Monday, January 21, 2008

Read: A History of Military Aviation in San Antonio (up to finish)

I finished this book tonight, and it has left a profound appreciation for the early growth of aviation, military and otherwise, in the years following the Wright Brothers' flight. The final synopsis, from my notes, follows:

Randolph took on Vietnamese and Latin-American students after 1963. These students were trained on the T-28 (undergraduate pilot), the C-47 (transition course), initially, though more planes and courses were added in later years.

The first college degrees granted by the US Military were Associates in Applied Science, from the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF). The CCAF was established at Randolph in 1972. Air Training Command began granting degrees to those that finished a CCAF program, in 1977. However, that same year, the CCAF moved to Lackland, and then Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1979.

Randolph's initiatives have largely focused on training. Even after busy periods, such as World War II and the Vietnam War, it kept training pilots as similar initiatives at Kelly and Brooks wound down. The pattern of each base having a respective focus is clear.

Lackland had a late start, compared to other bases. It was partitioned from Kelly Field in 1942, and had trouble with its identity until the War Department named the base Lackland, in 1947. Its early history traces with the growth in air training, following Pearl Harbor.

After the war, Lackland became the center of the USAF's indoctrination of basic trainees. You or I would call this Basic (Training) nowadays. With few historical exceptions, all enlisted Air Force personnel have gone through Lackland, since 1946.

Very large increases in Airmen training, at the start of the Korean War, meant that many recruits occupied tents instead of buildings. The situation was similar, though less dramatic, in the mid-1960s, during the Vietnam War.

The section on Lackland is very short, as it lacks the early frontier history of aviation, as well as a runway!

That wraps up the book, up to 117 pages including a Gazetteer and Illustrations List.

Who is this book for? Anyone interested in three out of the four nouns in the book's title: History, Military, and Aviation. San Antonio does not play a strong role, and while the growth of the Air Force in San Antonio from 1910 through 1946 is a part of the city's history, the growth is almost independent of circumstances in San Antonio.

Who is this book not for? Anyone who likes their history with a heavier emphasis on the personalities, the machinery, or with a critical examination. The individually- driven history really fades by World War II, and the history of the airplanes really peaks from the 1930s through the 1950s, in the context of the book. After the 1950s, the book focuses more on the growth and challenges of the bases, as organized, complex defense assets. The drama of the Cold War is missing, though the 1970s and 1980s were by and large a quiet time for San Antonio-area bases. Finally, this book does not have a critical look-back at decisions made. Maybe because unless a decision had widespread negative consequences of an immediate nature, there was no turning back.

Maybe the history of railroads is similar, in that sense. After the burst of construction, the wild personalities of the Robber-Barons, and the transcontinental railroad, there is much less drama to write about. After railroads, airplanes. After airplanes, the space program. After Skylab, the Apples, Microsofts, and the popularization of the Internet. What was new is now de facto, and the excitement and drama moves elsewhere.

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