The AAF Service Pilots are not to be confused with the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program; while the WASPs worked for the USAAF, they were not in the AAF, and they were actually outnumbered by male AAF personnel in the Service Pilot rating by ratio of almost 11 to one. Although these men were rated on the basis of non-military flying experience, not all were necessarily inducted straight from civil life (although some were).
Many of these pilots had prior military service within almost every mustering in existence. Some were Regulars -- officer and enlisted alike -- serving in other branches of the Army, and who happened to have acquired the appropriate civil certifications and experience during their off-duty time. Others were members of the National Guard or the Organized Reserve, while others were honorably discharged veterans from the interwar era, and in a few cases had even seen action in the First World War.
The Service Pilot rating was proposed by the late Colonel (later Lieutenant General) William H. Tunner as a means by which to alleviate a serious shortage of trained pilots. Unlike applicants for the Aviation Cadet Training Program, prospective Service Pilots were accepted with an AAF Class III medical classification* instead of the more stringent Class I demanded of the former. Rather than being trained from (presumably) "zero time" like the Cadets, Service Pilots were assigned directly to flying duties for which their past experience and training were readily applicable. Typically, these duties consisted of flying transport missions, ferrying aircraft, or flight instructor duties. Others flew as test pilots for Materiel Command, as glider- and target-towing pilots for various training establishments, or as border and coastal patrol pilots.
Tunner -- who also went on to make his mark as commander of Air Transport Command (ATC) and Troop Carrier Command (TCC) operations inthe China-Burma-India Theatre (CBI -- a/k/a "The Hump"), as architect of the Berlin Airlift, and as commanding general of the USAF's entire Military Air Transport Service (predecessor of Military Airlift Command and today's Air Mobility Command) -- was the mastermind of the Service Pilot rating's creation. In his 1964 autobiography Over the Hump, he writes:
"It was obvious that the plane ferrying business was in for a great expansion. We had to have pilots, but it was now obvious that we were not going to get them from the military. Fortunately, from my experience in Memphis I knew that there were many pilots, good pilots, out there in the civilian world. I had the idea that they would rather ferry planes for us than be drafted into the infantry. I put word out that we intended to hire as many civilian pilots as we could get, and then began negotiating with the Civil Service Bureau as to just how we were going to do it. The Bureau finally decided on a rating which would give a pilot three hundred dollars a month and six dollars per diem when he was away from home on a ferrying mission. Every man was taken in on a three months' trial arrangement; if at the end of that time it appeared that he was not going to work out, we sent him back to his home and draft board. Those who did work out were commissioned officers. Within six months after Pearl Harbor, we had hired some thirty-five hundred civilian pilots for the Ferrying Command, of whom more than half were subsequently commissioned." (Tunner & Herndon, 1964, p.23).
Specific requirements (as of 1943, per AAF Pilots Information File), were as follows:
- (1) male commissioned, warrant/flight or noncommissioned officer, or enlisted man, age 18 to 45 years, inclusive,
(2) pass AAF Class I, II or III* flying medical examination,
(3) 300 or more total hours flying time as a pilot, including 200 or more hours solo (unless logged on an aircraft for which a copilot was required), and 100 or more hours on (a) aircraft of 200 or more horsepower or (b) on USAAF Primary Trainer (PT) type aircraft while acting as a flight instructor at a USAAF contract flight training school, and
(4) passed the required written and flight examinations and been recommended by a board of reviewing officers.
Concurrently, the aeronautical rating of Senior Service Pilot was authorized for those Service Pilots who had logged at least 1500 total pilot flying hours and had held a valid civilian pilot certificate for at least five years. While replica Service Pilot badges bearing a star surmounting the escutcheon (denoting a senior rating) are occasionally offered for sale, there is no contemporary documentation to indicate that such a badge was ever formally approved during the war, and no wartime badge other than the basic "S" wings** of the Service Pilot has ever been authenticated. Also, while the rating itself was approved in February 1942, the badge was not formally authorized until September of that year.
*N.B.: The main differences between the AAF's Class I, II and III medical standards lay in their differring vision requirements, and the personnel to whom each class applied.
- Class I was the most stringent of the three, and was required for acceptance into the Aviation Cadet Training Program (and for officers applying for and undergoing Pilot training in-grade). This class was noted for having a minimum near and distant visual acuity requirement of 20/20 or better in each eye separately without correction, as well as strict limits on total refractive error (+/- 1.00 dioptre). While Aviation Cadets and others undergoing the same training in-grade were required to pass the Class I upon initial acceptance and to continue to meet Class I requirements until completion of training, once a graduate received his wings, this was no longer the case. Prior to September 1942, Class I standards applied to all prospective Aviation Cadets, however after that time, applicants meeting only Class II standards were allowed into the program on condition that they would be classified for navigator or bombardier training only. Prior to the war, this class was also required of aerial gunners.
