The early development of the American Flying Service rested entirely with the Signal Corps, which had, on December 23, 1907, issued specifications for a man-carrying aeroplane that would be capable of remaining in the air for one hour without landing. These conditions were fulfilled the following summer by a Wright biplane fitted with a 35 h.p. engine, and the machine was duly purchased; but in spite of this early start the development of American military aeronautics lagged far behind the other Great Powers until the entry of the United States into the war.

During the eight years that elapsed in the meanwhile less than one million dollars was appropriated by Congress for military aeronautics, and the Flying Service remained a subsidiary branch of the Signal Corps, known as the Aviation Section, which had been established by Act of Congress on July 18, 1914.

On April 6, 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany, the establishment of the Aviation Section comprised 65 officers, 1,120 enlisted men, two small flying fields (Mineola and San Diego), and less than 300 very second-rate training aeroplanes.

Manufacturing facilities were comparatively insignificant and experienced aeroplane designers were lacking, and the latter explains why up to that date no modern service machine had been produced in the States, and why most of the American service aeroplanes produced during the war were of British or French design, with the minor alterations the fitting of the Liberty engine necessitated, if such was fitted.



The original American War Programme, based on an army of a million men, made of the air service but a relatively insignificant portion of the military forces, and this was to be met by two appropriations:

$10,800,000 on May 21, 1917

$43,450,000 on June 5, 1917

However, after the arrival in the States of a British and a French aviation mission, the General Staff revised their views, and concurred with the recommendations made by the Aircraft Production Board, calling for the construction of 22,500 aeroplanes and as many aero engines.

For this purpose Congress was asked to appropriate a sum of $640,000,000Cthe largest ever asked for one specific itemCand this was granted in record time, taking only one week till it became law. From this dateCJuly 24, 1917Cthe big American aircraft programme was really launched, largely in response to Allied appeals. As a result, an appropriation of $640,000,000 was made on July 24, 1917.

During 1917: American aircraft industry produced almost exclusively training aeroplanes. Among these:

1. Curtiss J.N. 4 (B., C., and D.).

2. Standard J.1 [for primary training].

3. Curtiss J.N. H. (Hispano-Suiza) two-seater.

4. Thomas-Morse S.4 (B. and C.).

5. Standard E.1 single-seaters for advanced training.


Some 30 flying fields were created for the training of aviators, and large numbers of Allied (especially French) specialists in military aeronautics were drawn upon for establishing the Flying Service on a thoroughly up-to-date foundation.

Standardizing three types of service machines:

1. D.H. 4

2. Bristol F.2 B

3. Spad de chasse

These planes were all modified to allow the fitting of a standardized aero engine, which was to be built in 4, 6, 8, and 12-cyl. models.

Liberty engines...orders placed in August, 1917 with firms:

1. Packard Motor Car Co.: 6,000 engines

2. Lincoln Motors Co.: 6,000 engines

3. Ford Motor Co.: 5,000 engines

4. Nordyke and Marmon: 3,000 engines

5. General Motors Corp.: 2,000 engines

6. Trego Motors Corp.: 500 engines


D.H. 4 and Bristol F. 2B: 12 cyl., 400 h.p. model

Spad: 8 cyl., 225 h.p. model

Liberty 12 engine:

By the time the Armistice was signed...13,396 of these engines had been delivered, the output for October, 1918, alone having reached 4,200.

Adaptation of the Liberty 12 to the D.H. 4 proved a success, and orders were placed for 9,500 of these, of which one-half were delivered during the war.


D.H. 4A

Note: Program was a failure and canceled for the other two.

Modification of Bristol F. 2B with Liberty 12 cyl.

Modification of the Spad with Liberty 8 cyl.


Errors/delays caused investigations. As a result, on April 24, 1918, the Aviation Section was separated from the Signal Corps and renamed Air Service.


Beginning early in 1919, standardized Air Service machines were to be built...but war ended before production was underway...all orders were deleted...but some had been shipped before Dec. 27, 1918. A total of 4,587 were shipped.



At the date Armistice was signed, the Air Service forces at the front included 2,161 officers and 22,351 soldiers, and those in the supply service in France, 4,643 officers and 28,353 soldiers. With the French armies were detailed 8 officers, and with the British Expeditionary Force, 49 officers and 525 soldiers. The total personnel in France consisted of 6,861 officers and 51,229 soldiers.

There were in operation on the front 39 aero squadrons, distributed as follows: 20 pursuit, 1 night bombardment, 6 day bombardment, 5 army observation, twelve corps observation, and one night observation squadrons.

Enemy aeroplanes brought down by American aviators included 491 confirmed and 354 unconfirmed, a total of 845, while 82 enemy observation balloons were reported as destroyed, of which 57 were confirmed. The Air Service lost, on the other hand, only 271 aeroplanes and 45 observation balloons, thus showing its marked superiority over the enemy.

The number of aeroplanes, by type, received from all sources by the American Expeditionary Force between September 12, 1917, and November 16, 1918, was as follows.

Pursuit for service, 3,337; pursuit for schools, 90.

Observation for service, 3,421; observation for schools, 664.

Day bombing for service, 421; day bombing for schools, 85.

Night reconnaissance, 31.

Other planes received included 2,285 training planes, 30 experimental planes, and 108 miscellaneous, making a total of 10,472.

Eight different schools under American control were established in France and designed for training 3,800 officers and 11,700 men. A total of 159 officers and soldiers were killed in training. Casualties at the front included 109 killed, 103 wounded, 200 missing, 27 prisoners and 3 interned, making a total of 442.

The total strength of the Division of Military Aeronautics, Air Service, on November 11, 1918: 18,688 officers, 5,775 cadets, and 133,644 soldiers. At that date the Air Service had trained 8,933 reserve military aviators at home, and about 2,300 had been trained in France, Great Britain, and Italy.

The personnel of the Bureau of Aircraft Production, Air Service, comprised 32,520 officers and soldiers.

The ground establishments of the Air Service in the United States comprised 40 flying fields, 8 balloon fields, 3 radio schools, 3 photography schools, 5 schools of military aeronautics, and 14 aircraft depots.


Elizabeth, N.J.

Factories at Elizabeth and Plainfield, N.J.

This, the second largest American aeronautical construction firm [1919], has produced during the war a great variety off machines. Among these is the first postal aeroplane distinctly designed for this purpose, and various numbers of standard J-1 training machines....DH-4a two-seater fighters also mentioned.


Single-seater Biplane.

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