Where Eagles Land: Planning and Development of U.S. Army Airfields, 1910-1941

By Jerold E. Brown | Go to book overview

1 A SOLID FOOTING

Just as a boxer must have a solid footing to deliver his blows, we must have airbases from which to initiate our attacks. 1

On the eve of America's entry into World War II, John W. Wood, an architect and airport design expert, wrote in Aero Digest one of the more prestigious aviation publications of the period, that limited airport facilities were hampering American war preparations: "Our existing airport system is one of the more serious bottlenecks of our armament program, for the potential strength of our Air Corps must equally be measured in terms of adequate air bases from which to operate as well as in the number of first-line planes and in the number of trained personnel available. Airports are the basis of air defense." 2 Wood was correct. Air bases are clearly as critical to the projection of air power as planes and men. And in December 1941 existing air bases and other ground facilities fell far short of requirements to mobilize a vast air force and train the thousands of pilots and crew members that would ensure adequate national defense. Why was the United States in this vulnerable position after more than three decades of aviation development?

Several explanations are possible. First, congressional and War Department leaders prior to 1941 had failed to understand the importance of aviation ground facilities. Second, legislators had deliberately neglected airfield development for most of the interwar period. And third, the latent demand for all types of aviation ground facilities the United States had suddenly erupted; what had been sufficient a few years, or even a few months, earlier was now clearly not enough.

A more complete explanation for America's lack of preparedness, however, lies in the complex interplay of forces that determined the course of airfield development in the United States during the thirty years prior to World War II. Primary among these forces was the rapid advance of technology, which led to continuous obsolescence as new aircraft and their attendant technologies outstripped the level of sophistication of all but the most modern bases and facilities. An equally significant factor was a national political leadership, which was shortsighted, seldom in sympathy with air advocates, fiscally conservative, and responded only episodically to the need for ever greater investment in

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