Class II was somewhat more lenient, in that an uncorrected near and distant visual acuity of 20/40 or better was allowed (after June 1942, this was reduced to 20/100 or better), provided that each eye was correctable to 20/20 or better with spectacles, near and distant. Class II was required of rated Pilots and Airplane Observers (also called Combat Observers at one point during the war, and included Navigators and Bombardiers), and of applicants for the Glider Pilot and Liaison Pilot ratings.
Class III was the least stringent, and was the minimum required of rated Senior/Command Pilots, Service Pilots, Technical Observers, radio/radar operators, flying crew chiefs, Flight Surgeons (including pre-war in their case -- one of my texts includes a 1922 photo of a class of Flight Surgeon candidates where nearly half of them are wearing glasses, and some of those wearing scripts betraying marked short-sightedness!) and Flight Nurses. Original vision standards were an uncorrected distant acuity of 20/100 or better bilaterally, correctable to 20/20 or better bilaterally with glasses, while near vision simply needed to be correctable to 20/20 or better, with no uncorrected minimum specified. No refraction limits were specified. After September 1942, the distant vision standard for Class III personnel was reduced to 20/200 or better bilaterally, correctable with spectacles to 20/20 or better in at least one eye, and to 20/25 or better in the other.
**N.B.: The wings of a Service Pilot differed from the AAF's standard Pilot wings in that a large "S" monogram was superimposed in place of the stylized US Flag design on the escutcheon. The Glider Pilot and Liaison Pilot wings were similarly designed, with "G" and "L" monograms respectively.
As Tunner himself pointed out, appointment into the Service Pilot rating was not automatic: several written examinations and a comprehensive flight examination (normally on a BT-series trainer) had to be passed, followed by the review and approval of an aeronautical rating board. Even with these criteria completed, the new Service Pilot remained on probation for his first 90 days. Those who performed acceptably stayed on with a permanent appointment and underwent most of any further required upgrade training "on-the-job". For those who didn't work out, the ones appointed from other Army assignments could usually expect to revert to their previous ranks and specialties -- with commensurate re-assignment -- while the appointees from civil life were administratively separated, provided with a railway ticket home, and informed that their local draft boards had already been notified of their availability for induction via the general draft -- and that those draft boards would be expecting them!
While the WASPs are better known today than the Service Pilots, no WASP was subject to the Articles of War or to Army Regulations (they were under those laws and regulation applicable to civil servants however), and none ever flew outside the limits of the ATO (ZI and Alaska in most cases). On the other hand, male Service Pilots -- as AAF personnel -- were subject to the full force of Army Regulations and the Articles of War, and flew globally. Chiefly, they flew in Air Transport Command (ATC) and Flying Training Command (FTC). Significant numbers of Service Pilots also made their way into Troop Carrier Command (TCC), the Air-Sea Rescue Service (especially in the waters of the ATO), and even the Antisubmarine Command (prior to September 1943, when this role was taken over by the Navy). Service Pilots comprised the majority of ATC pilots, and an estimated 40% of those pilots assigned to TCC had arrived after having first started out in the Service Pilot and/or Glider Pilot ratings.
Formal training courses attended by Service Pilots were normally limited to those advanced courses which were intended for already-rated USAAF Pilots, such as flight instructor courses, and twin- or four-engine transition. In all cases, a four-week AAF instrument standardization course was compulsory. After one year of active duty as a Service Pilot, it was possible under the existing regulations of the time to "re-rate" to Pilot, provided one met Class II standards or could be waivered thereto. The latter was not always approved, but did occasionally happen.
Further, commissioned officers holding only the Service Pilot rating were still eligible to command certain flying units: those equipped exclusively with aircraft of the C-, G-, L- and/or U-series only (after February 1943, AAF policy also allowed rated Glider Pilots to fly L-series aircraft and to carry out Liaison Pilot duties, and many of those also occasionally performed co-pilot duties aboard the C-series cargo aircraft assigned to their units).
Service Pilot training
Service Pilots were not trained ab initio; they were already experienced pilots upon appointment. There was, however, a system of sustainment and proficiency training in place, as well as a formalized means by which every Service Pilot was expected to upgrade his skill set and qualifications. Tunner describes the on-the-job training scheme devised for Service Pilots thusly:
"Another factor was the great variety of planes, even before modification. During the course of the war our pilots were called upon to fly a total of some hundred and fifty different models. We could hardly expect our new pilots to step into four-engine planes and fly them over long distances on instruments. On the other hand, there were many types of planes which were far easier to fly, and it would be a waste of time and training to assign a pilot checked out on B-17's to a small, open-cockpit trainer. The problem answered itself. I set up a program of on-the-job training in which pilots actually performed the mission of the Command at the same time they bettered their flying. Thus those at the bottom of the ladder would deliver the simplest forms of aircraft, such as artillery spotting planes and primary trainers. As they built up their flying time in these basic types, they would also be going to ground school and instrument-flying school, preparing themselves for the next step up. Gradually, step by step, they worked their way from short hops in trainers on clear days to delivering the largest aircraft all over the world.
