Chicagoland/O'Hare Chapter 142

                             Air Force Association



The Air corps Ferrying Command

The Air Transport Command (ATC) began life ferrying aircraft to Europe during Lend Lease and eventually opened up air routes over most of the globe.

World War II was responsible for numerous technological advances, not the least of which was the establishment of the largest airline in history. While little thought had been given to using airplanes in the logistical role before the war, by the time it ended with the Allied victories in the spring and summer of 1945, the U.S. War Department was operating regularly scheduled flights to the most distant parts of the world.

Although the mission of the War Department’s Air Transport Command (ATC) was entirely logistical in nature—the crews themselves referred to the initials as meaning “allergic to combat”—the command played a major role in the resupply of overseas forces and the transportation of essential personnel.

The apparatus that evolved into the Air Transport Command came into being in 1941 in conjunction with the Lend-Lease Act, legislation that allowed the United States to provide military equipment to the countries that were already engaged in war against the Axis nations. While aircraft production was one thing, delivering the airplanes to the customers presented problems. While fighters and other smaller aircraft could be delivered by ship, it was more efficient to deliver transports and bombers by air. Since the military forces of the recipient nations were overburdened with fighting the war and could not pick their airplanes up in the United States, other avenues were pursued.

Overwater delivery of American-built aircraft to England began in November 1940, when a Canadian company began transoceanic deliveries of airplanes that had been flown to Montreal by factory-employed delivery pilots. But the increase in deliveries from the Lend-Lease Act would test the resources of the factory pilots severely. To cope with the problem, the Army Air Corps established its Ferrying Command on May 29, 1941, with the mission of providing Air Corps pilots to make the domestic deliveries to Canada. The objective was twofold: to give U.S. Army pilots experience in the latest combat equipment, and to release the civilian factory pilots to join the British organization responsible for overwater deliveries from North America to Europe.

Air Transport Service Is Launched With Converted B-24 Bombers

Simultaneously with the establishment of the Ferrying Command, the War Department took steps to inaugurate an air transport service between the United States and England. The new service took to the skies on July 1, 1941, when Lt. Col. Caleb V. Haynes departed Bolling Field in Washington, DC, in one of the first Consolidated B-24 bombers to be delivered to the Army. The inaugural flight was bound for Scotland by way of Montreal and Newfoundland. Soon dubbed “The Arnold Line,” the new service made an average of six round trips a month between Washington and Ayr, Scotland, until the potential for winter weather over the North Atlantic brought the mission to a halt in October. All flights were made in converted four-engine B-24s, with the passengers seated in the bomb bays.

In September the service was expanded when two B-24s flew to Moscow by way of Great Britain, transporting members of a diplomatic mission. By the outbreak of war on December 7, 1941, the Ferrying Command was operating 11 converted B-24s that had been loaned by the Army Air Corps Combat Command.

New Routes To Europe Developed

To facilitate deliveries, the Ferrying Command sought to establish new routes from the United States to the Allied nations. Since winter weather presented an obstacle for several months of the year over the North Atlantic, a South Atlantic route was surveyed and established. The route originated in Miami, then went by way of the Caribbean to British Guyana and Brazil, then over water to Ascension Island and the west coast of Africa, then overland to Cairo.

In June 1941, Pan American Airways organized a special department to make deliveries of British-purchased Douglas DC-3 transports to Africa. Flown by Pan American Airways crews, the first transports left Florida for Africa on June 21. Pan American, as well as other U.S. airlines, would play a major role in the Ferrying Command and the subsequent Air Transport Command for the duration. Under an agreement reached with the War Department and the British, Pan Am assumed responsibility for establishing ferry and air transport routes to Africa, and also for operating a trans-African transport route that had been previously established by the British. Speedy aircraft delivery from the States to British combat units in Africa was the primary purpose of the new service, with air transport of cargo and personnel secondary. As it turned out, Pan Am had only delivered a dozen airplanes, all transports, prior to Pearl Harbor.

