Wars

General Henry Arnold: His Legacy

General Henry Arnold: His Legacy

The following article on General Henry Arnold is an excerpt from Bill Yenne's book Hap Arnold: The General Who Invented the US Air Force.


The legacy of General Henry Arnold is manifest in the existence of the United States Air Force itself. He devoted his career to the Herculean task of building the United States Army Air Forces into the immense, war-winning weapon that it became, while having the vision and tenacity to lay the groundwork for an independent air force.

This process culminated in the National Security Act of 1947, signed by President Truman on July 26. It created an entity called the National Military Establishment, which became the Department of Defense in 1949. Most of the act's provisions became effective on September 18, 1947. It was on that date that the independent Air Force, which had been the fervent dream of Hap Arnold and so many others in the decades since Billy Mitchell's time, was born.

On that date, Tooey Spaatz exchanged his khaki cap for a blue one, becoming the first chief of staff of the new Air Force.

On May 7, 1949, three years after he retired, Hap Arnold was given the rank of General of the Air Force, making him the only five-star general in the history of the service, and because of his five-star status in the Army, he is the only officer to have attained that rank in two branches of the armed forces.

His legacy is apparent in his having picked and nurtured the remarkable officers who would go on to lead the Air Force for a generation. These included the men who succeeded him as chief of staff, such as Tooey Spaatz, Hoyt Vandenberg, Nathan Twining, and Curtis LeMay.

Beyond this, at the very heart of the identity of the Air Force, the legacy of Henry Harley Arnold is evident in his thorough endorsement of research and development. He recalled how the Army, including the Army Air Service, retrenched after World War I, and he was determined that his service should do just the opposite. At his insistence, a forward-thinking perspective on science and technology became an integral part of the identity of the Air Force, which permitted it not only to triumph in the Cold War, but to become and remain the world leader in military aviation technology. Before Arnold departed Washington, the next generation of warplanes, all of them initially conceived and ordered on his watch, was taking shape. Among jet fighters, the Lockheed P-80 was almost combat-ready when the war ended, and North American Aviation was developing the F-86 Sabre, which would be to aerial combat in the Korean War what the company's P-51 Mustang had been in World War II.

In the pipeline to supersede the remarkable Superfortress was the gigantic Consolidated Vultee B-36 Peacemaker, which had a range of nearly ten thousand miles and a gross weight of more than a quarter million pounds, both specifications more than double those of the mighty Superfortress. During the war, the USAAF was already anticipating its first generation of all-jet bombers. The Douglas XB-43 and North American XB-45 were both ordered in 1944, while the Consolidated XB-46, Boeing XB-47, and Martin XB-48 were ordered early in 1945. All made their first flights in 1947, and the B-47 Stratojet remained an important part of the arsenal until the 1960s.

With the war over, Arnold was anxious not to lose wartime levels of research and development. To project himself into the future, Arnold had supported and utilized the National Defense Research Committee, a government scientific think tank created in 1940 under orders from the president himself. Roosevelt shared Arnold's belief in the power of technology to shape the future. Evolving into the Office of Scientific Research and Development, the organization undertook highly classified research into a broad range of leading-edge technologies, from radar to computers to nuclear weapons.

Headed by Dr. Vannevar Bush, the director of the Carnegie Institution and former head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor of NASA, the committee included Karl Compton, the president of MIT; James Bryant Conant, the president of Harvard; and Frank Jewett, the president of the National Academy of Sciences and chairman of the board at Bell Laboratories.

As Arnold recalled in his memoirs, “Few high ranking Army officers seemed aware of the close relationship developing between these specialists and the little Air Corps-a relationship that was to grow to such importance in World War II that civilian scientists would work side by side with staff officers in our overseas operational commands, frequently flying on combat missions to increase their data.”

As the war progressed, Arnold decided that he needed his own committee. He got in touch with Dr. Robert Millikan at Caltech, his friend of many years, and asked him to recommend someone to head “a committee of practical scientists” who could point the way to the development of “aircraft in the future.”

