Historical Aircraft

Land Aviation Development Timeline


Aviation Development Timeline

Compiled by LCol (Ret) Dean C. Black, CD

1861. 6 June. Thaddeus S.C. Lowe brought his balloon to Washington to demonstrate its military potential. From 500 feet of altitude on 18 June Lowe successfully sent a telegraph to the ground in the presence of Lincoln and War Department officials. Within days he was able to report on Confederate troop movements menacing the Capital, and was able to call in artillery fire sometime later.

1913. 5 March. The First Aero Squadron, the first tactical United States aviation unit was organized. It began practical operations in 1916 in conjunction with the Mexican Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa. The unit was generally unremarkable until it arrived in France in 1916. Brigadier General William Mitchell, commander of all air units of the American Expeditionary Force, added two other squadrons to the First, thus forming the 1st Corps Observation Group which reconnoitered for the artillery with distinction.

1914-1919. During the First World War 33 balloon companies and 117 officers were dispatched to Europe from the United States. Of these 265 balloons sent to France, 77 participated in combat, 48 of which were lost in action. By 1920 the Army decided that the introduction of the fighter plane, during the War, made the balloon exceedingly vulnerable, thereby eliminating it as an effective means of aerial observation.1

  • 1 Tierney and Montgomery. The Army Aviation Story. Pp. 20-23. 1

1918. 20 May. Overman Act – President Woodrow Wilson removed Army Aviation from the jurisdiction of the Signal Corps.
[Major William “ Billy” Mitchell believed that aviation should be divided into two categories. One would be attached to divisions, corps, and armies to support ground operations. The other would be used for strategic operations in the bombardment of enemy men and materiel at a distance from the fighting line, as well as for the pursuit of enemy aircraft.]

1920. Army Reorganization Act of 1920 made the Air Service a combat arm of the Army.

1926. 2 July. The name of the Air Service is changed to the Army Air Corps. Organization at the time called for 13 observation aircraft in each Division while each Corps HQ was to have an observation group of two observation squadrons, a service squadron, and a photo squadron. Each Army and the General HQ was to have an observation group.

1930. Recognition that each Corps and Division had unique and continuous requirement for observation aircraft. The O-47 is in use. The Army considers using an amphibious craft for calling artillery on to the shore. The Navy is not impressed and a compromise is reached that limited the army to land-based concerns not to exceed 100 miles away thereby eliminating the long-range recce role from the army.

1930. The Army purchased a Kellett K-2 autogiro for testing.

1936. The Army purchased a Kellett YC-1 and Pitcarn YU-2 and start combat tests at Langley, Va., and Fort Bragg, NC. The Army was particularly interested in using these vehicles for tactical observation and command and liaison flights because of their ability to get in and out of confined areas. But several serious accidents and failure to purchase and install special observation equipment led to the cancellation of the autogiro program. Clearly, the benefit of rotary wing flight for army purposes was established with these tests and incidents, but the advent of the Second World War delayed any significant developments in rotary aircraft following the appropriation of $2M by Congress for the US Army to procure the XR-1 developed by Platt La Page Company in 1941, and the XR-1A later in the year.

1940. Summer. 1st Lieutenant James McCord Watson III telephoned Piper Aircraft Corporation and asked them to provide light aircraft to observe artillery fire to be conducted during Army manoeuvres to be held at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana.

1940. September. Army memorandum prepared for the COS stated, as the main functions in priority of tactical air power: close, direct support fire missions on the immediate front of ground forces, air defense of friendly ground forces and installations in the combat zones, air attack against targets in hostile rear areas, support of airborne forces, reconnaissance, observation and liaison.

1941. February. Brigadier-General Adna R. Chaffee phoned Piper to discuss having light aircraft brought to the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to evaluate the possibility of using light aircraft to control armoured columns and direct heavy cannon fire from tanks.

1941. June 20. The Army Air Force is created and increased authority is given to the Chief of the Army Air Forces.

1941. Summer. A young artillery lieutenant obtained twenty L-4s by submitting a request to the Pentagon. A high-ranking subordinate approved it in the absence of General McNair, who was out of town. Afterwards, McNair stated he would not have approved it, had he been there, and that he preferred to give the Army Air Forces “one last chance” to provide the Army with the air support it needed.

1941. June 6. Organic Army Aviation was approved following successful tests of aviation in support of artillery
held at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

1941. June 6. War Department authorizes light aircraft to be included in the ORBAT of artillery battalions.

1941. September. Louisiana Manoeuvres led to the conclusion that field artillery units can benefit from organic aviation resources. The manoeuvres occurred in Tennessee, Kansas, Louisiana, Texas and the Carolinas from April through October. Eight Piper Cubs, four Aeroncas and four Taylorcraft were tested. Mgen Robert M. Danford, Chief of Fd Arty renewed the recommendation that light liaison planes operated by field artillery officer-pilots organic in the artillery component of each division and in each corps artillery brigade.

1941. 10 December. Gen Marshall orders Gen Danford to test out his theory of organic aircraft. The 13th Field Artillery Brigade of the First Army and the 2nd Division Artillery of the Third Army each received twelve T0-59 Piper Cubs. On 1 May 1942 Mgen Mark Clark Gen McNair’s COS received a favorable test report and Clark added his recommendation for approval.

