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A Brief History of Air Education and Training Command

SMSgt Timothy Tellgren
HQ AETC History and Research Office

Air Education and Training Command was created on 1 July 1993 when Air University merged with Air Training Command. Headquartered at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, Air Education and Training Command traces its lineage back to the Air Corps Flying Training Command, created in the early years of World War II. Since that time, the country and its Air Force have gone through a Cold War and numerous major and minor regional conflicts. These military events, along with various political and economic factors, have influenced how Air Education and Training Command has gone about accomplishing its mission of recruiting, training and educating Air Force people. This year HQ AETC celebrates its 60th Anniversary and continues to carry on in its mission replenishing the combat capability of our nation’s Air Force.

World War II

Military developments in the years leading up to America’s entry into World War II confirmed the nation’s need for a strong air arm. By 1940, the United States began to take steps to greatly expand the size of the Army Air Corps. The increased demand for flying training caused by this expansion resulted in the creation of the Air Corps Flying Training Command on 23 January 1942. The first commander was Maj Gen Barton K. Yount. He retained command when the organization was redesignated the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command on 15 March 1942, after Congress redesignated the Army Air Corps as the Army Air Forces. General Yount shifted the command’s headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Fort Worth, Texas, on 1 July 1942.

The pre-war expansion and America’s ultimate entry into World War II in 1941 brought about an enormous increase in new recruits requiring training. Despite ever-increasing production goals, the flying training and technical training commands were able to meet the nation’s demand for trained pilots, air crewmen, and technicians. Through use of military and contract flying instructors pilot production increased dramatically – from only 184 in 1937 to a peak of 11,411 graduating from primary pilot training in November 1943. Technician production likewise increased. In the two decades prior to 1940, the Air Corps trained a total of 15,000 technicians. By June 1943, Army Air Forces Technical Training Command was producing 600,000 technicians per year. Between 1 January 1939 and the end of the war, the training commands produced 192,676 pilots, 294,847 gunners, more than 45,000 bombardiers and over 1.3 million technicians.

While ultimately successful, this enormous expansion of the training mission highlighted some difficulties with the Army Air Force’s training command structure. To remedy these, Chief of the Army Air Forces General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold merged the flying training and technical training missions on 31 July 1943, creating the Army Air Forces Training Command. Maj Gen Yount, who was promoted to lieutenant general in September 1943, became the first commander, with headquarters at Fort Worth, Texas. At the peak of the war, his command consisted of 461,656 personnel and 438 training bases.

Post-war Drawdown

Shortly after the Army Air Forces Training Command was established, and before the war was even over, demand for technical training began to decline somewhat. This was probably due to the success of the command’s predecessor organizations. Technical training schools, which had graduated 75,000 technicians in May 1943, had reduced production to 21,000 by December 1944. The command also reduced flying training prior to the end of the war. However, with Japan’s surrender on 2 September 1945, demobilization and consolidation of training activities began in earnest. Between the surrender date and the end of December 1945, the number of people in the command dropped from 496,000 to 196,000, while the number of active training stations decreased from 95 to 39. By mid-1946 the number of training stations was down to 13.

The post-war drawdown resulted in several organizational changes for the Army Air Forces Training Command. In February 1946, the command’s headquarters moved from the leased facility at Forth Worth to Barksdale Field, Louisiana. On 1 July 1946, Army Air Forces redesignated the command as Air Training Command (ATC). On 1 November 1946, Air Training Command adopted a three-division organizational structure – Flying Division, Technical Division, and Indoctrination Division. And in September 1947, the National Defense Act established the United States Air Force as a separate service.

Berlin Airlift and the end of the 1940s

Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, strained ever since the rush to occupy Berlin in the closing days of World War II, worsened in 1948. The Soviets blocked ground access to the American, British and French sectors of Berlin. With air corridors being the only available supply routes into the city, the Berlin Blockade provided the newly independent US Air Force with an extreme test of its air transport capabilities. Although successful, the Berlin Airlift made the nation aware of how low Air Force strength had been allowed to dip. This resulted in a temporary surge in both flying training and technical training.

During this period, ATC first began using the T-33 “Shooting Star” jet aircraft in advanced single-engine pilot training. But when the Berlin Blockade ended in 1949, the Air Force was again hit with reductions that resulted in forced reorganizations and reduced training. Because the long runways at Barksdale AFB were better suited to strategic bombers than trainer aircraft, Air Force transferred Barksdale to Strategic Air Command in September 1949. Headquarters ATC consequently moved to Scott AFB, Illinois, effective 17 October 1949. And in November 1949, Defense Department directives targeting intermediate levels of command compelled ATC to abolish its three-division organizational structure and take over direct administration of the entire training program.