That man was Dr. Theodore von Kármán, whom Arnold had originally met through Millikan in 1938. A Hungarian-born prodigy who could multiply six-figure numbers in his head at the age of six faster than adults with pencil and paper, von Kármán later wowed his professors and earned a solid reputation in aerodynamics in Germany before coming to the United States in 1930 to accept Millikan's offer of the directorship of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at Caltech (GALCIT). Among his protégés at Caltech was Frank Malina, later a founder of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

In 1943, Arnold had asked von Kármán to evaluate the early intelligence that had been received about the German V-2 ballistic missile. The scientist confirmed that the V-2s were theoretically possible. It was also apparent that the Luftwaffe jet aircraft program was well in advance of those in the United States and Britain.

In September 1944, Arnold met with von Kármán to discuss creating his “committee of practical scientists.” The meeting had the drama of a Hollywood script, taking place on the windswept runway at New York's La Guardia Airport as Arnold was returning from a European trip. Von Kármán was driven in an Army staff car to meet Arnold's plane at the end of the runway. Here, according to Dr. Dik Daso, curator of modern military aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum, Arnold “dismissed the military driver and then, in total secrecy, discussed his plans for von Kármán and his desires for the exploitation project. Arnold spoke of his concerns about the future of American airpower, and he wondered how jet propulsion, radar, rockets, and other gadgets might affect that future.”

In his 1967 book, The Wind and Beyond, von Kármán remem-bered asking Arnold, “What do you wish me to do?”

“I want you to come to the Pentagon and gather a group of scientists who will work out a blueprint for air research for the next 20, 30, perhaps 50 years,” Arnold replied. According to von Kármán, he and Arnold thereafter remained in “continual conference” while the committee of practical scientists was assembled. Originally known as the Army Air Forces Consulting Board for Future Research (AAFCBFR), it was redesignated as the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) on December 1, 1944. As a deputy, von Kármán picked Dr. Hugh Dryden, director of the Aerodynamics Division of the National Bureau of Standards, and later a NASA deputy administrator. He is also the namesake of NASA's important Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

Their work was regarded as top secret, and SAG reported directly to Arnold through von Kármán. In a November 7, 1944, directive to von Kármán, Arnold explained, “I am asking you and your associ- ates to divorce yourselves from the present war in order to investi- gate all the possibilities and desirabilities for postwar and future war's development as respects the AAF. Upon completion of your studies, please then give me a report or guide for recommended future AAF research and development programs.”

As referenced in his memos to Ira Eaker of May 22, 1945, and to Tooey Spaatz on December 6, 1945, Arnold gave von Kármán an open-ended mandate for his aeronautical studies, telling him to let his “imagination run wild.”

In the spring of 1945, as Allied armies were beginning to overrun Germany, there was naturally an interest in capturing material related to German scientific development, which was, with regard to some aspects of aeronautics, more advanced than in the United States.

One example is the famous OSS Operation Paperclip, which went into Germany charged with capturing German rocket scientists before they could be scooped up by the Soviets. The OSS netted Wernher von Braun and his team, who went on to build artillery rockets for the Army and launch vehicles for the American space program.

Arnold, meanwhile, had his own variation on Paperclip, designated Operation LUSTY (for Luftwaffe Secret Technology), that originated under the aegis of the Air Technical Service Command at Wright Field in Ohio. Beginning in April, LUSTY teams went into Germany, collecting hardware and documents, as well as aeronautical scientists. One team, commanded by Colonel Harold Watson and known as “Watson's Whizzers,” had the mission of collecting one example of every type of advanced German plane, especially rocket and jet-propelled aircraft. When these aircraft were found, they were flown by Watson's men, or by Luftwaffe pilots who had been induced to change sides, to seaports from which they were shipped to the United States.

Many of the aircraft that were rounded up by LUSTY were evaluated by von Kármán, who had gone overseas himself. He also traveled to Potsdam, where he met with Arnold on July 13 during the Terminal Conference. It was here that Arnold ordered him to prepare an interim report as soon as possible. In this summary, entitled Where We Stand and submitted on August 22, 1945, he pre- dicted supersonic flight and noted that “defense against present-day aircraft will be perfected by target-seeking missiles.”

He went on to accurately predict that “due to improvements in aerodynamics, propulsion, and electronic control, unmanned devices will transport means of destruction to targets at distances up to several thousand miles… . Only aircraft or missiles moving at extreme speeds will be able to penetrate enemy territory protected by such defenses.”