1942. 6 June. The Secretary of War approved organic aviation for the field artillery. This authorized two ac per light and medium artillery battalion, two per heavy arty battalion normally assigned to bde, two per fd arty gp, and two for the HQ and HQ Bty of each fd arty bde and div arty. Early in the Second World War responsibilities for the equipment, maintenance, and trainnig associated with organic aviation were divided between the Army Ground Forces, which supervised tactical training of pilots and mechanics, and the Army Air Forces, which handled basic flight training of student pilots and their rating. So, the Army taught the tactics while the Air Force taught them how to fly.

1942. 18 September. The first eighteen pilot students graduated from the Field Artillery School Fort Sill, Ok.

1944. June. Near Carentan, France, the 506th Parachute Regiment prepared to attack the town. Observers watched a few scattered German troops wandering across the bridges heading into Carentan, but the longer they watched the greater their (German) number became. Finally, the observers prayed for the Air Corps to show up. They never did. It was the political struggle for power to control future battlefields and prevent a repetition of Carentan that resulted in the Army’s acquisition of the armed helicopter.2

  • 2Frederic A. Bergerson. The Army Gets an Air Force: Tactics of Insurgent Bureaucratic Politics. (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press: 1978)p.16.

1944. January 29. Following a request from the army for better engines for its artillery spotting aircraft in Italy, General Arnold wrote a memorandum to General Marshall requesting that organic aviation in Army Ground Forces be discontinued on grounds of economy and flexibility. General McNair disagreed and also wrote a rebutal to General Marshall refuting Arnold’s arguments. The War Department disapproved Arnold’s request; however, they did state that if the Army tried to extend their program, the Air Force (Arnold) would be permitted to resubmit their memorandum.

1944. Late. The German Fa-223 Drache, a medium-sized military transport helicopter is fitted with a single Rheinmetall MG-15 machine gun mounted in the nose.

1947. January. The AGF acquired their first helicopters, two-place Bell YR-13 utility/observation helicopters.

1947. September. National Security Act establishes the United States Air Force as an independent service. James Forrestal became the first secretary of defense. The key phrase in the NDA was that the US Army would consist of “land combat and service forces and such aviation and water transport as may be organic therein.”4 The Army proposed the following missions for its aircraft: aerial surveillance of enemy forward areas, locating appropriate targets, adjusting fire, obtaining information on hostile and defensive forces, aerial route reconnaissance, control of march columns and camouflage inspection of ground force areas and installations.

1948. April 21. Key West Agreement is signed setting forth clear obligations for both the army and air force. The air force is told to: “Furnish close combat and logistical air support to the Army, to include airlift, support, and resupply of Airborne operations, aerial photography, tactical reconnaissance, and interdiction of enemy land power and communications, while the army is to:
…expedite and facilitate the conduct of operations on land; improving mobility, command, control, and logistics support of Army forces; and facilitate greater battlefield dispersion and manoeuvrability under conditions of atomic warfare.”5

1949. May 20. The Joint Army-Air Force Adjustment Regulations 5-10-1 “Combat Joint Operations, Etc.: Employment of Aircraft for Performance of Certain Missions,” set weight limitations [Army fixed-wing aircraft were not to exceed 2,500 lbs, and rotary-wing aircraft were to weigh no more than 4,000 obs]6 and outlined certain specific functions for the use of Army aircraft in ground combat operations. The Army was to pay for its requirements, but the Air Force was to be responsible for procurement, maintenance, and research and development of all Army aircraft.

1949. August. The Air Force pilot training program for army helicopter pilots is extended from four to five weeks, and the class capacity is reduced to six students.

  • 3Everett-Heath, “The Development of Helicopter Air-to-Ground Weapons,” in International Defense Review. No 3, 1983, pp.322-9.
  • 4Kitchens. P.21.
  • 5James W. Bradin. From Hot Air to Hellfire: The History of Army Attack Aviation. (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1994)p.76.
  • 6Howard A. Wheeler. Attack Helicopters: A History of Rotary-Wing Combat Aircraft. (Baltimore: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1987)p.23.

1949. September. USSR explodes their first atomic weapon.

1949. October 19. President Truman approves expansion of the atomic weapons program as a result of progress made toward the tactical use of smaller atomic weapons, and somewhat of a move away from the nuclear strategy of bomging enemy cities. General Omar Bradley, Chief of the JCS, had written an article four days earlier for the Saturday Evening Post which stated, “The A-bomb, in its tactical aspect, may well contribute toward a stable equilibrium of forces [in Europe], since it tends to strengthen a defensive army…since if an invading army were to break through a defensive line, it would need to concentrate its forces. These concentrations would provide a target for the skillful use of atomic weapons on the tactical defensive.”7

1950. June 25. North Koreans invade South Korea, crossing the 38th parallel.

1950. June 30. The Army and Army National Guard inventories consisted of 1,155 fixed-wing aircraft.8 But the army only had 56 utility-observation helicopters and no cargo helicopters on its inventory.

1950. December. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff, denies the Army a purchase of transport helicopters the Army needed in Korea. At this time, the Air Force was responsible for procurement of aircraft for the Army. Weight limitations contributed to Vandenberg’s decision; however, it was another nail in the coffin for Army Aviation.

1950. December. First US Army helicopters arrive in Korea. They included Bell H-13s for artillery spotting and liaison. Lieutenant-General Matthew B. Ridgeway commands the 8th Army.