"All along I insisted on rigid standards of excellence. Occasionally some pressure was put on me to release pilots for more difficult planes before they were quite ready, but I always refused. I saw no reason for increasing the danger of losing either pilot or plane. Many other commands adopted the specifications I set up for my pilots.
"We had six classifications of pilots, as follows:
- Class I (Pilots qualified to fly low-powered single-engine planes);
Class II (Pilots qualified to fly twin-engine trainers and utility planes);
Class III (Pilots qualified to handle twin-engine cargo and medium transports, and on instruments);
Class IV (Twin-engine planes in advanced categories, such as medium bombers and heavy transports);
Class V (The biggest planes, four-engine bombers and transports and be able to deliver them overseas);
Class P (Single-engine, high-performance pursuits or fighters. This was a special class because, although these fast and hard-to-handle planes certainly required more than average experience, the flying of fighters was not in itself of great experience value in working up to the big four-engine planes)"
There were four distinct US Army Military Occupational Specialty Codes (MOSCs) associated with the Service Pilot rating:
- MOSC 773 Service Pilot. This MOSC was assigned to all noncommissioned personnel holding the Service Pilot rating, no matter what their specific aircraft qualifications (e.g.: single-engine, four-engine, etc.) happened to be. Enlisted personnel applying while in the grade of Sergeant and below were appointed to the grade of Staff Sergeant upon acceptance.
MOSC 0915 Service Pilot, Single-Engine. Held by warrant/flight and commissioned officers qualified on single-engine aircraft only.
MOSC 0916 Service Pilot, Two-Engine. Ibid., additionally qualified on twin-engine aircraft.
MOSC 0917 Service Pilot, Four-Engine. Ibid., additionally qualified on four-engine aircraft.
Glider Pilot rating as an additional rating:
An unknown number of Service Pilots also qualified to carry out pilot-in-command and instructor-pilot duties on training and cargo gliders of the TG- and CG-series, and were awarded the additional aeronautical rating of Glider Pilot (MOSC 1026). Under the regulations of the period, a Service Pilot could obtain the additional AAF aeronautical rating of Glider Pilot simply by completing a minimum of 10 flights on cargo gliders (CG-series, not TG) and passing a comprehensive flight examination thereon. Those who successfully carried this out were awarded the Glider Pilot rating, and were entitled to wear either the "G" or "S" wings according to individual preference.
Re-rating: Service Pilot to Pilot, or Senior Service Pilot to Pilot
Wartime regulations of the USAAF established a procedure by which Service Pilots and Senior Service Pilots could re-rate, to wit: exchange their existing limited-duty ratings to the unrestricted, universally assignable Pilot rating. The following criteria were required in order for re-rating to be considered or approved:
- (1) must have held the Service Pilot or Senior Service Pilot rating for at least 12 months (this included the initial 90 day probationary period),
(2) 500 hours total flying experience as a pilot, including 400 hours on aircraft of 400 or more horsepower, at least 100 hours of which must have been flown on USAAF aircraft,
(3) must have flown at least 50 hours as a pilot within the preceding 12 months, and
(4 -- after 1944) in the grade of captain or below, and no older than 38 years.
Personnel meeting the above criteria were eligible to re-rate upon application and recommendation of a reviewing board. In similar fashion to attaining the Service Pilot rating as previously discussed, approval for re-rating to Pilot was likewise not automatic. An unknown number of individuals who had initially been ineligible for the USAAF Pilot rating via the Aviation Cadet Training Program -– most commonly due to excessive age and/or deficient (albeit correctable) eyesight -– were able to obtain it by means of this "back-door" avenue after having proven themselves as Service Pilots. Some who elected to remain in the AAF (later USAF) post-war enjoyed long and successful military flying careers. Two of the more prominent examples were James M. Stewart (Lt. Gen., USAFR -- yes, he was also the famous actor, better known under the stage name Jimmy Stewart) and Barry Goldwater (Lt. Gen, AZ ANG / USAFR -- later Governor and Senator for the State of Arizona).
The Service Pilot rating was formally declared obsolete by the USAF in 1949; there is no documentation however to indicate that anyone was awarded this rating after 1944.
Official US Army Air Forces Guide (1944).
Tunner, William H., & Herndon, Booton (1964, 1998). "Over the Hump" (1st edition) New York, NY: Duell, Sloan & Pierce; (electronic edition) Air Force History and Museums Program. http://purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS48694
War Department (1941, 1942). AR 40-501 Medical Standards.
War Department (21 July 1943). FM 100-20 Field Service Regulations — Command and Employment of Air Power, p. 4-5e.
War Department (1943, 1944). Pilots Information File.