This article originally prepared by the AETC History Office.

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Sergeant Pilots

The story of enlisted pilots began long before the US Army admitted it even had any. In 1912 Capt Frank P. Lahm commanded a newly opened air school in the Philippines. Lahm had trouble finding enough officers to train, so Cpl Vernon L. Burge, his crew chief, volunteered. Burge received his pilot's license in June 1912. It was the start of an on-again, off-again relationship between the Army and enlisted pilots.

Only a few hundred enlisted airmen earned pilot wings before the training stopped during the depression. In June 1941 Congress passed Public Law 99, which authorized an enlisted pilot training program. The law permitted enlisted men between ages 18 and 25 who had graduated in the top half of their high school class to apply. By contrast, aviation cadets had to have two years of college and be at least 21 years old. A few months after the law was signed, the first class of enlisted pilots, who gained popularity as the "flying sergeants," reported to primary flying school. The sergeant pilots of Class 42-C finished their training and graduated on 7 March 1942, one half from Kelly Field and the other from Ellington Field in Texas. All of Class 42-C went to P-38s. Subsequent classes were assigned to various types of aircraft in both combat and support units.

The training of sergeant pilots was short-lived, however, ending in late 1942 because qualification requirements for both the enlisted pilot and aviation cadet programs were made equal. Flying training graduates were now given their wings and the rank of flight officer or second lieutenant, depending on class standing. When the sergeant pilots program ended, nearly 3,000 enlisted pilots (ranging from private through master sergeant) had earned their wings and flown for the Signal Corps, Air Service, Air Corps, and Army Air Forces.