1951. September 21. Operation Summit. The USMC landed 224 Marines on two separate sites along the front, in Korea. This operation would have taken nine hours by road while under direct fire from enemy mortars, but was accomplished in eight minutes using helicopters. This was the first real example of the USMC doctrine of “vertical envelopment”, something they had apparently been working on in the months preceding the Korean conflict.9

1951. October. Secretary of the Army, Frank Pace Jr., and Secretary of the Air Force agree to bypass weight limitations and developed a concept which allowed the Army to use its aircraft strictly within the combat zone which was not expected to exceed sixty to sevent-five miles, for improvement of logistics, communications and other combat-related functions. 1951. Undersecretary of the Army, Alexander states that
“Advances in mass killing power have made battlefield dispersion an indispensable part of tactics and techniques.”10

1952. January. Ridgeway, in command of 8th Army in Korea, leads a counterattack that drives the Communist forces north of the 38th parallel. During the battle he sees how effective helicopters are in support of the Army.

  • 7Matthew Evangelista. Innovation and the Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988)p.104
  • 8Dr. John W. Kitchens. “Army Aviation Between WWII and the Korean Conflict,” in US Army Aviation Digest. Sept/Oct 1992. P.19.
  • 9 Simon Dunstan. Vietnam Choppers: Helicopters in Battle: 1950-1975. (Osprey Publishing Limited, London England, 1988), p.9. J. Kristopher Kerner. The Helicopter Innovation in United States Army Aviation. MIT Security Studies Program, January 2001.
  • 10 Howard K. Butler. The Restoration of the Army Air Corps: 1947-1953. (United States Army Aviation and Troop Command, Saint Louis, Missouri, 1995) p.47.

1952. November 7. Weight limitations were reinstated, following a dispute about how best to evacuate casualties in Korea. However, Army transportation of Army supplies, equipment and personnel within the combat zone was identified as a primary function, rather than a limited emergency one. And, observation, control of ground forces, command and liaison, courier missions, artillery, topographic survey, and limited air-medical evacuation all became primary Army functions.

1953. January 6. The first Army Aviation School is established at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, home of the Army Artillery School. However, it was realized that the location was the wrong one. It was too small.

1953. Eisenhower becomes President, ends the Korean War, and identifies Charles Wilson as Secretary of Defense.

1953. July. Eisenhower issues orders to the JCS to “…make a completely new, fresh survey of our military capabilities, in the light of our global commitments.”

1953. August 20. Soviets announce they have detonated a Hydrogen Bomb.

1954. January 7. Eisenhower’s ‘State of the Union’ address to Congress approves NSC-162 Report commissioned at the request of the committee established as a result of Eisenhower’s order for them to conduct the “New Look.” In his address he emphasized “…air power, mobile forces that could be held in strategic reserve and readily deployed to meet sudden aggression, continental air defense, a defnse industrial base that could be swiftly converted from partial to all-out mobilization, and a professional officer corps…”11 The NSC – 162 report led to a $1B increase in air defense expenditures, and a reduction in personnel strengths of all the services.

1954. January 12. Secretary of State Dulles, while addressing the Council of Foreign Relations in New York City, introduces the term ‘instant massive retaliation’ into the strategy of deterrence.

1954. July 20. Official announcement is made to move the Aviation School to Rucker.

1954. September 1. The Aviation School is moved from Fort Sill to Camp Rucker, Alabama. Brigadier General Carl I. Hutton supervised the move, and took command on arrival.

1954. November. Colonel Robert R. Williams, an artillery officer and USMA graduate, assigned to the G-3 section providing assistance to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army on aviation matters. He recognized the fragmented state of Army Aviation and proposed several actions in a comprehensive four-year plan. Among the recommendations: establish an aviation centre at For Rucker, including an aviation test board; the development of career-aviator assignment authorization for G-1; and the establishment of an aviation division within the G-3.

1954. Major General James M. Gavin concludes that since the cavalry began on the backs of animals, the army cavalry should go aloft in helicopters to extend the eyes and ears of the commander farther and faster to do a better job. He believes had General Walton H. Walker’s [later Ridgeway’s] 8th Army been able to employ cavalry on helicopters, the Chinese successes in Korea may not have materialised.

1955. Pentomic Divisions Doctrine established providing Army with the means and Aviation with the role of ensuring dispersion of troops on the nuclear battlefield. Ridgeway is Army COS in January, and reorganizes aviation in the Army providing a sound foundation for the development of what became known as the sky cavalry.

1955. February 1. Department of the Army requests the Continental Army Command (CONARC) to conduct tests to “determine the desirability and feasibility of employing Army aircraft as tank destroyers. The tests were to establish requirements for doctrine, tactics, and techniques which, on confirmation of requirements and feasibility, would lead to the establishment of military characteristics for aircraft more suitable than currently available to the Army.”12 The request resulted from an assessment of the Air Force’s ability to contribute to the need to destroy enough tanks on the battlefield given that Warsaw Pact tanks numbered far more than NATO’s. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) held the high ground in the Air Force, leaving little money for the TAC. The TAC had to give priority to protection of SAC Bombers, and Air Interdiction. Resources left over would then be taked for CAS. However, the real question was whether ‘air superiority’ fighters could really defeat armour, given their primary design intent. The tests spoken of were named Project Able Buster.

