging war: In other words, each new mark of aircraft had to fly faster, higher, haul greater payloads and be equipped with the latest technological marvels. In this, the argument can be made, that airmen are not specifically trained to wage ground warfare. Ground officers are trained to wage ground warfare, and enough of them understood the significance of the employment of the helicopter for superior battlefield mobility so as to be able to defeat an opposing host.


[1] See page 51, “Army Aviation in 1983-1992” The Modern Era Arrives,” Army Aviation, by Joseph Cribbins, December 31, 1992.

[2] Which today is the National Air and Space Museum.

[3] Used to be the simplicity of fixing your car was part of the attraction. For back in the day, you could open the hood and still see the street below. You could change the points and plugs and, grab hold of the oil filter, all without busting a knuckle, as well as removing the manifold of an engine block. Ever open the hood of your car today?

[4] See pages 65 and 66, Chapter 4, “Helicopter technology: Political Imperative or Opportunity?” The Army Gets an Air Force, by Frederic A. Bergerson.

Looking Back / Army Aviation, January 2023; By Mark Albertson


Branch Update, By Major General Ronald E. Adams

Women in Aviation: Celebrating the Past, Building the Future

The U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center hosted a Women in Army Aviation Symposium in Late February. Over 90 aviation soldiers of both genders and all ranks traveled to the conference representing DOD-wide backgrounds and experiences. The goal of our symposium was twofold: First, to recognize and celebrate women’s 21 years of service within Army Aviation and second, to identify and discuss current “gender issues” within the branch.

There are differing, sometimes contentious, opinions as to the value of highlighting one gender within a two-gender military. But at the same time, it is almost universally admitted that there are fundamental differences between the genders that may affect the way we do business. In that light, the symposium’s intent was to encourage open, fair discussion of how the branch as a whole can best address these challenges.

Sally Murphy

Women have now served in Army Aviation for more than 21 years. The first female pilot, 2LT Sally D. Woolfolk (now Colonel Sally Murphy) graduated from the rotary wing aviator course in June 1974. Females were serving as enlisted maintainers with the graduation of Private Linda Plock in February 1974 and were integrated into the Aviation warrant officer corps in June 1975 with the graduation of WO1 Jennie Vallance, Jr. As women began to attend and graduate from these aviation schools, they began serving in all capacities within the branch, except for attack, cavalry and special operations.

Almost 20 years later, in 1993, congressional legislation opened the door for women to fly attack aircraft and serve in those units as both pilots and maintainers. Further legislation in 1994 allowed women to serve in air cavalry line troops. A steady number of women have since graduated from the AH-64, OH-58D and AH-1 courses at Fort Rucker, constantly adding to the number of women in the attack/cav arena. Women have served in and have commanded both attack and cavalry units; they have flown in combat. They have been recognized as superb commanders and NCOs, award-winning aviators, and outstanding officers and soldiers.

While celebration was the initial order of business, the symposium also offered a rare opportunity for several generations of female soldiers and officers to discuss the challenges of a career in Army Aviation, and initiate mentoring-type discussions.

USAAVNC took this opportunity to stimulate discussion and to disseminate information. I opened the agenda with a branch overview and discussion of where women are serving within the branch today, and was followed by many superb speakers, to include BG Patricia Hickerson who chaired a dynamic, multi-media presentation of various recruiting efforts of yesterday and today.

Lieutenant Colonels Joe and Maureen Lebouef from the United States Military Academy presented a fast-paced, interactive discussion of gender differences, both behavioral and physical. They demonstrated some fundamental differences between men and women and the resulting cultural effects. Men and women often see the same situation differently. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but often challenging to acknowledge and appreciate.

The symposium audience was also brought up to date on the “Washington Perspective” by LTC Karen McManus. As the Pentagon’s Woman in the Army Representative (as well as an aviator), she provided an update of trends that are affecting women in today’s military.

patricia fleming

Presentations by the Aviation Research Laboratory (USAARL) provided a much anticipated forum for discussion of anthropometry (body measurements) and how this affects cockpit coordination, skills and safety. Ongoing studies are validating these standards, and may result in changes. The Aeromedical Center and USAARL participants also addressed the current pregnancy policy and research demonstrating the effects of the aviation environment on the developing embryo. They also examined the relatively new issue of the “aging” female aviator; how are health and flight skills affected versus the traditional male standard?

One of the main objectives of the symposium was accomplished by establishing work groups to discuss gender issues as they affect the entire branch, not just the female soldiers. The work groups were chaired by professional military facilitators and subject matter experts. These “group leaders” ensured that group discussion was oriented toward illuminating appropriate branch-wide issues, rather than recounting purely personal experiences.

Within this framework, the work groups identified issues which the Aviation Center Team is already working—issues briefed at our NCO symposium at our Brigade Commander VTC update.

The work group out-briefs provided impressive snapshots of the intended symposium goals: professional women sincerely presenting their best effort at making Aviation a stronger, more cohesive branch.

The representatives at the conference collectively represented a strong, dynamic female population that takes their role as part of the Aviation warfighting team very seriously. They are out front, and are willing to help lead us to a better future. We can all be tremendously proud of their contributions to our nation, our Army and to Army Aviation.


MG Adams is the Aviation Branch Chief and Commanding General, USAAVNC and Ft. Rucker, AL., and Commandant, U.S. Army Aviation Logistics School, Ft. Eustis, VA.


Source:  Pages 9 and 10, “Women in Aviation:  Celebrating the Past, Building the Future,” by Major General Ronald E. Adams, Army Aviation, Vol. 45, No. 6, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., June 30, 1996.