Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower

By Meilinger, Phillip S. | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower


Meilinger, Phillip S., Naval War College Review


Daso, Dik Alan. Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000. 233pp. $23.95

Henry "Hap" Arnold was one of our great commanders. The only airman to hold five-star rank, he led the Army Air Forces through World War II with a strength, tenacity, and vision that was instrumental to victory, while at the same time breaking his own health. Dik Daso, a former Air Force fighter pilot, Ph.D., and curator at the National Air and Space Museum, tells Arnold's important story with unusual insight and verve. Graduating from West Point in 1907, Arnold earnestly desired an assignment to the cavalry but instead was posted to the infantry. Despite exciting and formative experiences in the Philippines, he still hankered for the cavalry. Once again he was refused. He then transferred to the Signal Corps, and in 1911 he became one of our first military pilots. Fate. Over the next three decades he became widely recognized as an outstanding aviator (he won the coveted Mackay Trophy twice), commander, and staff officer. When Oscar Westover, chief of the Air Corps, was killed in a plane crash in September 1938, Arnold took his place and led the air arm for the next seven years. But the long hours and incredible pace he set for himself took their toll. He suffered severe heart attacks during the war, and another in 1950 took his life.

Other books have been written about Arnold, and his memoirs are packed with detail. Nonetheless, Daso was able to uncover family sources and documents not previously used that shed new light on Arnold the man, husband, and father. This approach makes for fascinating reading; it is always a comfort to know that great men are as human as ourselves. Daso also highlights a unique aspect of Arnold's life-his appreciation for the integral relationship between science, technology, and airpower. Early in his career Arnold recognized that a second-rate air force was worse than none at all. The path to aviation leadership was a strong research-and-development program and a commitment to progress. Arnold's vision in this regard was extraordinary. He consciously pursued contacts with leading scientists, industrialists, and engineers, planting in them ideas and urging them to move more quickly and boldly. He supported research into cruise and ballistic missiles, precision weapons, jet engines, and rockets. Daso highlights the special relationship between Arnold and the brilliant aeronautical scientist Theodore von Karman, who in 1945 wrote the seminal Toward New Horizons, a detailed look at the future of air and space technology that would serve as the blueprint for Air Force research over the next two decades. …

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