Wednesday, December 12, 2012

100 Years of Army Aviation

The Army first took to the air in balloons
Photo from www.army.mil
The Wright brothers made their famous flight of the first heavier-than-air, engine-powered aircraft on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. I knew that. The United States Army purchased their first airplane on August 2, 1909, less than six years after the first powered flight. I did not know that. Less than 90 days later, the first two Army pilots had passed their check rides and by 1914 the Army had created an operational Aviation Section under the command of the Signal Corps. That means that we've had over 100 years of Army Aviation. Having served as an Army aviator in my impetuous youth, I'm a little embarrassed about not knowing that.

My wife, Sheila, actually rescued me from my ignorance when she sent me a link to an Army website titled "100th Anniversary of United States Army Aviation." She thought I "might be interested in it." Was I?! You betcha. The site contains historic photo sets from different periods in Army Aviation history, and a really excellent timeline. Way to go, Army! This website inspired my to do a little more investigating and write up a "Summary History of Army Aviation" for MilitaryVetShop.com.

An early Wright Flyer, circa 1909.
Photo from www.army.mil
Of course we used balloons for military observation since the Civil War. Nevertheless, it is amazing to me that certain leaders within the Army could see the potential military use of powered flight, even when it was in its infancy. (We'll conveniently omit the fact the the Wright brothers did a spectacular sales presentation.) As a matter of fact the Army had its personnel participating in the trials, resulting in the first aviation related death of a soldier on September 17, 1908. Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge was killed in an aircraft crash while doing a test flight with Orville Wright. Orville was injured, but obviously survived.

A much thinner and younger
Roving Historian, back when I
was blissfully unaware of my
 own mortality.
I went through Rotary Wing Flight School at the U.S. Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama in 1984-85. It was the hardest school, in both academic performance and demonstration of acquired (flying) skills, of any course of instruction I have ever been though. That is, of course, with the exception of the Instructor Pilot course three years later. During just over ten years of service I became rated in the UH-1 Huey, the OH-58 Kiowa Scout, the UH-60 Blackhawk, and the CH-47 Chinook. It was a very exciting period in my life, and at times it could be scary too. Many came before me and did what I did. That made every new experience easier to imagine and then make happen. I like to think that I trained more than a few others to take my place before I left. However, I just can't wrap my brain around the level of courage it required to walk out and look at that funky Wright Flyer and climb in beside the former bicycle mechanic who was now selling this contraption to the Army. But aren't we glad they did?

Congratulations, Army! On 100 years of Aviation.