Embry-Riddle at War: Aviation Training during World War II

  • Published

Embry-Riddle at War: Aviation Training during World War II by Stephen G. Craft. University Press of Florida, 2009, 344 pp.

Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the United States’ plummet into World War II created an immediate need for pilots. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had prearranged the rush to join the Army Air Forces (AAF) in his message to Congress on 12 January 1939, which many people consider the beginning of a period of expansion that did not peak until 1944. The president asserted that “increased range, increased speed, [and] increased capacity of airplanes abroad” had changed the requirements for defensive aviation and strongly urged Congress to grant a $300 million appropriation for purchasing aircraft (Department of State, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931–1941 [Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1943], 452–53). At this time, the AAF numbered roughly 1,700 aircraft, 1,600 officers, and 18,000 enlisted. By March, Congress had passed a bill bringing the AAF’s strength to 5,500 airplanes; 3,200 officers; and 45,000 enlisted—half as much as the service had received in the preceding 14 fiscal years.

By 1 July 1939, after Hitler had absorbed Czechoslovakia and was preparing to invade Poland, the AAF possessed a 24-combat-group program with an annual training requirement of 1,200 pilots. As the German blitzkrieg swept across Europe in June 1940, this contingent expanded to 41 groups, then 54, and, finally, in March 1941 to a robust 84 groups with an unprecedented annual production of 30,000 pilots per year. However, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would change those numbers. By late December 1941, the three flying training centers received notice that pilot production had increased to 50,000 per year, a number eventually set at 93,000 annually.

To meet this great demand for pilots, the AAF turned to civilian organizations to help the three regional training centers: the Gulf Coast Training Center at Randolph Field, Texas; the West Coast Training Center at Moffet Field, California; and the Southeast Training Center at Maxwell Field, Alabama—all assigned to the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. Originally, Gen Henry “Hap” Arnold favored contracting out primary pilot training to nine private flying schools, but because of Pearl Harbor that number expanded to 41 civilian primary schools overseen by the three centers (at the peak of primary training in May 1943, 56 schools were in operation).

At this point, Stephen G. Craft’s Embry-Riddle at War: Aviation Training during World War II comes into play. In this book, the author examines a little-known aspect of Florida aviation history during World War II—specifically, the fact that thousands of student pilots received basic and advanced training in civilian and military aircraft in the blue skies above the peninsula. Embry-Riddle at War begins by looking at the early history of the company, its absorption during the 1920s into the group that formed American Airways, and its reestablishment in Miami, Florida. Within a few years, a tiny operation of a few seaplanes had become a vast endeavor dedicated to training American and foreign aircraft technicians as well as American and British cadet pilots. Before the war ended, Florida boasted four fields for training pilots, and Tennessee had one.

In September 1939, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) notified Embry-Riddle and the University of Miami of the approval of their application to participate in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), making the University of Miami the first school in Florida to participate in the program and allowing Embry-Riddle to provide pilot training. The CPTP became Embry-Riddle’s “bread and butter.” John Paul Riddle declared that the company intended “to make this the largest and most efficient flying school in the South” (pp. 22–23)—and it did. During the 72-hour ground course, lectures covered the history of aviation, civil air regulations, navigation, meteorology, parachutes, aircraft theory and flight, engines, instruments, and radio uses, all of which Craft excellently explains. By November the CAA had certified the school to offer primary flying training and then recertified it in 1940 as a primary flying school authorized to provide secondary flying training.

Chapter 3, “American and British Cadet Pilot Training,” begins on 16 December 1940 when the undersecretary of war approved a contract for Embry-Riddle to start training military pilots. In January 1941, the US War Department announced Embry-Riddle’s assignment as part of the Southeast Air Corps Training Center to provide primary flight instruction to cadets. However, the expansion of Carlstrom Field, Florida, which allowed it to accommodate more students and made Carlstrom the largest “military flight center in the United States” (p. 58) came at a cost. The school nearly went bankrupt as Riddle took loans from a number of banks in Miami, even securing a loan of nearly $150,000 from Standard Oil Company.

By the middle of 1944, some 26,000 individuals had received training from Embry-Riddle. According to John Riddle, of that number, 22,000 were “Army and Navy cadets who received flight and technical training under civilian instructors at the five Embry-Riddle fields and at the Technical School in Miami” (p. 257). Embry-Riddle also restored more than 3,000 engines; 21,000 aeronautical instruments; and 700 complete aircraft through its Overhaul Division for the military and graduated 4,000 civilian trainees who wished to become pilots or technicians.

Stephen Craft’s Embry-Riddle at War is a refreshing and history-packed work that not only tells Embry-Riddle’s story but also dives into the grand scheme of a civilian pilot school during America’s greatest test—and does so successfully. Moreover, Craft brings to light Embry-Riddle’s own fight against the Nazi regime through both homeland defense and the school’s activities in Latin America—specifically, its creation of the Latin American Department in 1941, which offered dual education programs to both South American students and US citizens who planned to seek jobs in South America. After Selgado Filho, father of modern aviation in Brazil, toured various schools in the United States to see how they operated, he was especially impressed with Embry-Riddle. With the help of the US State and War Departments, Embry-Riddle collaborated with the Brazilians and by November 1943 had established the Escola Técnica de Aviação in Brazil for training technicians.

R. Ray Ortensie

Headquarters AFMC Command Curator

Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."