1955. A conscious effort on the part of a group of senior officers to restructure career paths in army aviation. Normal army personnel policies were bypassed in order to recruit into the aviation branch officers who simultaneously commanded the respect of the traditional leaders of the army, were on the “fast track” for promotion to senior rank, and were sympathetic to airmobility.13

1955. July 1. General Maxwell D. Taylor becomes Army Chief of Staff and, following debate on military force requirements made likely by the possibility of mutual deterrence, rather than destruction, Taylor presents to his staff a new program which he referred to as a ‘new strategy of Flexible Response.’ However, the Secretary of Defense Wilson did not accept Taylor’s arguments and ensured no changes were made to the military budgets through FY57.14

1956. January. Major General Hamilton H. Howze became the G-3 staff officer and later the director of the Army aviation division within the Army General Staff.

1956. May. Lieutenant-General James M. Gavin, head of the Army’s R&D, heads a group of Army officers including Major General Hamilton H. Howze, director of Army Aviation, to testify in front of the Symington Committee. Senator Symington was charged to investigate the charge that American Air power was lagging. But, the army team took advantage of the opportunity to develop the case for flexible response. Howze discussed the concepts of wide dispersal of units and installations, ground and air mobility, firepower of increased range and lethality, and efficient and reliable communications, and the intention to develop its own organic capability for air movements of Army combat units within the Combat Zone, and its interests in four areas of air power not currently organic to the army: control of the air in the battle area, long-range deployment, intratheater airlift, and aircraft firepower.15

1956. June 4. United States Continental Army Command (CONARC) Training Memorandum 13 received by Brigadier General Carl I. Hutton, and which emphasized the need for new concepts in mobility.

1956. June. Brigadier General Carl I. Hutton, Commandant of the Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker, asked Colonel J.D. Vanderpool to devise and test weapons systems for use on Army helicopters. Tests were conducted in aviators’ spare time and on weekends. The tests were conducted under the auspices of Training Memorandum 13, but, since the tests were to find improvements in army mobility, the armed helicopter aspect carried out by Hutton had to be done a little less prominently. “… In his analysis of the problem given to him by Hutton, Vanderpool made an astute discovery:

As potential enemy bombers flew higher and faster, US fighters were developed for greater speeds and altitudes. As fighters improved, bombers were driven further aloft and to greater speeds. Each advancement our air force made, separated it further in speed and distance from the army. The necessary differences in mission of the air force and the army left a partial vacuum between ground and the fringes of outer space.16

  • 11Robert Frank Futrell. Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907-1960. (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press, 1989)p.425.
  • 12Bradin. P.93.
  • 13Rosen. Winning the Next War:…p.87.
  • 14Futrell. P.454.
  • 15Futrell. P.457.

1956. June 27. Brigadier General Carl I. Hutton writes a letter to General W.G. Wyman, Commanding General CONARC explaining the benefits of airmobility and armed helicopters.

1956. July 13. General Wyman approves Hutton’s submission requesting the latter officer coordinate trials with the Infantry School at Fort Benning.

1956. July. Vanderpool’s team fixes a Bell H-13 with Orlikon 80mm rockets and two .50 calibre machine guns. Tests were successful.

1956. November. The Wilson Memorandum restricts Army missile and aviation activities limiting use of Army aviation to within 100 miles of the FEBA and decreed that airlift and tactical air support were Air Force missions. The weight limitation for Army aircraft was to 5,000 pounds for fixed-wing aircraft and 20,000 pounds for rotary-wing aircraft.

  • 16Bradin. P.96.

1957. March. Vanderpool’s team(the Aerial Combat Reconnaissance Company) travel to Fort Knox, Fort Benning and Redstone Arsenal demonstrating .30, .50 calibres and 1.5 and 2.5 inch rockets all fired from the helicopter. The US Air Force catches wind of it, and are not happy.

1957. March. Chief of Ordnance, Army Materiel Command, is ordered to develop machine-gun installation kits for the H-13, H-21 and H-34 helicopters

1957. July 11. Sky Cavalry Platoon, Provisional, was formed at Fort Rucker with 27 men and ten helicopters.

1957. July. Change of Command ceremonies at Fort Rucker involved a demonstration of armed helicopters, for the first time in public, to a gathering of 500 USMA cadets.

1957. December – 1958. January. Secretary of State Dulles and NATO begin to accept General Taylor’s ‘Flexible Response’ strategy by agreeing to fund both flexible response limited-war defensive troops, and strategic retaliation capabilities. NATO agrees by recommending the funding and deployment of 30 Divisions in the defence.

1958. July. A demonstration of three H-37 Sikorsky helicopters was interrupted by a demonstration of armed helicopters in front of senior Army and Air Force officers.

1959. April 10. Murray Macdonald begins flying with the 82nd Airborne Division – the first Canadian exchange officer with an US unit since the Second World War. He joined the 181st aviation battalion of the 82nd aviation company of the 82nd airborne division. He had an L-19 and a Bell H-13-H at his disposal and performed reconnaissance missions for the battle group. He began an H-34 check-out in July 1959.

1960. January. The Army Aircraft Requirements Board, presided over by Lieutenant-General Gordon B. Rogers, and known as the Rogers Board, began a study to find ways of improving the army’s aerial surveillance and transport capabilities. The Board recommended the purchase of the UH-1 Huey.

1960. May 16. Department of the Army approves material requirements specified by Rogers, including machine guns and mounts for the OH-13s.

1960. August 15. General Bruce C. Clarke directed General Rogers to convene a board to study aviation training. Rogers committee recommends that the Aviation School integrate helicopter gunnery and tactics into the advanced phase of the helicopter pilot qualification courses.

