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Henry Arnold

Arnold, Henry “Hap”

Military Strategist
Enshrined 1967 1886-1950

Henry Arnold earned his nickname, “Hap,” because of his near-constant grin. This famous grin, together with his dedicated service to the military demonstrated Arnold’s love for his job. In 1945, while serving as commanding general of the Allied Air Forces, the overworked Arnold suffered a heart attack. When he retired from the Army Air Forces a year later, Arnold had dedicated more than 42 years to serving his country.

Established numerous flying records and in 1912 was recipient of the new Mackay Trophy.

Arnold became the first military aviator to use radio to report observations.

Transformed March Field, California, in 1931 to an operational base for bombers and pursuit units.

After World War I, Arnold organized and activated the first Army Aerial Forest Fire Patrol in Washington, Oregon and California.

In 1934, Arnold commanded a flight of 10 B-10 bombers from Washington D.C. to Fairbanks, Alaska.

In 1941 became chief of the newly established Army Air Forces.

December 1944 was promoted to five-star General of the Army.

May 1949 made permanent five-star General of the Air Force.



General of the Army Henry Harley Arnold, who retired in 1946, as Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, spent more than 42 years in his country’s service. During that time he watched and helped the U.S. air arm grow from a fledgling corps of two planes to the mightiest air armada the world has ever seen. Arnold’s own broad shoulders became as much the symbol and trademark of the new Air Force as the white star that it flew into battle. His early career was as uneventful as that of any of the young fliers he commanded in World War II. He was born in suburban Gladwyn, Pennsylvania on June 25th, 1886. He graduated from high school with the customary indecision about a career, not sure whether he should enter a seminary to become a Baptist minister or study medicine and eventually take over his father’s practice. He started keeping company at this time with Eleanor Poole, whom he later married. When an older brother decided not to follow through on an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, Arnold took the examinations for West Point and was accepted. He entered West Point in 1903.

On June 14th, 1907, he emerged as a second lieutenant in the Infantry, with the nickname of “Happy” which soon became “Hap” and holding orders to report to the 29th Infantry in the Philippine Islands. There he spent two years working on a topographical survey of the island of Luzon, returning to an assignment at Governor’s Island, New York. His duties were routine until one day in 1910 when Harry N. Atwood, famed cross-country pilot, landed on the Governor’s Island parade ground in a Curtiss biplane. 2nd Lt. Arnold was invited to fly and his memorable time in the aircraft inspired him to take a new direction in his military career. His application for transfer to the aviation section of the Signal Corps was already on file when the first Congressional appropriation specifically for aeronautics–$125,000–was made in 1911, permitting expansion of the unit. On April 23rd of that year, Arnold received orders to Dayton, where two new planes for the Army were under construction by America’s foremost bicycle builders. He survived the chest-thumping, eye tests, and blood pressure check that constituted the preflight medical examination of that day. Arnold subsequently received accreditation to a local boarding house and was briefed in the use of proper trolleys to reach the flying field.

After completing a two-month course in which he mastered the aerodynamic characteristics of a two-seater Wright biplane whose top speed was 40 m.p.h., Lt. Arnold received orders in June 1911 for duty at College Park. This 1000 acre tract of leased land just outside Washington was the “Randolph Field” of the time. No Army qualifications for acceptance as a pilot then existed; essentially, if a man could keep the thing in the air, he was a pilot. Consequently, the Army adopted the Federation Aeronautique Internationale regulations. On July 6th, 1911, Arnold won his pilot’s rating and received Aviator’s Certificate No. 29. The following day he celebrated the event by ascending to 3,260 feet, an unheard of altitude for a military flier. Two weeks later he raised his ceiling to 4,167 feet in a flight of 27 minutes, 35 seconds. The headlines described this event: “Near Death in Aero: Lt. Arnold benumbed by cold at high altitude.” Flying was still a seasonal affair in 1911, and when summer ended personnel and planes were packed off in November from Maryland to a winter flying school in Augusta, Georgia, where Arnold served until April 1912.