New Flying Record Set Before America Enters War

The Ferrying Command also set up a flying-boat service to West Africa using Pan Am flying boats that had been withdrawn from Pacific service. Only one trip, a survey flight to establish the route, was made prior to December 7. In addition to the Pan American ferry service, the War Department also set up a military-operated transport service to Cairo, again using converted B-24s. Lieutenant Colonel Caleb Haynes was at the controls of the first B-24 to depart Bolling Field for Egypt, with Major Curtis Lemay in the copilot’s seat for the historic 26,000-mile flight, the first round trip over the South Atlantic to Cairo. In November, the Ferrying Command began delivery of 16 LB-30 Liberator bombers that had been slated for British use in Africa, but the American entry into the war prevented the delivery of all but four (another was destroyed beyond repair in a crash).

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, the Ferrying Command was given a part in “Project X,” the movement of a planned 80 four-engine bombers to the Far East to reinforce the fledgling air force that was fighting for its life in the Philippines. Although the airplanes were flown by crews assigned to the 7th Bomb Group, which had been in the process of moving to the Philippines when war broke out, Ferrying Command was responsible for coordinating the move and providing support while the bombers were en route. The first deliveries were to be 15 LB-30s that had been repossessed from the British at the outbreak of war. They were all scheduled to go to the Far East by way of the South Atlantic route to Africa, then through the Middle East and Pakistan.

Project X Makes Partial Delivery To Far East

While five of the L-30s followed that route, the others traversed a new airway over the Pacific. The Liberators made up the first echelon of Project X, while 65 new Boeing B-17s made up the second. Only 44 of the planned 65 bombers were delivered to the Far East. Some were diverted to India when the Tenth Air Force was formed, some were cannibalized for spare parts along the route, five crashed en route, one returned to America for repairs, and another was halted in Africa awaiting parts.

With America’s entry into the war, the need for air transportation increased dramatically. The return of Ferrying Command personnel to the United States after overseas deliveries was a major consideration, and with this in mind the command set up scheduled routes between the United States and Australia using five LB-30 Liberators that had been converted into transports. The airline was operated under contract with crews provided by Consolidated Aircraft, which had previously established a ferry route for deliveries of twin-engine bombers to the Dutch in the East Indies.

Three of Ferrying Command’s converted B-24s were taken off the Cairo run and sent to the Southwest Pacific, where they were assigned to the Allied Air Transport Command in Australia and used to transport ammunition to the Philippines and personnel throughout Asia. All three were lost within a few months, two to enemy action and one to a forced landing in the water.

Pan Am Pilots Join In To Fly The Hump To China

In the spring of 1942, 10 Pan American DC-3s were detached from the Trans-African route and sent to India to airlift gasoline and other petroleum products to China to refuel the B-25 bombers for the upcoming Tokyo mission under Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle. The B-25s failed to arrive in China intact, and the Pan American airplanes joined a small force of Army C-47s that had just arrived in India in an airlift effort in support of the retreating Allied forces in Burma. The small group of transports would make up the nucleus of the 1st Ferrying Group, which would become part of Tenth Air Force, and assume initial responsibility for air transport operations across the Himalayan “Hump” to China.

In June 1942, the War Department reorganized its air transport assets in response to a letter submitted to President Roosevelt by L.W. Pogue, the head of the Civil Aeronautics Board, in which he advocated the establishment of an independent air transportation organization separate from both the Army and the Navy. Fearful of fragmentation of the airline industry due to competing contracts from a myriad of military agencies, Pogue advocated an independent government airline that would function outside of both the War and Navy Departments.

Ferrying Command Transformed Into Air Transport Command

A second option of the “Pogue Plan” was the establishment of a War Department command to assume responsibility for all air transportation needs of the Army. Army Air Force commander General Henry “Hap” Arnold opted for the latter and issued General Order #8, which changed the Ferrying Command to the Air Transport Command. This was to be a new organization responsible for all aircraft ferrying and for all air transportation of the War Department “except those served by the Troop Carrier Command,” which was established by the same order. The duties of the Ferrying Command were assumed by the new ferrying division of the Air Transport Command. The Navy would eventually form its own air transport command.

