National Geographic : 1943 Sep
They Sustain the Wings BY FREDERICK SIMPICH Y OUR horse can be fast, with a good jockey up, and still lose the race unless he's been carefully fed and shod, and fitted with the right bit, bridle, and saddle. It is so with Army planes. No matter how fast, well-armed, or skillfully piloted, they must be kept in top condition, refueled, re paired, and all guns loaded, to outfly and outfight the enemy. To train crews for this critical task, Uncle Sam established one of the world's largest systems of education. AAFTTC they called these schools, short for Army Air Forces Technical Training Com mand. Its motto is Sustineo Alas-"I sustain the wings." * Though one man can pilot a plane, it takes from 5 to 20 skilled men on the ground-depending on the size and type of the plane-to keep it flying. Such trained ground crews are taught to: Predict weather. Detect distant craft with magic radar. Write and read secret codes. Use and repair bombsights. Make aerial photographic reconnaissance and mosaic maps. Send and receive by radio, and repair radio and radar sets, radio compasses, teletype machines, and two-way radio telephones. Run a big, busy airport control room, keep ing scores of planes landing and taking off safely and flying at assigned heights on now crowded airways. Repair and service machine guns, aerial cannon, and power gun turrets; or, in a pinch, grab a gun and get into the fight. In fact, repair and maintain any kind of Army plane from tail to propeller, from bomb rack to de-icer. Dynamic, far-flying Maj. Gen. Walter R. Weaver commands this vast educational sys tem from headquarters at Knollwood Field, North Carolina. Gen. H. H. Arnold, com manding U. S. Army Air Forces, chose Gen eral Weaver to set up and operate these schools. Sometimes Weaver looks hard and grim as he bites his pipestem and ponders some knotty problem in the infinite tasks that face him; but underneath that rigid military mask beats a kindly heart. To him the welfare of his humblest student mechanic, whether from farmyard or city street, is also important, along with the trials of all the generals, colonels, majors, and others who help him run the many technical training schools scattered across the country. As Army's invited guest, we flew thousands of miles, piloted by Col. John P. McConnell, chief of staff to General Weaver, to visit and inspect these big, busy schools. Making New Planes from Scraps of Wrecks Every day 94 green-clad Air Force me chanics graduate from Keesler Field, Missis sippi, built in one year from pine woods and swamps outside the town of Biloxi. Pins on their caps or collars carry that firm phrase, Sustineo Alas. These men are the de spair of Jap and German air fighters! No sooner is one of our ships shot down than these trained ground crews rush to the wreck -i f they can get to it. If that particular ship can't be quickly repaired on the spot, they salvage what they can and reassemble another ship, with the propeller from one wreck, an engine from another, a tail, radio, or landing gear from a third. On the Australian, Chinese, and African fronts ground crews scour the hills, deserts, and beaches for hundreds of miles, seeking needed extra parts! Crippled planes returning from battle planes with one engine "conked out," holes in wings and body, landing wheels shot off, or instruments shattered by bullets-are quickly repaired and again "put up." By daily news flashed from battle fronts we know how furiously these grim ground crews are working. Day and night, in rain, dust, heat, or snow, even with enemy bombs falling on their improvised field shops, these men struggle to repair our planes and get them back into action. Often 20 or 30 repairmen will work at once on one ship. Planes must be kept clean outside as well as in. Poor paint will cut down air speed; mud splashes left on a fuselage may mean the loss of two or three miles an hour. B-24, Consolidated Liberator bomber, is the prize pet at Keesler Field. Here you see bat tered bomber veterans, whimsically labeled "Old Gray Mare" or "Sitting Bull." They'll never fly again-they're simply guinea pigs on which students learn by practice. * The War Department has announced a consolida tion of the Technical Training and the Flying Train ing Commands of the U. S. Army Air Forces, with Maj. Gen. Barton K. Yount as Commanding General. The new designation is Army Air Forces Training Command.