After a few days duty at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he resumed his flight duty at College Park. By that time the Army had posted the requirements for acceptance as a military aviator. They specified, among other items, that the candidate must be able attain an altitude of 2,500 feet, fly in a wind of at least 15 m.p.h., carry a passenger to a height of 500 feet, and make a dead-stick landing within 150 feet of a designated point, plus a military reconnaissance of 20 miles cross-country at an average altitude of 1,500 feet. Arnold qualified on July 5th, 1912, winning the first of all U.S. Military Aviator badges, which remained a proud decoration on his dress uniform throughout his career. Arnold acquired another distinguishing characteristic of his appearance in the same manner. He had received an order to make a trip to Marblehead, Massachusetts, with another flier to pick up a Wright Type C, (the first cockpit type plane that the Signal Corps purchased) and fly it to Stanford, Connecticut, where Army maneuvers were underway. There was a crash landing on the water, and as he described it: “There I was, tangled up in the wires and bleeding like a stuck pig. Just then I saw a couple of G.A.R. veterans sailing toward me. I yelled at them, and they hauled in close to the wreck, looked at me for a moment and then squared away in the wind again. ‘Anybody’s fool enough to get himself into one of those things,’ I heard one mutter, ‘can get himself out again’.” A crew from a near-by Coast Guard station was more merciful and hauled in the victims. The accident left a deep scar on the Arnold chin, which most interviewers incorrectly identified as a dimple.

Instruction was the principal occupation for the qualified Army pilots of the day, and Lt. Arnold did his share of it. Mingled with instruction were other activities, “dead-stick” landings, altitude experiments, cross-county flights of 20 to 30 miles. On one of these, Arnold flew over Capitol Hill in Washington, unaware that Representatives and Senators alike were impatiently awaiting the arrival of an aviator on a history-making flight from Squantum, Massachusetts. The flier had left Squantum 10 days previously and after various vicissitudes was last reported in Baltimore, awaiting “suitable weather” to complete the journey. Arnold’s famous record flight to an altitude of 6,540 feet was made June 1st, 1912 in a Burgess-Wright. In July and August, he participated in the regular Army and National Guard maneuvers in New York and Connecticut and established several aeronautical records. During this time, he picked up a sack of mail in Gordon City, Long Island and delivered it to Hampstead, five miles away, the first man to fly the mail. At the Chicago Air meet in September 1912, Lt. Arnold qualified for another pioneer rating, winning Expert Aviator Certificate No. 4, awarded by the Aero Club.

On October 9th, he became the first Army officer to have his name inscribed on the newly-contributed Mackay Trophy, for successfully reconnoitering a triangular course from College Park to Washington Barracks, D.C., then to Fort Meyer, Virginia and return to College Park. He was required to fly over the course, locate a troop of cavalry, and return to give his report within 45 minutes despite a stiff wind. On this flight, he piloted the early type of Wright biplane powered with a 40-horsepower engine revolving two propellers by the chain and sprocket method. Shortly afterward, Arnold went to Ft. Riley, Kansas, as part of a detail of three officers assigned to experiment with the direction of artillery fire from a plane. The time consumed in flying from the point of observation to the battery and dropping reports by weighted cards was excessively wasteful, and contact by radio was agreed to be the more efficient method. It still is – and Arnold was the first military aviator to use radio for reporting observations. Following his assignment to the Office of the Chief Signal Officer at Washington in November 1912, Arnold was not actively engaged in further experimental flying, but his interest in the subject remained alive and forward looking.