The ATC began service with an assortment of military and civilian aircraft and crews. The civilian resources were provided on contract by the airlines. In mid-1942, and for several months thereafter, the command depended on twin-engine transports, primarily militarized DC-3s and a few converted B-24s. A handful of four-engine flying boats was operated by the U.S. Navy on overwater routes. The command’s resources were increased by the conversion of large numbers of Consolidated B-24Ds to C-87 “Liberator Express” transports, which began entering service in September 1942. With the long-range C-87s, the Air Transport Command established routes throughout the world.

New Route To Alaska Delivered Planes To Soviets

Ferrying of airplanes remained a major role of the ATC, and the Ferrying Command, commanded by Colonel, later Brig. Gen., William H. Tunner, opened and maintained additional routes. One new route went to Alaska, where U.S.-built airplanes delivered under Lend-Lease were picked up by Russian pilots. The Alaska route originated in Great Falls, Mont., and continued northwestward through Edmonton, Alberta, and on to Alaska. United Airlines also took responsibility for an air transport mission over a similar route that originated at Dayton, Ohio. While all of the routes were hazardous, the Alaska route was especially so due to the uncharted territory and the terrible winter weather.

Staffing and equipping the new Air Transport Command was a major problem, particularly since combat units were dreadfully short of both men and equipment. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the War Department had made a heavy commitment in orders for militarized Douglas DC-3s—and for the new four-engine DC-4, which was still under development—to support the Army’s new airborne forces. Several potential transport designs were put forth by various companies. The Curtiss-Wright C-46 was the design eventually selected to serve the ATC.

B-24 Conversion Provided Four-Engine Transport For Long Distances

Both the C-47, the military designation of the DC-3, and the C-46 were twin-engine designs, which placed them at a disadvantage on long flights over water. Four-engine airplanes offered a safety advantage, but there were no suitable models available in mid-1942. Douglas Aircraft’s C-54, the military designation of the DC-4, was still under development and would not enter service in large numbers until 1943. The 4,500-pound payload of Boeing’s C-75 made it unsuitable for long-range transport. Lockheed offered the C-69 Constellation, but the factory’s dedication to production of the P-38 fighter restricted deliveries.

Until the C-54 could be produced, the only choice for a four-engine transport was the C-87 conversion of the versatile B-24. The factory-produced C-87 Liberator Express was capable of transporting a payload of 7,500 to 9,400 pounds over a 3,250-mile route, and was the airplane that inaugurated ATC’s long-range transport service.

Finding pilots for the Air Transport Command was even more difficult than finding airplanes. Prior to the war, the Ferrying Command had utilized combat pilots on loan from the Air Force Combat Command. Pilots served 30- to 90-day periods to gain experience in the combat planes being delivered to the British, a policy that could not continue. The outbreak of war led to a recall of these experienced pilots to their parent units as the squadrons prepared for combat operations overseas.

Commercial and Private Pilots Help Fill the Void

To meet the requirements set by the War Department, the Ferrying Command began hiring civilian pilots from the ranks of commercial and private pilots around the country. Since the airlines were mobilizing for war and were operating under military contract, the War Department looked for pilots who were not employed in airline flying or as flight instructors—bush pilots, air-taxi pilots, crop dusters, and business and pleasure pilots. Employed by the government as civilians, the pilots were given a 90-day probationary period at the end of which, if they were found qualified to fly military airplanes, they were commissioned as officers and designated as “service pilots,” then assigned to the cockpits of military airplanes.

The civil airlines were a source for approximately 2,600 pilots, many of whom were former military pilots who still held reserve commissions. But the heavy reliance on the airlines to fill military contracts prevented a wholesale callup of these men. Instead, limited callups of reserve officers from the airlines were initiated for special projects. The first was to fill out the ranks of Ferrying Command personnel responsible for moving the bombers of Project X to the Far East. A second contingent of airline reservists was assigned to Project AMMISCA, a special mission to equip an air-transport group to fly supplies into China from India. Made up of highly experienced transport pilots, the AMMISCA Project group moved to India where it was assigned to the Tenth Air Force’s 1st Ferrying Group.

