The Birth of Army Aviation
Following a final series of experiments with organic Army spotter aircraft conducted in 1942, the secretary of War ordered the establishment of organic air observation for field artillery - hence the birth of modern Army Aviation - on 6 June 1942. It was this new World War II-era phenomenon with its few small single-engine spotter planes, organic Army Aviation, that eventually evolved into today’s Army Aviation Branch. On the other hand, the organization that had been the Army Air Service and the Army Air Corps continued through World War II as the Army Air Forces and finally became the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
Organic Army Aviation first entered into combat in November 1942 on the coast of North Africa. During World War II, L-4 Grasshoppers and a few larger L-5 Sentinels were used to adjust artillery fire, gather intelligence, support naval bombardment, direct bombing missions, and perform other functions. Most training of both pilots and mechanics was conducted by the Department of Air Training within the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla., although the Army Air Forces conducted some primary training of organic Army Aviation personnel.
The Korean conflict provided new challenges and opportunities for Army Aviation. Organic Army Aviation had acquired its first helicopters, thirteen H-13 Sioux, in 1947, shortly before the U.S. Air Force became independent of the Army. In Korea, the Army employed the 0-1 Bird Dog and other improved fixed wing planes, but also helicopters. The Army used its H-13s primarily for medical evacuation, command and control, and transport of lightweight and valuable cargo. Because of the rugged terrain of the Korean peninsula, the value of helicopters came to be recognized by all the services; the demand for both helicopters and trained aviators consistently exceeded the supply.
In 1951 the Army began organizing five helicopter transport companies and training warrant officer pilots. There was, however, an ongoing rivalry between the Army and the Air Force concerning responsibility and resources for the aerial support of ground forces. Because of this rivalry, and also because of the shortage of helicopters, only two Army transport companies were supplied with H-19 Chickasaw helicopters in time to participate in the Korean conflict. Transport helicopters nevertheless proved themselves by moving cargo and personnel during the final months of the war and then by participating in prisoner exchanges and other functions after the cessation of hostilities.
During the Korean conflict, the Department of Air Training at Fort Sill expanded, and in early 1953, it became the Army Aviation School. As a result of the expansion of both aviation and artillery training, Fort Sill became overcrowded, and the Army decided to move the Army Aviation School to a different post. When no satisfactory permanent Army post was found, a temporary post, Camp Rucker, Ala., was chosen. The Army Aviation School began moving to Alabama in August 1954 and the first class began at Rucker in October.
Camp Rucker Named Fort Rucker
On Feb. 1, 1955, the Army Aviation Center was officially established at Rucker. In October of that year, the post was given permanent status with the name change from Camp Rucker to Fort Rucker.
Before the mid 1950s, the Army Air Forces-U.S. Air Force had provided primary training for Army Aviation pilots and mechanics. In 1956, DOD gave the Army control over all of its own training. Gary and Wolters Air Force bases in Texas, where the Air Force had been conducting this training, were also transferred to the Army.
Lacking adequate facilities at Fort Rucker, Army Aviation continued primary fixed-wing training at Camp Gary until 1959 and primary rotary-wing training at Fort Wolters until 1973.
In 1956, the Army Aviation Center began assembling and testing weapons on helicopters. These tests, conducted while the Air Force still theoretically had exclusive responsibility for aerial fire support, led to the development of armament systems for Army helicopters.
The first armed helicopter company was activated in Okinawa in 1962. It was deployed to Thailand and then to Vietnam, where it flew escort for lift helicopters. The Department of Defense did not abolish mission restrictions on the Army’s rotary-wing aircraft, thereby technically authorizing the Army to arm helicopters until 1966.
The “Howze Board,” or “Tactical Mobility Requirements Board,” was established in 1962 to develop and test the concept of air mobility. After test exercises, war games, and concentrated study and analysis, the Howze Board recommended that the Army commit itself to organic air mobility -- later known as air assault. The Howze Board recommended the extensive use of helicopters to transport infantry troops, artillery, and supplies, as well as to provide local aerial fire support.
These recommendations were tested by the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) from 1963 to 1965. In 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was organized and sent to Vietnam, where it repeatedly demonstrated the validity of the airmobile concept in actual combat.