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Born on June 25, 1886, in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, Henry Hap Arnold graduated from West Point in 1907 and was commissioned in the infantry. He served two years in the Philippines and two more at Governors Island, New York. In April 1911 he transferred to the aeronautical division of the Signal Corps. In June of that year he received his pilot's certificate after taking instruction from Orville Wright in Dayton, Ohio. For nearly a year he was an instructor at the Army's first aviation school at College Park, Maryland. In September 1911 he flew the first U.S. airmail; on June 1, 1912 he won the first Mackay trophy for aviation. He was then attached to the aviation school at San Diego, California. In February 1917 he was ordered to the Panama Canal Zone to organize and command an air service there.
In May he was called to staff duty in Washington, D.C., overseeing the army's aviation training schools until the end of World War I. From 1919 to 1924 he served in various posts in the Pacific states. On July 6, 1924, he set a new speed record, 113 mph average, between Rockwell and San Francisco. In 1934 he won a second Mackay Trophy for his command of a flight of ten B-10 bombers from Bolling Field, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back. In December 1935, he was named assistant chief of the Air Corps, and in September 1938 he became chief of the Air Corps. Long a champion of the concept of air power (he had supported Col. William Mitchell's campaigning in that cause) Arnold employed considerable ingenuity in maximizing the Air Corp's combat readiness on sharply limited prewar budgets. A program of sending future pilots to civilian training schools was begun. Similarly Arnold used his influence with manufacturers to urge them to begin preparing for greatly stepped-up production of the latest models.
By the time the United States entered World War II in December 1941 the productive capacity of the aircraft industry had increased six fold from 1939 and pilot training capacity had kept pace. He was designated Commanding General, Army Air Force, in the War Department reorganization of March 1942 that raised the air arm to coordinate status with the other two major commands, Army Ground Forces and Army Services Forces. During the war he served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Allied combined chiefs, helping to plan overall strategy for the war and particular contributing to the strategies and organization that early established Allied control of the air in all theaters. In a step that looked toward the eventual creation of an independent air force, he organized in April 1944 the Twentieth Air Force, a global strategic bombing force flying B-29's, under his direct command as agent for the Joint Chiefs (Gen. Curtis E. LeMay was field commander of the Twentieth for most of the war). In December 1944 he was one of four army leaders promoted to five-star rank of general of the army.
Hap Arnold turned over command of the AAF to Gen. Carl Spaatz in March 1946 and formally retired in June to a farm near Sonoma, California. In May 1949 he was named General of the Air Force, the first such commission ever made.
From Leadership: 2000 And Beyond, Vol. I, Civil Air Patrol, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
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Updated: 12 March, 2004