National Geographic : 1957 Aug
Fledgling Wings of the Air Force ville. We were introduced in 1934 at his Dayton, Ohio, home by a mutual friend, Capt. Albert W. Stevens, who was to ascend the next year to a record 72,395 feet in the balloon Explorer II (page 281).* Orville's reserve melted in a broad smile when I identified myself as his shadow of Fort Myer days. Pioneer Pilots Shape the Future Exposure to the Wrights had given me an incurable case of air-mindedness. When the flight trials ended, I became an insatiable reader of aviation news. Headlines soon led me to new heroes, the pioneer pilots at the first Army airfield at College Park, Maryland. These men, in 1911-12, wrote in the skies one of aviation's brilliant early chapters. They tested the first successful bombsight, fired a machine gun from an airplane for the first time, set new U. S. altitude and cross country records, and experimented with aerial photography and wireless. Such projects grew from the flyers' own enthusiasm; their field was designated a training base only. On summer mornings I would ride a train the seven miles to College Park, marvel at the day's feats of daring, then sit by while the pilots engaged in the new pastime of "hangar flying," or swapping shoptalk. Many of those youthful officers assumed the stature of gods in my teen-age eyes: Tommy Milling, Charles Chandler, Lewis Rockwell, Roy Kirtland, Leighton Hazelhurst, and, above all, Henry (Hap) Arnold (page 269). Arnold, the most dynamic personality I have ever known, became Commanding Gen eral of the Army Air Forces in World War II. Later, after holding five-star General of the Army rank, he was named General of the Air Force, the only man who has ever held that title. He served with devotion as a Trustee of the National Geographic Society from 1938 until his death in 1950. It was during those years that I had the privilege of the General's warm friendship. I often flew with him on trips around the United States, and he recalled the derring-do of the College Park days with nostalgia. His experiences there, he said, marked a turning point in his life, for they gave dedication and purpose to his military career. In recent years I have flown with the Air Force to Greenland and the North Pole, to Alaska, Africa, South America, and other places that seemed forbiddingly distant before the Air Age.t Frequently, as the giant en gines made inches of the miles, I found my self musing over the contrast between past and present. In my own lifetime I had seen military aviation's crude but brave beginning and its dramatic coming-of-age. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Man's Farthest Aloft," January, 1936, and "Explor ing the Stratosphere," October, 1934, both by Capt. Albert W. Stevens. t See "We Followed Peary to the Pole," by Gilbert Grosvenor and Thomas W. McKnew, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1953.