Perhaps this was stimulated by his contacts with the youngest man ever to serve on the General Staff, a 32-year-old captain named William E. (Billy) Mitchell. Captain Mitchell was in charge of all the information reaching the War Department from the scene of the current strife in the Balkans, and some of the documents of a technical nature were translated at Lt. Arnold’s desk before they went to Capt. Mitchell. These two officers had a common interest in the first practicable bombsight, which Riley Scott had just invented, and they had much to say to each other about its capabilities. The 27-year-old lieutenant with two years of aviation behind him was described as “one of the veteran fliers of the Army Corps of Aviation” when he wrote a treatise for The Infantry Journal. Outlining the utility of the airplane in warfare, Arnold mentioned “reconnaissance, warding off hostile aircraft, messenger services, observing artillery operations, carrying supplies, and offensive operations.” It was a prophetic article. Even at this time there were those who were arguing for a separate air force. It will doubtless astonish those familiar only with recent history to discover, from testimony given before the Military Affairs Committee of the House, the position of Arnold and Mitchell at the time. They were not for it. They, in fact, opposed it. In Mitchell’s words: “Today it would be a mistake to start a separate air corps.”

Having completed six years in the regular Army and written his name indelibly into the records of aviation history, Arnold received a promotion to first lieutenant on April 10th, 1913. His two year tour of duty with the Aviation Section ended and he returned to the Infantry, reporting to Fort Thomas, Kentucky. In November 1913, he sailed for the Philippines, this time with his bride of two months. In 1916 he returned to the United States, still an Infantry Officer. The first air battles already had occurred over France and British and French planes had even bombed a German ammunition plant at Saarbrucken in August 1915. In Mexico, the U.S. First Aero Squadron (of eight planes) was assisting with the Punitive Expedition under General Pershing. These events were reflected in a Congressional appropriation of $200,000 for aviation purposes in 1915 and for $500,000 in the next year. With only 23 military aviators in the Army and “preparedness” the watchword of the hour, Arnold was reassigned to the Aviation Section in March 1916. He won his captain’s bars in May and was assigned to the newly established Aviation School at San Diego. As war became increasingly imminent, the Army sent him to the Canal Zone in February 1917 to organize and command the first aerial defense of that area. The outbreak of war brought Arnold duties as commander of a pursuit school at Carlstrom, Florida, then assignment to Washington as head of the Information Services of the Aviation Section, and temporary promotions to major (6/27/1917) and to colonel (8/5/1917).

When the Bureau of Military Aeronautics came into being early in 1918, Arnold was assigned as Assistant Executive, then Executive, and finally Assistant Director. Colonel Arnold embarked for Europe early in November 1918 to inspect overseas installations, but arrived just in time to help celebrate the Armistice. In January 1919, Colonel Arnold became District Supervisor, Western District Air Service at Coronado, California, serving there until May 30th, 1919. His next assignment was as Air Officer, Ninth Corps Area, and Presidio of San Francisco, California until October 27th, 1922. During this assignment the aftermath of war saw him returned to his permanent rank of captain until June 30th, 1920, and the next day he received a promotion to major, a rank he was to hold for 11 years. On August 11th, 1920, he transferred to the just established Army Air Services. After his service at San Francisco, Major Arnold became commanding officer of Rockwell Field, California, serving until August 15th, 1924. The moribund status of the Air Service and the lack of funds for expansion during this period did not deter Major Arnold from doing all he could to impress on his countrymen that the air was a subject worthy of their attention.

The Army initiated many important Air Corps activities while Arnold was serving on the Pacific Coast. He organized the forest fire air patrols on the west coast which covered 16,000,000 square miles of territory in 1920, much to the gratification of the Forestry Service. He kept aircraft in the public eye both aloft and on the front pages of the country’s newspapers by inspiring a new refueled world’s speed record for 3,000 kilometers, which Lt. Lowell H. Smith and Lt. J.P. Richter set in June 1923. Later came another refueling record in which Lts. Richter and Smith flew 1,250 miles in 12 hours, 13 minutes, taking off from a field at the border of British Columbia and flying to Mexico before returning to Rockwell.

General Henry “Hap” Arnold died on January 15th, 1950.