Korean War and the 1950s

This lull in training production, combined with Fiscal Year 1950 budget cuts, resulted in a shortage of trained manpower when the Korean War erupted in June 1950. The Air Force resorted to an involuntary recall of reservists to fill the gap while Air Training Command expanded its training efforts to meet wartime demands. Shortly after the war began, the Air Staff transferred most of the combat aircrew training mission from the operational commands to ATC, placing an even heavier burden on the command. Air Force directed Air Training Command to double pilot production to 7,200 per year, and to increase technician production to 225,000 per year. As it had in World War II, ATC used contract instructors to help meet the demand for flying training. In the first year of the war alone, the command increased its flying training bases from 17 to 29, and increased its personnel strength from 70,000 to 109,000. The rapid increase in the training mission quickly became too much for a single headquarters to handle, so ATC set up three subordinate commands to share the load: Flying Training Air Force, Technical Training Air Force, and Crew Training Air Force. By the end of the war, command personnel strength reached over a quarter of a million. Although ATC added only one technical training base during the war, it surpassed the technician production goal by increasing the academic week, shortening classes into specialized segments, and going to a multi-shift operation.

With the end of the Korean War on 27 July 1953, Air Training Command again began to reduce its training activities. Many of the style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Arial;mso-bidi-font-family: "Times New Roman"'>command’s facilities transferred to Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Tactical Air Command (TAC). Over the next ten years, ATC reduced its bases from 43 to 16, and its personnel from 271,849 to 79,272. In large part this was due to the return of the crew training mission to the operational commands. In 1958, ATC returned bomber crew training to SAC and fighter crew training to TAC. At about the same time, ATC gained another mission when it took over responsibility for the recruiting mission in 1954. Then in 1957, Headquarters Air Training Command moved from Scott AFB, Illinois, to Randolph AFB, Texas, in order to reduce operating costs by being closer to its primary training facilities. One year later, the command began experimenting with eliminating propeller-driven aircraft from primary pilot training. “Project All-Jet” was a success, and in 1959, ATC began replacing the T-28 “Trojan” propeller-driven trainer with the T‑37 “Tweety Bird” jet engine primary trainer.

Vietnam War and the 1960s

While the 1960s were full of crises and conflicts, the most significant changes for Air Training Command occurred early and late in the decade. In the early 1960s, ATC converted from specialized to generalized undergraduate pilot training (UPT). During this time, the command retired the World War II-era B‑25 “Mitchell” it had been using for advanced multi-engine training under specialized UPT. Under generalized UPT, all pilots received the same training, regardless of what type of operational aircraft they would ultimately fly. ATC acquired the T-38 “Talon” jet, and it became the main advanced trainer aircraft for all student pilots. The first T‑37/T‑38 undergraduate pilot training course was held at Webb AFB, Texas, in February 1962. During the next few years, increasing numbers of US service members went to Southeast Asia as military advisors to the South Vietnamese armed forces, but the effect on ATC was negligible. When President Lyndon B. Johnson increased America’s military involvement in Vietnam in 1965, there was a resultant increase in Air Force military and technical training. However, unlike previous wars, the Vietnam War did not result in a drastic increase in the command’s bases or personnel. This was because ATC reverted to a split-phase program of basic military training, and because the command’s training philosophy was geared toward generalized rather than specialized technical training. Pilot training gradually increased as the war dragged on. But officials reassigned many of ATC’s best instructor pilots to the operational commands, creating severe flying training difficulties. Then in 1969, ATC’s involvement in a program of training and equipping the Vietnamese Air Force to become a self-sufficient, 40-squadron air force caused technical training production to surge by approximately 50 percent, to over 310,000. This increase, however, was not to last long.

Post-Vietnam and the 1970s

As popular support for the Vietnam War waned and American forces began to pull out of Southeast Asia, ATC’s training requirements gradually diminished. From almost 73,000 personnel assigned in 1972, the command shrank to slightly over 50,000 in 1977. President Richard M. Nixon ended the draft on 30 June 1973, converting the military to an all-volunteer force. Also, during this period the percentage of recruits with a high school education declined to the lowest point in the history of the Air Force. These factors combined to make the 1970s yet another era of change for Air Training Command.

One change was in the command’s approach to technical training. Poor retention rates and the generally lower quality of recruits prompted ATC to shift from a “career oriented” technical training philosophy to one of teaching only those tasks recruits needed during their first enlistment. This reduced the length of training while also lowering training costs. To supplement on-duty training, and in hopes of attracting higher-quality recruits, Air Force established the Community College of the Air Force in 1972 as part of ATC.

Another change came in the form of increased opportunities for women. The first class of 10 women pilots in the USAF received their wings on 2 September 1977, and the first class of female graduates from undergraduate navigator training received their wings at Mather AFB, California, on 12 October 1977. Other changes came out of the need to reduce training costs in order to fund the F-15, F-16 and A-10 modernization programs. These included closing Craig and Webb Air Force Bases, increasing reliance on flight simulators, and reducing flying hours in undergraduate pilot training. Still another change was the way in which ATC conducted undergraduate navigator training. In 1978, navigator training shifted from generalized to specialized, with follow-on advanced training specific to the student’s career track.