1961. The XH-40 program was initiated in 1959 and yielded the UH-1, the “Huey” made famous in the Vietnam War, and its variant, the AH-1 “Cobra” helicopter gunship.17

1961. Kennedy administration takes power, and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara is appointed. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy will espouse the strategy of Massive Retaliation, replacing Eisenhower’s New Look strategy. However, the administration later will replace the Massive Retaliation with Flexible Response.

1961. The Reorganization Objectives Army Division (ROAD) concept was implemented to reorganize army divisions and strengthen them for conventional war, not nuclear war. Each division was nominally assigned more transport helicopters and all divisions were given observation aircraft.

1962. April 19. “Two biting memos sent to the army staff and to the secretary of the army by McNamara have often been cited, even by army officers, as examples of the way in which civilian intervention can overcome the obstacles created by conservative officers and the tendency to protect resources devoted to traditional missions.”18

  • 17Rosen. Winning the Next War:…p.90.
  • 18Stephen Peter Rosen. Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991)p.86.
  • 19Matthew Allen. Military Helicopter Doctrines of the Major Powers, 1945-1992: Making Decisions about Air-Land Warfare. (Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 1993)p.9.

1962. May-September. The Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board is formed, chaired by Major General Hamilton H. Howze. The board concluded that helicopters were capable of fulfilling the army’s basic five combat functions: reconnaissance, manoeuvre, firepower, command and control, and logistics. The Howze Board also proposed the formatin of three air cavalry combat brigades with eighty fixed-wing and fifty rotary-wing aircraft each.19

1962. September 24. Vanderpool’s old test team (ACRC) is redesignated as Troop D (Air), 17th Cav, then 3d Sqn, 17th Cav, 11th AADiv (Test), then 1st Cav Div, then 1st Sqn, 9th Cav (Air) and deployed to Vietnam in 1965.

1962. September 26. A test unit of fifteen UH-1A’s is sent to Vietnam from Thailand. The helicopters are equipped with 2.75 inch rockets [one pod on ea side, ea with 8 tubes] and four M-60 [30 calibre] machine guns.

1962. October. The first unit to be equipped with helicopters was the Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter Company. Their mission was to provide armed escort for troop-carrying helicopters.

1963. January. Army Chief of Staff General Earl Wheeler ordered Major General Harry Kinnard, a recently trained helicopter pilot with an abiding interest in airborne warfare, to create the 11th Air Assault Division. The creation of this Division was a direct result of recommendations made in the Howze Board.

1963. June. The Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter Company’s UH-1B armed helicopters were 10 knots slower than the troop-carrying Hueys they were designed to escort. Howze recommended employing the armed OV-1 Mohawk fixed-wing helicopter to escort the Hueys; however, the US Air Force outright refused to allow the Army to do this. So the Army pursued its own escort helicopter idea announcing the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System Project (AAFSS) the Cheyenne. Secretary of the Army, Cyrus Vance specified the Cheyenne must have a forward speed in excess of 200 knots.

1965. March. Bell’s Huey Cobra begins to take form. Called the Model 262, then the Bell Model 209.

1965. June. The 11th Air Assault Division (originally modelled for the European WWII-type theatre) is disbanded. Personnel and materiel were transferred to the 2nd Infantry Division.

1965. July 28. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he had ordered the Air Mobile Division to Vietnam. By August, 1965, it was sent to Vietnam as the 1st Cavalry Division with an airborne/airmobile brigade integral to it.

1965. September. Bell Huey Cobra flies for the first time.

1966. March 11. Bell’s Huey Cobra wins selection by the Army beating out the Sea King, and Kaman’s Seasprite.

1966. April 15. Caribou and Buffalo aircraft are transferred from the Army to the Air Force in the agreement that the Army retains authority for all things rotary-wing. The USAF “…relinguished all claims for helicopters and follow-on rotary-wing aircraft which are designed and operated for intratheater movement, fire support, supply and resupply of Army forces.”20

1967. May 3. Lockheed rolls out the first AH-56 Cheyenne.

1967. August 29. Six Huey Cobras arrive in Vietnam.

1967. October 9. Two Huey Cobras fly in the Huey Cobra’s first combat mission. The Vietnamese call it the
Whispering Death.

1968. 1968. January – March. Tet Offensive in Vietnam. First noteworthy tactical operation in which the 1st Avn
Bde become involved.21

1969. March 12. Cheyenne number 3 crashes while investigating mysterious vibrations.

1969. April 10. Army issues Lockheed a contractual “cure notice” asking them to find the problem in 15 days.

1969. April 28. Lockheed requests a six-month delay in the Cheyenne programme.

1969. May 19. Secretary of the Army notifies Lockheed that they are in default. The production contract is cancelled and the R&D contract is renegotiated. In the meantime, the US Air Force AX project tries to find a fixed-wing aircraft specifically designed for close air support in an effort to outdo the Cheyenne. This project would later become the A-10 Warthog.

1970. January. Combat Development Command orders trials to be conducted on mounting TOW on the Cobra.

1970. March 18 – April 30. General James H. Polk commissions tests (“The Air Cavalry Evaluations”) to determine survivability and vulnerability of helicopters on the European Battlefield, following continuous debates about the subject and complaints from the other Army branches regarding funding concerns.

