Army Air Corps Flight Training in WWII

Provided by the National Museum of the United States Air Force






With the expansion of the Army's air arm, it became increasingly evident that there was an urgent need for closer cooperation between its two independent elements, the Air Corps (responsible for materiel and training functions) and the Air Force Combat Command (responsible for operational functions), formerly the GHQ Air Force. As a result, the Army Air Forces was created on June 20, 1941 to provide a unity of command over the Air Corps and AF Combat Command. Major General H.H. Arnold was designated its chief.

By Dec. 1941, the AAF had grown to 354,000 men (of whom 9,000 were pilots) as compared to 26,000 men (of whom 2,000 were pilots) in Sep. 1939. However, it had but 2,846 airplanes of which only 1,157 were considered suitable for combat. The situation of April 1917 was being repeated--U.S. flyers were soon to be called upon to combat enemy flyers having superior weapons, either in quantity or quality, or both.

Primary Flying School

The Air Corps' pilot training program was accelerated at such a incredible rate that civilian contractors were selected to operate a large number of newly-established primary flying schools.

The basic (or secondary) and advanced flying schools were operated by the Air Force. The civilian primary schools had been started in 1939 by ten civilian contractors.

The civilian primary schools used Stearman, Ryan and Fairchild trainers owned by the Army Air Force; their flight instructors were civilian employees. Each cadet was given 60 hours of flight training in nine weeks before moving on the basic flight school.

Primary Trainer Aircraft (PT)

  • Consolidated PT-1 "Trusty"

  • Stearman PT-13D "Kaydet"

  • Ryan YPT-16

  • Fairchild PT-19 "Cornell"

  • Ryan PT-22 "Recruit"

  • Fairchild PT-26 "Cornell"

Basic (Secondary) Flying School

During basic flight training, a cadet received approximately 70 hours in the air during a nine week period. The basic cadet made military pilots of those who had learned only the fundamentals of flight in primary school. In addition to operating an airplane of greater weight, horsepower, and speed such as the BT-9 or BT-13, the cadet was taught how to fly at night, by instruments, in formation, and on cross-country from one point to another. Also, for the first time, he was operating a plane equipped with a two-way radio and a two-pitch propeller. This was the point in his career where it was decided whether he would go to single-engine or twin-engine advanced flying school.

Basic Trainer Aircraft (BT)

  • Vultee BT-13B "Valiant"

  • North American BT-14

Advanced Flying School

Advanced flying school was to prepare a cadet for the kind of airplane he was to fly in combat, either single or multi-engine.
Those who went to single-engine school flew AT-6s for the first 70 hours during a nine week period, learning aerial gunnery and combat maneuvers and incresing their skills in navigation, formation, and instrument flying.

Cadets assigned to twin-engine school (like Dick Baer) received the same number of flying hours but did not practice combat aerobatics or gunnery. Using the AT-9, AT-10, or AT-17, they directed their efforts toward increasing their ability to fly on instruments, at night, and in formation after first having mastered the art of flying a plane having more than one engine.

Advanced Trainer Aircraft (AT)

  • North American AT-6 - See T-6G "Texan"

  • Cessna AT-8 - See Cessna UC-78B "Bobcat"

  • Curtiss AT-9 "Fledgling"/"Jeep"

  • Beech AT-10 "Wichita"

  • Beech AT-11 "Kansan"

  • Cessna AT-17 - See Cessna UC-78B "Bobcat"

The Cessna AT-8/UC-78, known affectionately as the "Bamboo Bomber" because of its wooden construction, was well known as a multi-engine trainer of WWII. Many bomber pilots saw training on this aircraft before going off and training to fly B-17s or B-24s. After WWII, many UC-78s became popular civilian aircraft and were used by some commuter airlines.

Transition Training

The successful completion of pilot training was a difficult as well as a dangerous task. During the four-and-a-half year period of January 1941 - August 1945, there were 191,654 cadets who were awarded pilot wings. However, there were also 132,993 who "washed out" or were killed during training, a loss rate of approximately 40 percent due to accidents, academic or physical problems, and other causes.
Those who graduated from flying school were usually assigned to transition training in the type of plane they were to fly in combat. Some were assigned to specific squadrons already scheduled for overseas duty, while others were assigned to replacement training units for subsequent assignment to squadrons already overseas. Regardless, it required 2 months of additional training before a pilot was considered ready for combat.

Duties and Responsibilities of

Below, an excerpt from the "Pilot Training Manual for the B-17 Flying Fortress", issued to B-17 pilots during World War II:

The copilot is the executive officer -- your chief assistant, understudy, and strong right arm. He must be familiar enough with every one of your duties -- both as pilot and as airplane commander -- to be able to take over and act in your place at any time.

  • He must he able to fly the airplane under all conditions as well as you would fly it yourself.
  • He must he extremely proficient in engine operation, and know instinctively what to do to keep the airplane flying smoothly even though he is not handling the controls.
  • He must have a thorough knowledge of cruising control data, and know how to apply it at the proper time.
  • He is also the engineering officer aboard the airplane, and maintains a complete log of performance data.
  • He must be a qualified instrument pilot.
  • He must he able to fly good formation in any assigned position, day or night.
  • He must he qualified to navigate by day or at night by pilotage, dead reckoning, and by use of radio aids.
  • He must be proficient in the operation of all radio equipment located in the pilot's compartment.
  • In formation flying, he must be able to make engine adjustments almost automatically.
  • He must be prepared to take over on instruments when the formation is climbing through an overcast, thus enabling you to watch the rest of the formation.

Always remember that the copilot is a fully trained, rated pilot just like yourself. He is subordinate to you only by virtue of your position as the airplane commander. The B-17 is a lot of airplane; more airplane than any one pilot can handle alone over a long period of time. Therefore, you have been provided with a second pilot who will share the duties of flight operation.

Treat your copilot as a brother pilot. Remember that the more proficient he is as a pilot, the more efficiently he will be able to perform the duties of the vital post he holds as your second in command.

Be sure that he is allowed to do his share of the flying, in the pilot's seat, on takeoffs, landings, and on instruments.

The importance of the copilot is eloquently testified to by airplane commanders overseas. There have been many cases in which the pilot has been disabled or killed in flight and the copilot has taken full command of both airplane and crew, completed the mission, and returned safely to the home base. Usually, the copilots who have distinguished themselves under such conditions have been copilots who have been respected and trained by the airplane commander as pilots.

Bear in mind that the pilot in the right-hand seat of your airplane is preparing himself for an airplane commander's post too. Allow him every chance to develop his ability and to profit by your experience.