Seventh Air Force - History - Origns - Formation of The Hawaiian Air Force

Formation of The Hawaiian Air Force

The United States Army Hawaiian Department was established on 6 February 1913, which formally established the presence of the Army in the Territory of Hawaii. The history of Seventh Air Force can be traced to the arrival of the 6th Aero Squadron, Aviation Section, Army Signal Corps, at Fort Kamehameha, Hawaii on 13 March 1917 under the Air Office, Hawaiian Department, which was established in 1916.

Airplanes assigned to the 6th Aero Squadron consisted of three Curtiss N-9 seaplanes which were single-engine biplanes carrying a crew of two and capable of a top speed of 70 miles an hour. Late in 1917 the U.S. Government purchased Ford Island in Pearl Harbor for use as an airport and by September 1918 the 6th Aero Squadron, by then composed of ten officers and a small group of enlisted men, moved to Ford Island.

The first inter-island flight occurred in February 1919 and by 1920 inter-island flights were used for training purposes. Early in 1920 the 4th Observation Squadron arrived at Ford Island, known by then as Luke Field, named for "balloon buster" Frank Luke who fell in action during World War I on the Western Front in 1918. Also by this time, Luke Field was used jointly by the aerial forces of the Army and Navy. The year 1920 marked a considerable advance in aviation in the Islands. The first night flight over Oahu took place on 30 June 1920.

Also air power began to take its place in the Hawaiian Department's military maneuvers. An aerial photo section joined other air units; the 23d Bombardment Squadron moved to Luke from March Field, California on 25 Jan 1923, and the 72d Bombardment Squadron was activated at Luke on 1 May 1923

The first detachment of twenty men started clearing land south of Schofield Barracks for Wheeler Field in February 1922. This Field was named for Major Sheldon H. Wheeler, who had assumed command of Luke Field in 1920 and was killed in an air accident in 1921. By June 1923, Wheeler boasted six 112x200 foot hangars, three used for housing shops and three others for planes, plus four hangars used as warehouses, and oil storage tanks holding 50,000 gallons. Tents and huts housed the men. The First commander of Wheeler Field was Major George E. Stratemeyer, who by 1941 was a brigadier general and Acting Chief of the Army Air Corps.

The first known reforesting by plane was accomplished for the Department of Agriculture by a plane from Wheeler in 1926. The first non-stop Hawaiian flight from Oakland, California to Wheeler Field was made in June 1927 by Lts. L. J. Maitland and A. F. Hegenberger. (Navy Commander John Rodgers had set a non-stop seaplane record from San Francisco in 1925 and had fallen short of the mark for Honolulu, landing off the Island of Kauai), The famous Dole flight also took place in 1927, with Art Goebel and Lt. W. V. Davis, USN, the only fliers completing the flight to Hawaii.

During the period from 1917 to 1931, the military air component in Hawaii grew to seven tactical squadrons and two service squadrons. In 1931 the 18th Composite Wing was activated with headquarters at Fort Shafter, and was combined with the Air Office of the Hawaiian Department. The Hawaiian Air Depot was based at Luke Field. Since the Navy contemplated using the entire area available at Ford Island, plans for purchasing land adjacent to Pearl Harbor near Fort Kamehameha for construction of an airfield resulted in purchase by the U.S. Army on 20 February 1935 of this land from Faxon Bishop et al. for US$1,091~239.

Hickam Field was dedicated on 31 May 1935, named for Lt. Colonel Horace M. Hickam, C.O. 3rd Attack Group, killed 5 Nov 1934 at Ft. Crockett, Texas. The first detachment of 12 men (the 31st Bomb Squadron) arrived at Hickam on 1 September 1937 and was housed in tents. By September 1938, the Hawaiian Air Depot began its move from Luke Field. The move was completed on 31 October 1940.

On 1 November 1940 the Hawaiian Air Force was established as a part of the general United States Army Air Corps expansion program of 1939/1940. It was organized and activated with headquarters at Fort Shafter - the first Army Air Forces outside the continental United States. It consisted of two air base commands:

  • 18th Bombardment Wing; Formerly 18th Composite Wing (B-10's) at Hickam Field
  • 14th Pursuit Wing; Activated on 1 November 1940 (P-26's) at Wheeler Field

Aircraft strength at the beginning of the year 1941 consisted of 117 planes, mostly obsolete. In connection with defense plans for the Pacific, planes were brought to Hawaii throughout 1941 (principally P-36's and P-40's) by carrier. The first mass flight of Army bombers (21 B-17 Flying Fortresses) from Hamilton Field, California, arrived at Hickam on 13 May 1941. By December 7, 1941, the Hawaiian Air Force had been an integrated command for slightly more than one year, under the and consisted of 754 officers and 6,706 enlisted men with 231 military aircraft.

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