A History of Aviation Digest -
The Army Aviation Branch's Professional Journal
In June 1961, the Aviation Digest was writing a comprehensive history of Army aviation. Research included a truck full of documents belonging to then retired Brigadier General Carl I. Hutton. Among the documents was his diary. It stated that, in 1952, the Department of the Army (DA) directed the Aviation School, then at Fort Sill, Okla., to recommend some tangible actions to offset a rapidly rising Army aviation accident rate. General Hutton recommended an accident prevention board and a professional aviation periodical. Both were approved. The board became USABAAR [U.S Army Board for Aviation Accident Research], then USAAAVS [U.S. Army Agency for Aviation Safety], and later USASC [U.S. Army Safety Center]. The periodical evolved into the U.S. Army Aviation Digest.
The Aviation School’s recommendation to DA ran headlong into a request from the Transportation School and Center at Fort Eustis, Va., for a periodical on Army aviation. DA consolidated the two requests and set the policy of having only one periodical to cover all of Army aviation. It also charged the Aviation School with putting the product together but classified it as an Army wide periodical with publication (printing) and distribution proponency to be retained at DA level where it remained until 17 July 1987.
The Aviation Digest was published first in February 1955. Its internal organization, management, etc., were developed by the Aviation School, which also submitted periodic requests for renewal of approval to publish.
In September 1958, the Aviation School requested an increase in the size and format of the Aviation Digest. While pure aviation safety was cited as a foremost purpose of the Digest, the correspondence emphasized, “but equally important to the mission is the distribution of related information ... “
The expansion of the Digest was necessary to accommodate an increase of USABAAR input without sacrificing the existing scope of coverage. A meeting was held at DA to consider the Aviation School’s request. Attendees included representatives from the Aviation School and USABAAR. This group set the policy of a separate portion of the periodical for USABAAR material.
The Aviation Digest was not given the extra pages requested, but the page size was increased from 6 by 9 inches to 8 by 10 1/2 inches. The meeting with USABAAR and DA also resulted in the elimination of some types of material such as book reviews. DA felt that an elimination of certain types of material, along with the increased size in page format, would provide the additional space needed for USABAAR’s material without sacrificing coverage of other required topics.
On 11 October 1961, DA gave the Aviation Digest permission to expand from 36 pages to 48 pages plus covers to keep abreast of Army aviation’s rapid expansion in new hardware; and increasingly complex problems in materiel, air traffic control, aviation medicine, flight training, and emerging airmobile tactics in support of the combat arms. In 1963, the Aviation Digest was placed under pin-point distribution to facilitate worldwide distribution.
In 1964, USABAAR requested its own periodical devoted exclusively to aviation safety. However, DA (the Assistant Chief of Staff for Force Development (ACSFOR)), restated its position that aviation safety and accident prevention should be disseminated through the Aviation Digest and the Army should have only one periodical devoted to Army aviation.
Continuing pressure from USABAAR, coupled with rapidly expanding Army aviation programs, resulted in DA authority in January 1967 to increase the Digest to 64 pages plus covers. The Aviation School and USABAAR agreed that USABAAR should have the last 28 pages of each issue to devote to aircraft accident and flying safety subjects.
Thus, DA reaffirmed the position it had taken twice before: Army aviation should have one publication with about one-third of the product being reserved for input from USABAAR. The rest would be devoted to tactics, maintenance, research and development, aviation medicine, training, etc. The Digest had been in existence 12 years at that time. It had grown from a 6,500 monthly distribution to a circulation of almost 40,000 copies .
When the Aviation Digest was reduced by DA, The Adjutant General Office’s AD Hoc Committee on Periodicals, from 64 to 48 pages in 1974, the USAAAVS (USABAAR) portion was correspondingly reduced to 18 pages. Effective with the March 1978 issue, USAAAVS advised the Digest that it no longer would furnish 18 pages of material per issue, but that it would be a contributor on an “as-needed” basis.
The transfer of the Aviation Digest’s mission and functions from HQ DA to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Fort Monroe, Va., came on 17 July 1987 as a result of an earlier Secretary of Defense directed reduction of 55 percent in the Department of Defense (DOD) periodicals program. On 16 July 1987, professional bulletins (PBs) were established as a new official Departmental publication media. In turn, the HQ DA Periodicals and Review Committee determined that the Aviation Digest met the criteria for the new media.
In September 1988,a review of the Aviation Digest PB with the other (TRADOC) PBs indicated that the Aviation Digest, other than the Military Review, was the only TRADOC PB that published monthly. It had the widest readership and the greatest number of copies printed per year (493.500). A comparison of costs of all of the PBs indicated that the costs of the Digest per copy ($.88) were less than all other PBs. However, overall costs because of frequency of publication and number of copies printed, were greater.
In keeping with fiscal demands, TRADOC requested the Aviation Digest to cut its overall total costs by going bimonthly with a combined July-August 1989 issue. It expanded pages from 48 to 64 and changed its page size from 7 7/8 by 10 1/4 inches to 8 1/2 by 11 inches. In 1989, there were more than 41,000 readers-including 27,300 Active Army; 8,500 Army National Guard; 3,000 U.S. Army Reserve; 1,300 civilians; 165 DOD activities, 72 Marine Corps, 60 non-DOD; 32 Air Force members and 400 miscellaneous. In 1993, to cut costs, the readership was reduced electronically by 25 percent (10,000 copies) for those accounts receiving more than 10 copies. In 1994, pages were reduced from 64 to 48 to 52. For the March-April 1995 issue, individual account holders were 4,547 with 25,305 total copies printed.
By 1995, the Aviation Digest had served the Army aviation community as a valuable source of professional, pure safety, and accident prevention information for 40 years. Due to budget restrictions, Aviation Digest closed it's publication after the March/April 1995 Issue was released. Army Aviation would spend the next eighteen years without a professional journal of it's own.
Flight of the Phoenix ~
In October 2012, the Directorate of Training and Doctrine proposed a re-start of the Aviation Digest to the Commanding General, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence. Each branch of the Army has supported their own professional bulletin for the exchange of ideas, opinions, and as a means of sharing lessons learned for many years. The Aviation Digest was presented as an important tool in Army Aviation’s inventory to collect and share professional thinking and discussion. MG Kevin W. Mangum approved publication of the Aviation Digest on October 15, 2012.
The first issue of the “new” Aviation Digest, published in January 2013, followed the final issue of the “old” Aviation Digest published in March/April 1995. The Aviation Digest is now published quarterly in electronic format. Articles are collected, edited, and formatted into a final product by the Directorate of Training and Doctrine for the CG’s approval.
Once again, the Army Aviation Branch will be aided by a valuable tool in which to share ideas and observations from the field - helping to better prepare the aviators for the future.