1970. General William Westmoreland gets his aviator wings.

1971. February. The Close Air Support Review Group, headed by Deputy Secretary David Packard, concluded that no one single type of aircraft could conduct all the tasks associated with close air support. (Attack moving targets beyond the range of direct-fire weapons, concentrate fire on targets massed close to friendly ground forces before they came within range of ground anti-tank weapons, and to assault well-entrenched enemy with heavy ordnance). However, the army believed that “close air support could be highly effective or zero at any given moment.” The whole issue was the subject of a 1971 special subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. To overcome the obstacle that, as then defined, close air support was an accepted air force role, the army argued that helicopters were in fact providing direct aerial fires. However, the differences were ore than just semantic. Army fire support was more timely, more responsive and more accurate because the helicopter was able to operate close to the front lines and could fire in a hover or at slow sppeds: attack helicopters were integrated into the army’s combat organization, ensuring very good coordination with ground troops. Yet the army supported the retention of USAF close air support aircraft whose heavier firepower and longer range complemented army helicopters.22 (The USAF rep, Momyer, made a less tactful argument than the army, and therefore, the army won the argument.

1971. January – April. LAMSON 719 operation to ferry South Vietnamese troops to Laos to rout the Vietcong is mounted. CAS helicopters and extensive lift successful.23

1971. May. The Wilson Memorandum is officially rescinded.

  • 21Dr. Herbert LePore. “The Role of the Helicopter in the Vietnam War,” in US Army Aviation Digest, July/August 1994. P.36.
  • 22Matthew Allen. P.22.
  • 23Lepore. P.37.

1971. August. The first article from the Soviets to discuss the role of the helicopter as a fully-armed battlefield weapon appears in Military Thought. It was a reprint of a doctoral paper by I. Weinhold who declared that armed helicopters had ‘appreciably changed the principles of modern warfare.’ He noted that helicopters had made it possible to deliver fire on targets as close as 30 metres from friendly sub-units.24 Weinhold’s article was the first to concentrate on the possibilities of helicopters in a fire-support or anti-tank role.

1972. March. Bell begins work on the TOW-Cobra.

1972. March 30. Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap (victor of Dien Bien Phu) launched a bold conventional offensive against South Vietnam to which Nixon responded with a bold air campaign named Linebacker. During the battle it took 135 SA-7s to destroy an F-4, 10 for slower attack aircraft such as the A-1, and only 1.8 per helicopter – a dangerous sign.25

1972. April – May. The Ansbach Trials (Joint Attack Helicopter Instrumented Evaluation), in Ansbach, Germany, conducted as follow on trials to The Air Cavalry Evaluations, are done to evaluate the attack helicopter. Canadians are involved in the trials. German and Canadian flight crews kill 41.7 ‘tanks’, per aircraft lost, using simulated laser pulses in engagement, proving far more adept at NOE flying skills than the Americans involved in the tests who could only muster 8.6 kills per helicopter lost.26

1972. Army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General William E. DuPuy and a select group of general officers went into seclusion and evaluated all planned weapon programs. The result was a short list of the Big 5 items required: a new main battle tank, a new infantry fighting vehicle, a new utility transport helicopter, a new attack helicopter and a new surface-to-air missile that could defend high-value targets in rear areas against both aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles.

1972. August 10. The Cheyenne project is officially cancelled. The Advanced Attack Helicopter Project is begun. The decision …”…to cancel the Cheyenne would prove to be correct for the army. With the war in Vietnam winding down, the army’s focus again turned to Europe, only to discover that a fast attack helicopter using diving fire tactics was the wrong aircraft for the European battlefield.”27

1972. November. RFPs for the AAH are let.

1973. October. The Arab-Israeli War had a major impact on the US’s military thinking. It demonstrated the increased lethality of modern warfare, the need for better training, the likelihood of vast ammunition expenditures and the importance of anti-tank guided missiles. The ensuing redirection was led by General William DePuy and led to the fundamental new doctrine called Active Defense.28 Active Defense is concerned with the importance of more accurate, more powerful, and longer ranged weapons systems, and assumes the army will be outnumbered and would have to redeploy its forces very rapidly to deal with successive enemy attacks.

  • 24I. Weinhold. “Influence of Helicopters on Tactics of Combined Arms Combat,” in Military Thought. No 8, 1971. Pp. 58-65.
  • 25Hallion, p.57.
  • 26Bradin. P.128.
  • 27Bradin.p.124.
  • 28Matthew Allen. P. 16.

1973. November. Lieutenant-General V. Gatsolayev of the Soviet Union publishes his concerns about the pop-up tactics of western ‘close-support’ helicopters and the potential for very successful ambushes. He states “…Soviet Ground Forces and air defenses had much greater reason to be concerned about helicopters than they did fixed-wing aircraft…citing their ability to change flight altitude and speed very quickly, a cargo-carrying capacity that enabled them to carry various types of guns and instruments, the fact that helicopters did not require costly and vulnerable airfields, and, most importantly, that they were much more effective against small, mobile targets than their fixed-wing counterparts.”29

1974. January. The Army signs a deal for Bell to produce the AH-1Q, and later has all it’s AH-1Gs modified to the Q model.

1974. January. The A-10 [Fairchild] is announced as the Air Force’s choice for a CAS aircraft.

1975. September 30. The Hughes AV02 AAH flies one day ahead of the Bell product.

1976. Army Aviation reorganizes its other units to emphasize anti-tank firepower. Following the third Aviation Requirements for the Combat Structure of the Army (ARCSA III) study, each mechanized and armored division received two attack and one utility helicopter company and each infantry division got two of the latter and one of the former. Yet, although ARCSA III contained an admin concentration of aviation assets, there was no corresponding centralization of op con. Since the emphasis in the doctrine of Active Defense was on fighting battles at the battalion and brigade level, helicopter companies were to be assigned to brigades and actually fight in battalion combined arms teams. Attack helicopter platoons were even considered as possible reinforcements for individual companies.30 It was politically more appropriate to integrate attack helicopters at the lowest level, as General Maddox put it, since this organization helped the army to emphasize the differences between USAF Close Air Support and helicopter fire support, and thus win approval for armed helicopters. This organization was different from that recommend by Howze and his Board.