In keeping with the consolidations of the 1970s, Air Training Command assumed responsibility in 1978 for two additional functions: Air University and cryptologic training. Air Force transferred Air University to ATC effective 15 May 1978. Air University, established as a major command on 12 March 1946 at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, controlled Air War College, Air Command and Staff College, and other professional military education schools. This consolidation brought all professional military education under the same roof as basic military, technical, and flying training. However, Air Force officials soon became concerned this arrangement lowered the visibility and diminished the importance of Air War College and the other schools. Therefore, on 1 July 1983 – little more than five years after the realignment – Air Force once again conveyed separate command status upon Air University. The USAF Security Service at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, had conducted all Air Force cryptologic training since 1958. On 1 July 1978, both Goodfellow and the cryptologic training mission transferred to ATC.

Reagan Era and the 1980s

During the military expansion of the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s, ATC was able to improve training in several areas. The command added more flying hours to the pilot training program and extended the course by three weeks. In the fall of 1981, ATC began training pilots from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries under the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) program at Sheppard AFB, Texas. In 1984, expanded training budgets allowed the command to change back to a philosophy of training technical personnel to the fullest extent possible, rather than limiting training to the skills needed only for the first enlistment. Technical training courses, especially those in “sortie-producing” specialties, were expanded from generalist courses to specialized instruction. By 1985, the average length for these courses had risen to nearly 17 weeks.

However, several events in the middle and late1980s brought about the next cycle of restricted military spending affecting ATC’s mission. The first was passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act in 1985. This Act attempted to reduce the national debt by forcing federal government agencies to eliminate deficit spending. By Fiscal Year 1988, ATC began to feel the effects of the Act. Funding for technical training dropped by over 15 percent, and the command had to institute a civilian hiring freeze. Then, in rapid succession beginning in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Cold War was over. Suddenly, the threat from the East that had dominated American military thinking for decades was gone. Congress quickly cut military spending in response to the diminished threat.

Persian Gulf War and the 1990s

To cope with the reduced budget and changing military situation, Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill A. McPeak developed the concept of “Global Reach-Global Power” as a blueprint for organizing, training, and equipping the Air Force. As part of this concept, he designated 1992 the “Year of Training” and directed that the goal of all training would be to make Air Force members “mission ready” upon arrival at their first duty station. One aspect of this was a requirement that all enlisted personnel attend technical training. Another was a return to specialized undergraduate pilot training (SUPT). Under SUPT, students received a common core of training in the T-37, followed by specialized training depending on the pilot’s intended career track. Students on the fighter-bomber track received advanced training in the T‑38. Those planning to fly tankers and transport aircraft received specialized instruction in the T-1A “Jayhawk,” which ATC began acquiring in 1990. 

In the midst of these changes, the Persian Gulf War erupted when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990. In support of wartime demands, ATC deployed over 3,000 command personnel to other commands. Then ATC called up 2,387 individual mobilization augmentee reservists and over 1,000 inactive reservists and Air Force retirees to fill active duty positions vacated by wartime deployments. Air Force also activated ATC’s 11th Contingency Hospital and deployed it to the United Kingdom to treat expected casualties from the war. Fortunately, the Persian Gulf War did not produce large numbers of American casualties, and the conflict was soon over. Air Training Command got on with the task of consolidating training and in Fiscal Years 1993 and 1994 closed Chanute, Mather, Williams, and Lowry Air Force Bases. However, despite the return to tightened budgets, ATC did not back off from its commitment to fully train personnel to be mission ready upon arrival at their first operational assignment.

An especially important Year of Training initiative was the recommendation to create a single, coherent education and training structure for officer, enlisted, and civilian personnel. As a result of this recommendation, Air Force again merged Air University and ATC, redesignating the command as the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) on 1 July 1993. This event brought about the activation of two numbered air forces – the Nineteenth, to oversee flying training from Randolph AFB, Texas, and the Second, to manage technical training from Keesler AFB, Mississippi. The command also converted its training centers to training wings and resumed responsibility for much of the aircrew training mission, freeing the operational commands to focus on warfighting. As a result of regaining the aircrew training mission, the command gained Tyndall, Luke, Altus and Little Rock Air Force Bases in 1993. The expanding US economy of the late 1990s and the Air Force’s high operational tempo in many hot spots around the globe contributed to retention and recruiting difficulties. In 1999, the Air Force Recruiting Service failed to meet its recruiting goals for only the second time in the USAF’s existence. This led to increases in enlistment bonuses and advertising money, and for the first time prompted the Air Force to buy television airplay for recruiting advertisements.

The Year 2000 and Beyond

Air Education and Training Command concluded the first century of flight with two numbered air forces, Air University, Air Force Recruiting Service, and Wilford Hall Medical Center. AETC was also responsible for two of the Air Force’s three officer commissioning programs – The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and Officer Training School (OTS). At the beginning of the year 2000, the command owned 13 bases and had more than 40,000 active duty members, over 3,000 Reserve and Guard personnel, and approximately 14,000 civilians assigned. The command’s inventory contained almost 1,500 aircraft, including newest USAF flight trainer T-6A “Texan II,” the T-37B “Tweet,” the F-15 “Eagle,” the C-17 “Globemaster III,” the UH-1H “Iroquois,” and many others. Often called the “First Command” because of its vital role as the initial training assignment for new Air Force members, AETC entered the new millenium proud of its past and ready for the challenges of the future

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