USAF Helicopter Pilot Association

History of the Helicopter School


World War II

June 1944-

US Army Air Forces, Flying Training Command, Freeman Field, Seymour, Indiana, started with 5 instructor pilots flying R-4's.

Operational troubles with the new aircraft prevented the establishment of definite training quotas. The first two R-4's received at Freeman Field in June 1944 were out of commission nearly 80 % of the time that first year. In August 1944, seven helicopters were available.

December 1944 -

Training moved to Chanute Field, Illinois. A total of 14 R-4's were available for training. Student pilots received 25-30 hours of flight training in the R-4.

Five classes graduated from helicopter training during 1944. Out of a total of 39 students, 36 graduated. By the end of the war, Training Command helicopter school had produced 93 pilots and 335 mechanics. Many of these people served with the helicopter rescue and air commando units in the China-Burma-India Theater or participated in convoy scouting operations along the North Atlantic routes.


The Army Air Forces selected helicopter pilot training candidates from rated volunteer applicants. At first there no specific qualifications for helicopter training, although the AAF later required a current flight physical. After the end of World War II, the AAF in early 1946 restricted eligibility to flight officers, lieutenants with a pilot rating, or service pilots on flying status.

Post World War II

The size of the program increased during 1945 to approximately three times what it was in 1944. With the end of the war in Europe, the War Department closed hundreds of bases. To align Chanute Field to a purely technical training mission, all helicopter pilot training moved to Sheppard Field, a Flying Training Command base near Wichita Falls, Texas in June 1945. Eighteen helicopters were transferred.

The end of World War II left the helicopter training program in a state of confusion. Training Command suspended all training in early October 1945 and by the end of the month little remained of the school. The Army Air forces offered no incentives for the men to stay with the program, and more than 75 percent of the personnel left the service. By the middle of October, there was just one qualified helicopter pilot remaining to act as an instructor, and he was a recent graduate of the school.

To rebuild the helicopter pilot training program, Headquarters Army Air Force appointed a group of officers in January 1946 to recommend a new location for the school. San Marcos Army Air Field, Texas, a recently inactivated flying training base, was selected. Helicopter pilot training formally transferred to San Marcos on 31 May 1946.

On 1 March 1946, all entries into helicopter pilot training were temporarily suspended due to lack of maintenance personnel. In June 1946 there were five R-5 and sixteen R-6 helicopters at San Marcos and seldom were they all in operable condition.

The problem of instructor pilots was almost as critical as that of maintenance personnel. Most of the assigned pilots had not been overseas returnees, and were, therefore, subject to overseas duty. The number of instructors on hand varied from one to five making planning student loads nearly impossible. To stabilize instructor manning, the helicopter school requested assignment of one class composed entirely of combat returnees, who could be retained as instructors. A class of 10 combat returnees began training 15 July 1946.


United States Air Force

When the National Security Act of 1947 created a separate U.S. Air Force, the Army and Air Force agreed that the Air Force would continue to train Army helicopter pilots. Army Training was accomplished in the Bell H-13 helicopter and Air Force in the R-5 and R-6.

On 1 March 1949, San Marcos was inactivated and the school moved to James Connally AFB, Waco, Texas. Pilots trained in the R-5 and R-6 helicopters went on to serve almost exclusively in the Air Rescue Service. In August 1948 the H-6 helicopter was removed from the training program and students received 44 hours flying in the H-5.

In mid 1950, 10 hours of instrument training was added to the course. Army helicopter training was conducted in the H-13.

In March 1951, ATC transferred the helicopter pilot training program back to San Marcos AFB so James Connally AFB could expand its basic pilot training program to support the Air Force effort in Korea. Air Force pilots trained in the H-5 and H-23 helicopters.

In April 1952, Air Force pilots received 35 hours in the H-5 or H-23 and 35 hours in the H-19. Starting in 1953, flight training was 35 hours in the H-5 or H-13, then 35 hours in the H-19 or H-21. Army pilots received 45 hours in the H-13.




In April of 1956, the Air Force discontinued the training of Army helicopter pilots at Edward Gary AFB, San Marcos, Texas and the Air Force Helicopter School was moved to Randolph AFB, San Antonio, Texas in June 1956.


At Randolph the course was divided into three stages: H-13, H-19 and H-21 with 30 hours in each aircraft. In January 1958 ATC added a fourth phase, an operational or combat crew-training phase which was conducted at Stead AFB, Reno, Nevada. Stead would allow realistic desert, water, snow, mountainous, and high altitude training as well as collateral training with Air Training Command's survival school.




In July 1958, all Air Force helicopter pilot training moved to Stead. A total of 255 officers and airmen transferred. The students received 40 hours transition and instrument training and 30 hours operational tactics in the H-19 and 35 hours transition in the H-21.

In April 1960, the H-43B fire-fighting course was started at Stead AFB. In 1961, the training programs were consolidated. All conversion students would receive 70 hours training in the H-19. Students then destined for H-43 assignments would receive 30 hours in the H-43 while those programmed for H-19 or H-21 assignments would be given 35 hours of H-21 training.

The military situation in Vietnam required that Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) helicopter pilots be produced as rapidly as possible. In December 1962, the 917th Field Training Detachment (FTD) led by Col. Jimmy Hamill, was deployed at Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon, South Vietnam. Instructors were taken from Stead and other ATC units to began VNAF helicopter pilot training in H-19B helicopters. During the following 18 months of its operation, the 917th FTD trained a total of 95 helicopter pilots and 92 mechanics.

In 1965, the H-21 was phased out as training began in the CH-3C. During the fall/winter of 1965, the U.S.A.F. Helicopter School moved from Stead to Sheppard AFB, Texas. The H-19 was phased out in 1967 and replaced with the UH-1F. Students received 35 hours in the UH-1 and 35 hours in the H-43, or 70 hours in the UH-1, or 35 hours each in the UH-1 and CH-3C.


Back to the Army - 1970

This was the end of what we had known as the USAF Helicopter School where we took the students from beginning to end.

In October 1970, Air Force student helicopter pilots began to receive training from Army and Civil Service instructor pilots at Fort Wolters, Texas. After graduation from the Army training qualified as first pilots in the UH-1, they would proceed to Sheppard AFB for Phase III combat crew training in UH-1F and CH-3C helicopters.

The first Air Force SUPT-H students began attending Army sponsored helicopter pilot training at Fort Rucker in 1971. In April 1971, the 1550th ATTW was activated at Hill AFB, Utah. After initial training by the Army, the pilots were upgraded for Air Force missions in the UH-1, CH-3, or H-53.

The Training unit moved to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico during the first quarter of 1976. Pilot qualification in the MH-60 began in 1991. The H-3 was phased out in 1992.

From 1971 to 2004, SUPT-H at Fort Rucker primarily operated as an Army owned and controlled program. In 2004, the training remained at Fort Rucker, but the Air Force mission required changes in the training program and the Air Force assumed ownership/responsibility for conducting SUPT-H.


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