1976. May. The Bell Helicopter Company YAH-63, and the Hughes Helicopter Company YAH-64 are turned over to the army for aviation testing.

1976. December 10. The Army announces that the Hughes Company’s YAH-64-Mod 1 aircraft and 30mm cannon had both beat out Bell’s submission, thereby awarding the contract to Hughes.

1982. A new issue of FM 100-5 Operations is published replacing the Active Defense doctrine with the Airland Battle doctrine. Army aviation is renewed, and the focus shifts to all army aviation capabilities rather than just the anti-tank function. Airland Battle is based on offensive action, not defensive. Also Active Defense doctrine concentrated on firepower and attrition-based ‘target servicing’, Airland Battle concentrated on combat in depth, mobility and agility, manoeuvre, seizing the initiative, and the importance of morale, leadership and thewill to win. The operational level of war (Corps) was also the focus, rather than battalion and brigade battles.31

1983. After four years of deliberation, NATO forwards its Follow-On Forces Attack (FOFA) doctrine, which bore close resemblance to the Airland Battle doctrine 1982 promulgated by the US.

  • 29Dan Shephard. Soviet Assessments of US Close Air Support: Research Report No 86-4 (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1986)p.11.
  • 30Matthew Allen. P.26.
  • 31Matthew Allen.p.35.

1983. April 12. The Army Aviation Branch officially becomes a branch of the US Army. Earlier, army helicopters were related to the other branches by virtue of their function: mobility (air assault) with the infantry, reconnaissance with the artillery, and anti-tank with the armour branch. However, the requirement to integrate deeper into the combat arms required that Army Aviation become a branch all its own, on par with the other branches. It was hoped to train army aviators in the other branch specialties, rather than train the other branch officers in aviation to better enhance the employment of aviation in manoeuvre.

1988. The OH-58D is first deployed. This weapons system was a direct result of the anti-tank doctrine.

1991. April. The LHX contender is chosen. This new helicopter will be designed to meet the challenges of helicopter air to air combat, cross-Flot operations, and improved RAM statistics. The RAH-66 Comanche from Boeing-Sikorsky wins.
Quotable Quotes
“…[Army’s acquisition of the armed helicopter, the ultimate instrument for Army control of close air support and airmobile manoeuvre capability]…is fascinating because the process involved repeated evasions of formal authority (noncompliance) over an extended period of time.”32

“From the very moment that a general policy decision has been made by the minister, it escapes his control; the matter takes on independent life and circulates in the various services, and all depends eventually on what the bureaus decide to do with it. Possibly, orders will eventually emerge corresponding to the original decision. More frequently nothing will emerge. The decision will evaporate in the numerous administrative channels and never really see the light of day.” Jacques Ellul, a pessimist.

“Invention is the outcome of a fabrication of the imagination. That is, when one invents something, one makes, through the use of one’s mind, many parts into a whole. Innovation implies implementation of conceptions. These conceptions need not be technical inventions. The politics of invention can therefore be distinguished from the politics of putting plans into practical use – the politics of innovation.”33

“…there was almost as much reluctance to go into these new forms of airmobility in the Army as there was in the Air Force. Most of our senior Army officers had experience in combat with other than airmobile units and ehy looked with considerable skepticism on the enthusiasm of these zealots who were insisting, sometimes with considerable exaggeration, that everything in the Army had to fly.” Major General James M. Gavin.34

“…almost all things have been found out, but some have been forgotten.” Aristotle.35

“…close air support has been the most consistently neglected mission of the Air Force.” Carl H. Builder.36

  • 32Frederic A. Bergerson. The Army Gets an Air Force: Tactics of Insurgent Bureaucratic Politics. (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press: 1978)p.4.
  • 33Ibid,p.79.
  • 34Ibid, p.101.
  • 35The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979)p.12.
  • 36Carl H. Builder. The Masks of War: American Military Styles in Strategy and Analysis. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989)p.131.

“…[Tactical Air Command (TAC) aircraft were designed to deliver tactical nuclear weapons, and theatre tactical air forces all tried to become]…little SACs with the primary and almost only mission being the nuclear one.”37

“What was remembered from World War II was not written down, or if written down was not disseminated, or if disseminated was not read or understood.” General O.P. Weyland.38

“[On the effectiveness of Airpower during the Gulf War, and CAS in particular]…Marine Lieutenant-Colonel L.L. Boros quoted an Iraqi battalion commander: “When air operations started I had 39 tanks. After 38 days of the air battle I had 32 tanks. After 20 minutes against the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, I had zero tanks.”“39

“Although CAS is considered the least effective application of aerospace forces, at times it may be the most critical in ensuring the success or survival of surface forces.”40

“The fact of the matter is that 35 percent of the aircraft shot down in the last engagement [Desert Storm] were doing something either in close air support, or closely akin to close air support. And that was a disproportionate share of the losses. When talking about aircraft that cost as much as they do and an inventory as small as it can get, those are pretty darn precious commodities, and they’re not going to be squandered just because some fellow calls for fire and wants to see that particular aircraft doing a profile that he read about n some book years ago.” Rear Admiral Arthur Cebrowski.41