When Arnold submitted his Third Report of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of the War to Henry Stimson on November 12, 1945, he summarized the final accomplishments of the service in the war, but unlike his fellow JCS leaders, he devoted a third of his report to the future that his scientists had shown him. In it, he observes that “during this war the Army, Army Air Forces, and the Navy have made unprecedented use of scientific and industrial resources. Scientific planning must be years in advance of the actual research and development work.”

His appetite whetted and the war now finally over, Arnold requested that a document much more detailed than Where We Stand be in his hands by December 15. Von Kármán cancelled a planned trip to investigate Japanese aeronautics and submitted the first volume of an eventual twelve-volume report entitled “Science, the Key to Air Supremacy”, on schedule. Dik Daso wrote that von Kármán's “long-range, extremely detailed study was the first of its kind in American military history. Along with Where We Stand, it would serve as the blueprint for building the Air Force during the next two decades.”

Walter J. Boyne, the former director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, wrote in the January 2004 issue of Air Force Magazine,

In all the history of aviation there has never been a more productive alliance than that of von Kármán and Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold. The results of their efforts did much to bring the United States Air Force to its current state of unmatched capability and power. Von Kármán could interpret Arnold's visions of the future, which were not always clearly stated. He gave Arnold new ideas and suggestions even as he established a strong liaison between military leaders, scientists, and academics. Arnold in turn gave von Kármán the resources, facilities, contracts, methodology, and approval on a vastly larger scale than would otherwise have been possible.

Meanwhile, SAG was only one of the far-sighted initiatives whose genesis Arnold crammed into his busy last year and a half at the helm of the USAAF. Another project was undertaken in collaboration with his friend Don Douglas, whose Douglas Aircraft Company had grown into one of the largest plane-makers in the world. The idea was to use the engineering infrastructure at Douglas to jump-start a permanent research and development institution.

On October 1, 1945, Arnold and Douglas set up Project RAND (Research and Development). Working with them were Arthur Raymond, the chief engineer at Douglas, and his assistant, Franklin Collbohm, as well as Edward Bowles of MIT, who had been a consultant to Secretary of War Stimson. On the USAAF side were General Lauris Norstad, Arnold's assistant chief of staff for plans, and Curtis LeMay. Under a special contract issued to Douglas, RAND began work on March 2, 1946, in an autonomous office located within the Douglas facility in Santa Monica.

Two months later, RAND completed its first report. This amazingly forward-thinking document, entitled Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship, described the design, performance, and deployment of earth-orbiting satellites-more than a decade ahead of Sputnik. Hap Arnold was gone by this time, and there would be no contract issued for actually building such a “spaceship,” but the mere fact that the institution he created was thinking so far ahead is a testament to his vision.

In 1948, Douglas divested Project RAND, and it became the RAND Corporation, destined to be one of the most influential scientific public policy think tanks in the world. It still exists.

Hap Arnold's legacy is grounded in the fact that he created SAG and RAND, and that he set the Air Force on its way, continuing to look ahead into the future, and doing so on the wings of the leading edge of science and technology.

Among airmen, Hap Arnold is considered the father of the United States Air Force. He is the namesake of many of its institutions, including the Arnold Air Society, an honorary organization in Air Force ROTC, as well as of Arnold Hall at the United States Air Force Academy. Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee is the Air Force's center of development for aerospace systems and home to the Arnold Engineering Development Center, which is considered to be the world's largest flight simulation test facility.

In the twenty-first century, the Air Force characterizes its vision as “providing precise and reliable global vigilance, reach and power for the nation,” an evolution of the “global reach, global power” doctrine promulgated by the service in the 1990s. In both instances, the wording could have been taken directly from Hap Arnold's notes. The Air Force's mission is defined as “to fly, fight and win… in air, space and cyberspace.” While Hap Arnold might not have anticipated cyberspace, he would have understood its importance. To fly, fight, and win-and to do so anywhere within the global reach of the Air Force-was the doctrine that Arnold had articulated in World War II. That forward-looking commitment is General Henry Arnold's legacy to today's Air Force.

This article is part of our larger resource on the history of aviation in World War Two. Click here to read more about WW2 aviation.


This article on General Henry Arnold is from the book Hap Arnold: The General Who Invented the US Air Force © 2013 by Bill Yenne. Please use this data for any reference citations. To order this book, please visit its online sales page at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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