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6/25/1886 - 1/15/1950
General of the Air Force, Gladwyne native Henry "Hap" Arnold commanded the Army Air Corps in World War II and oversaw the creation of the Air Force.
Aviator Henry Arnold was born in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and would eventually serve in the Pennsylvania National Guard. Henry Arnold was the first military pilot for the Army. He also served in World War I and World War II. He was taught how to fly by the Wright Brothers. He also co-wrote three books: Army Flyer, This Flying Game, and Winged Victory. Arnold's love of flying put him on the path toward his greatest accomplishments. He eventually became the first Five Star General of the Air Force. Henry Arnold died in 1950.
Henry "Hap" Arnold was born in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, on June 25, 1886. As the son of a physician, Arnold always wanted to set himself apart from his father. He attended the US Military Academy at West Point, but his grades suffered as he was known to be a troublemaker. After graduating, he applied for a commission into the cavalry, his dream profession, but was denied. He was then assigned to the Philippines with the infantry.
While serving in the Philippines, Arnold befriended Captain Arthur Cowan, a recruiter for the Signal Corps training program. Knowing Arnold's dislike of the infantry, Cowan chose him to be sent to the Wright Brothers' Flying School along with another officer named Thomas DeWitt Milling. There they trained under the famous Orville Wright and obtained their pilots' licenses in 1911.
Arnold made his first flight in a Wright Model B flyer on May 3, 1911. Less than three months later, on July 22, he was given his military aviator rating. Soon after, Arnold and Milling traveled to College Park, Maryland, where they became flight instructors at the Signal Corps Flight School. In October 1912, Arnold set a world altitude record of 6,540 feet. With a passion for using airplanes for military purposes, he successfully demonstrated aerial reconnaissance to locate cavalry troops. His breakthrough awarded him to be the first Mackay Trophy winner for the most meritorious flight of the year. That same year, while performing in artillery fire experiment, Arnold lost control of his plane, sending him into a downward spin. He then performed the first successful spin recovery and survived. After this, he asked to go back into the infantry and take a break from flying. As the war in Europe started, Arnold was given a temporary rank of colonel. Arnold was instructed to oversee aircraft mobilization and production in Washington. He gained much administrative experience from this position but was happy about being on the battlefront.
After the war, Arnold traveled to many air bases and took classes at the Army Industrial College. Arnold was called back to Washington by Mason Patrick in 1924 to serve as chief of information for the air service. After his position there, he was stationed to Fort Riley in Kansas where he enjoyed spending time with his family. He taught infantry soldiers the basics of air power there and felt he could really interact with them.
In 1934, Arnold commanded a roundtrip flight from Washington, DC, to Fairbanks, Alaska. The 8,290-mile trip was carefully planned and there were no aircraft losses among the ten B-10 bombers. Because of his careful planning, Arnold was chosen to receive his second Mackay Trophy. Two years later, Arnold was chosen to become the assistant chief of the Air Corps. After the death of Oscar Westover in September of 1938, the chief of the Air Corps, Arnold was promoted. As the new chief of the Air Corps, Arnold was given 2,000 airplanes and 21,000 soldiers to prepare for another major conflict in Europe. After all the problems the Air Corps faced in World War I, he was determined to be prepared for another major war. He aided in the building of air bases and developed training programs. With this, he proposed a project that would develop long range bombers to aid in strategic bombing, planes that would become the B-17 and B-29 bombers.
As the war drew closer, Arnold was determined to expand combat range, effectiveness, and safety of current planes. Six months before the United States entered the war, the air service was renamed the United States Army Air Force (USAAF). With this new organization came an enormous growth of people, airplanes, and support. Arnold was very close with his troops and spent much of the war with them overseas. He oversaw the tremendous increase in the size of the air forces and their co-ordination with the British Royal Air Force in World War II.
With all of his hard work, his health started to diminish. Arnold was promoted to general of the Army (five stars) and on January 19, 1945, Arnold had his first heart attack. He was encouraged to retire, but he felt he had unfinished work to do before the war was over; he wanted to bring his flyers home. Finally on June 30, 1946, Arnold decided to retire. He was awarded three Distinguished Service crosses, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and decorations from Morocco, Brazil, Yugoslavia, Peru, France, Mexico, and Great Britain for his life work. A year later, the Air Force was recognized as a separate service of the military.
On May 7, 1949, a bill was signed by President Truman making Arnold a general of the Air Force, the only man to hold the rank. One year later, on January 15, 1950, Arnold died at his ranch home in Sonoma, California. Arnold's devotion to air power had inspired air force personnel, scientists, and engineers to make new advances in what is now the Air Force of the new millennium. In 1951, the Air Force named an air force base in Tennessee after Arnold. He was and always will be an inspiration to all who serve.
- This Flying Game (with Lieutenant Colonel Ira C. Eaker). New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1938.
- Army Flyer (with Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker). New York: Harper & Brothers, 1942.
- Winged Victory (with Moss Hart). New York: Random House, 1943.
- Daso, Dik. "Origins of Airpower: Hap Arnold's Early Career in Aviation Technology, 1903-1935." Airpower Journal Winter 1996. 27 Nov. 2006. <>http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj96/win96/daso.pdf>. Updated URL
- "General of the Air Force: Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold." Beyond the Speed of Sound. 2011. 29 Mar. 2012 <>http://www.arnold.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-110408-015.pdf>.
- Copp, DeWitt S. A Few Great Captains: The Men and Events That Shaped the Development of U.S. Air Power. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980.
- Daso, Dik Alan. Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force. "General of the air Force Henry H. Arnold." before 1949. Photography. Licensed under Public Domain. cropped to 4x3. Source: Wikimedia.