“Yet, so strong was the pull of nuclear weapons, along with the inclination to return to comforting theories of prewar air power prophets, that almost immediately the new service’s leadership shunned the tactical missions that had played so significant a role in World War II. Even before Hiroshima, Gen Frederic H. Smith, Jr., deputy chief of the Air Staff, argued against creation of a tactical air force in the postwar period: such a state of affairs was “fallacious in principle and dangerous in implication.”“42

  • 37John J. Sbrega, “Southeast Asia.” in Benjamin F. Cooling, ed. Case Studies in the Development of Close Air Support (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1990)p.59.
  • 38David McIsaac. “Voices from the Central Blue: Air Power Theorists,” in Peter Paret, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986)p.643.
  • 39Maj. Carlton W. Meyer, USMCR. “The True Nature of Close Air Support is Misunderstood” in Armed Forces Journal International, June 1995, pp.58-59.
  • 40Lieutenant-Colonel Price T. Bingham. Military Review. November 1992.
  • 41Maj. Carlton W. Meyer, USMCR. “The True Nature of Close Air Support is Misunderstood” in Armed Forces Journal International, June 1995, pp.58-59.
  • 42Dr. Williamson Murray. “Air Power since World War II: Consistent With Doctrine? in The Future of Air Power in the Aftermath of the Gulf War, Richard H. Schultz, Jr. and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr., eds., (Maxwell Air Force Base, Al: Air University Press, 1992)p.99.

“In terms of the mechanics of land warfare, the most significant innovation since World War II has been the helicopter. It has overtaken the fixed-wing aircraft for battlefield transportation and close air support, and has given new meaning to the term ‘air-land battle’…the key to the use of helicopters was close co-opertion and training within the same unit…using helicopters to lift or give fire support to another unit was vastly less efficient, another reminder of the integrated nature of combined-arms warfare…artillery, aviation and infantry had to co-operate closely in an assault…initial suppression was effected by artillery and air force aircraft, and then helicopter gunships would take over with more accurate direct-fire suppression while other helicopters landed air-mobile troops.”43

“During the early planning for Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, ground commanders insisted that many of the theater’s scarce air assets be employed in direct support of ground operations (decentralized employment). To make matters worse, they wanted aircraft over them at all times. To the air force’s way of thinking, and rightly so, this was poor employment of an all-too-scarce asset. Sometime after the invasion and following several near disasters caused by the Army Air Force’s being compelled to spread its scarce air assets too thin, the theatre leadership decided to emulate the British and “test” centralized control.”44

“Major General James M. Gavin, Commander of the 82d Airborne Division, acting as president of the army’s Airborne Panel, determined that additional helicopters should be purchased. However, since the Air Force was responsible for procurement, they replied: …[as] the Director of requirements I will determine what is needed and what is not. The helicopter is aerodynamically unsound. It is like lifting oneself by one’s boot straps. It is no good as an air vehicle and I am not going to procure any. No matter what the Army says, I know what it needs and what it does not need.”45

“In 1967,…, the US Air Force initiated the AX [later to become the A-10] program for a genuine CAS aircraft. The US had never had such an aircraft, these missions having previously been flown by fighters such as the F-105 and F-4. The lessons learned in Vietnam and elsewhere led to emphasis in the AX program being placed not on speed but on lethality against surface targets (especially tanks), survivability against ground fire, a heavy weapon load and long mission endurance.”46

Command and General Staff College direction reads “…Close Air Support is fire support, not manoeuvre…Control of [support] assets is retained by the parent organization, integration is accomplished by ALOs and FACs [liaison officers and forward air controllers]…and stable association of supporting air with supported ground formations below army-tactical air force level is deliberately forfeited in return for mission versatility. In sharp contrast…the more stable the air combat-ground relationship, the greater the contribution of air combat assets to tactical success…In short, the model for air manoeuvre should be the ground manoeuvre battalion, not the close are support squadron.”47

  • 43Christopher Bellamy. The Evolution of Modern Land Warfare: Theory and Practice. (London: Rutledge, 1990)p.108.
  • 44James W. Bradin. From Hot Air to Hellfire: The History of Army Attack Aviation. (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1994)p.68.
  • 45James W. Bradin. From Hot Air to Hellfire: The History of Army Attack Aviation. (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1994)p.77.
  • 46Shephard.p.19.
  • 47Matthew Allen. P.50.

“You can shoot down all the Migs you want, but if you return to base and the lead Soviet tank commander is eating breakfast in your snack bar – Jack, you’ve lost the war.” A-10- pilots’ motto, Nellis AFB (1982)48

“Like an attorney making his final emotional plea for a client facing the gallows, General White asked the President for the B-70, based not on its military value but on its importance to the institution to which he had devoted his life. ‘There is a question,’ he implored, ‘of what is to be the future of the Air Force and of flying. This shift [to missiles] has a great impingement on morale. There is no follow-on aircraft to the fighter and no new opportunity for Air Force personnel.’ The golden age of air power theory had begun its slow decline.”49

  • 48Righard P. Hallion. Storm Over Iraq: Air Powr and the Gulf War. (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992)p. 55.
  • 49Carl H. Builder. The Icarus Syndrome: The Role of Air Power Theory in the Evolution and Fate of the US Air Force. (New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers, 1994)p.151.