Military Makes Up The Difference From Its Own Ranks

Project 32 was a Ferrying Command effort to train its own aircrews. A nucleus of pilots transferred from the Combat Command was melded with airline pilots holding reserve commissions and brand-new aircrew personnel who had recently graduated from Army Air Corps training programs. Later, Project 50 brought a contingent of airline reservists back into uniform to fly four-engine transports.

Another planned source of pilots, though it ultimately failed to meet expectations, was the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Set up before the war, the CPT was supposed to complement the military flight-training programs and to provide a source of pilots for the airlines.

In August 1942 General Harold George, the commander of the fledgling Air Transport Command, initiated the Airlines War Training Institute to supplement the CPT. General George optimistically set a quota of 500 new copilots to enter service every two months, after completing a 150-hour CPT program and an additional four weeks of training with the airlines. But results were far less than expected due to a combination of the draft, high wages in the war industries, and the best qualified men having already been recruited either by the airlines or the military. Eventually, the Air Transport Command would turn to the military itself for pilots to man its growing fleet of transports.

Experienced Women Pilots Join the WAFS

Another source was the small number of licensed women pilots in the United States. In the summer of 1942, Mrs. Nancy Love, a civilian employee of the Ferrying Division of ATC and a qualified pilot herself, suggested to her boss, Colonel Tunner, that well-qualified women should be hired as civilian ferry pilots.

The extreme need for pilots led the War Department to approve the proposal, and 25 exceptionally qualified women were hired to become members of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, which was based at New Castle, Del. Unlike the later Womens Air Service Pilots, commonly known as WASPs, which trained women as pilots, the WAFS was staffed by women who were already experienced aviators, each with more than a thousand hours of flying time.

The WAFS quickly proved its worth as its pilots ferried light aircraft, bombers, transports, and eventually fighters from the factories to the military depots where they were accepted for military service. Unlike the male pilots who flew overseas routes to the combat zones, the women were restricted to domestic duties. Tunner approved the use of women on overseas routes, but an inaugural mission with Nancy Love and Betty Gillies at the controls was halted in Newfoundland after the two women flew a B-17 there in preparation for ferrying it to England.

Famous Female Pilot Had Pull With Eleanor Roosevelt

Although the overseas flight was halted by order of Army Air Forces commander General Arnold, many of the WAFS believed the order was initiated by Jacqueline Cochran, a famous female pilot with ties to Eleanor Roosevelt, who had persuaded the president to authorize the establishment of the Womens Air Service Pilots. Cochran’s training program for women pilots for noncombat duties was approved shortly after the WAFS entered service.

Rather than have two separate programs for women pilots, Arnold elected to place the WAFS under Cochran’s control, though Nancy Love continued in her position as WAFS commander. A flamboyant and ambitious woman who had managed to climb above her origins as the daughter of a Florida sharecropper, Cochran was provided a Lockheed Hudson by the Army Air Forces. The purpose is unclear, but Cochran had made a highly publicized flight to England in the Hudson a few weeks before the B-17 ferry mission was scheduled, and the WAFS believed she didn’t want to be upstaged.

ATC Casualties Much Lighter Than Anticipated

Jackie Cochran’s WASPs provided some pilots for the ATC’s Ferrying Division as well as for other noncombat duties. But the WASPs were inactivated as a result of events that boosted the ranks of available pilots for the Air Transport Command. By the spring of 1944 the War Department realized that casualties among aircrews were significantly lighter than had been anticipated early in the war and fewer new pilots were needed in the combat squadrons. Consequently, the civilian-run primary flight schools around the country were being shut down and the instructors were losing their draft ineligibility status.

The former instructors were reassigned to air-transport squadrons after being commissioned and placed on flight status as service pilots. Simultaneously, large numbers of combat pilots were returning from overseas and could be utilized as transport pilots on domestic and overseas routes. The WASPs were disbanded, but the ATC found itself with the pilots it needed to man its worldwide fleet.