Pilots and Airplanes
The search for qualified pilots intensified in 1942. Early on, the Ferrying Command scoured the country for all available civilian fliers; bush pilots, test pilots, crop dusters, stunt pilots, barnstormers, and pilots who flew on personal business or for fun all became candidates. These draftees were expected to have five hundred hours of flying experience, a requirement that soon dropped to two hundred to three hundred hours, depending on the military’s need. If they could pass a ninety-day probation period, they became commissioned officers. By the end of 1942, a total of 1,372 pilots had been commissioned, but the AAF’s own flight-training programs began to replace these conscripts after that date.
Several hundred women also served, largely as the result of urgent needs by the ATC and the philosophy that women could take over ferrying operations to release more men for active combat assignments. Special recruitment and training procedures eventually evolved into an organization called the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), until it was inactivated at the end of 1944. Even though not eligible for commissions, and frequently hampered by bureaucratic shortsightedness, the WASPs performed with great professionalism. A total of 303 served as ferry pilots within the continental United States, and their twenty-seven months of active duty involved delivery or movement of 12,650 aircraft, from bombers and fighters to two-place trainers.
Just as civil personnel formed the nucleus of ATC’s pilot ranks, civil
aircraft performed its missions. These civil airplanes included the nation’s
most advanced transports—all of them, in fact. In mid-December 1941,
when the War Department desperately sought to expand its force of four-engine
transport aircraft, the only such airplanes in military service included
the eleven B–24s used by the Ferrying Command, plus one Boeing
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Army’s air transport organization had acquired only a few dozen airplanes under the cargo designation. In the mid-1920s, the service purchased eleven Fokker trimotor transports, designated C–2, along with thirteen Ford trimotors, designated C–3, C–4, and C–9. The service also operated about two dozen Douglas Dolphin twin-engine amphibians, useful in miscellaneous duties in the Philippines and the Panama Canal Zone and for occasional coastal patrols. But for two decades after World War I, little progress occurred with respect to later AAF equipment, operational experience, or coherent doctrine for large-scale airlift actions.
During 1941, as U.S. planners began to think seriously about the role
of air transport in time of national emergency, no one completely grasped
the potential role of airlift as a major means of supplying military forces.
Eventually, by the late summer of 1942, the backlog of cargoes awaiting
shipment overseas brought home the importance of intercontinental air
transport. The backlog not only made it clear that many more airplanes
When the United States became fully involved in World War II, aircraft of all types were drafted into military service and given new designations. They ranged from personal airplanes like the Fairchild F–24 (re-designated C–61) to twin-engine Lockheed Lodestar airline transports (C–60 designation, plus others). The AAF also pressed into service the sole examples of experimental long-range bombers such as the Boeing XB–17, which made several cargo flights as the XC–105, and the larger Douglas XB–19, which was modified to carry 123 troops or fifty-six thousand pounds of freight but received no formal cargo designation. These and other airplanes played useful roles, although the lion’s share of wartime military transport duties was conducted by four types of aircraft: the Douglas C–47 and C–54; the Curtiss C–46; and the Consolidated C–87, a converted B–24 bomber.