Army Aviation traces its origins back to the American Civil War. Both Union and Confederate forces used helium-filled balloons to direct artillery fire, marking the beginning of U.S. military aeronautics and of aerial support of Army ground forces. The Army also used balloons during the Spanish American War and World War I, but airplanes replaced balloons for most military purposes during the latter conflict.
Army Aviation began in 1909 with the Army’s acquisition of its first heavier-than-air aircraft, an airplane built to Army specifications by the Wright brothers. During World War I, the Army’s aircraft strength grew from a few dozen to more than 11,000 planes, and the number of aviation personnel came to total more than 190,000. The Army Air Service was created in May of 1918.
During the 1930s, many Army Air Corps leaders became preoccupied with strategic air operations.
This Air Corps emphasis on strategic operations disturbed some ground forces leaders, who believed their aerial support needs were being neglected.
Aerial support was particularly vital for artillery fire adjustment. Partly because Air Corps fire support aircraft were not always available, the chief of field artillery and other artillery officers became interested in using light aircraft organic to the artillery units.
The Army’s “Grasshoppers,” as these light planes came to be called, proved to be much more effective than the larger Air Corps planes used for the same purposes.
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, which eventually evolved into today’s Army Aviation Branch.
In March 1983, the Chief of Staff of the Army recommended forming a separate aviation branch. The Secretary of the Army approved that recommendation on 12 April 1983, Army Aviation Branch’s birthday.
All Army Aviation training has been undertaken at Fort Rucker, Alabama since 1973, as well as training of US Air Force and ally helicopter pilots.
See below for Army Aviation images, past and present:
Blog post submitted by Anthony Mayne, U.S. Army Public Affairs