Flying Radiomen [and Radiowomen] of the Ferrying Division
June 1944 QST Article
is the mother of invention" is an oft-heard phrase that never rang truer than
during World War II. Both the Axis and the Allied powers had extremely
brilliant and capable people working to defeat each other, driving advances
in technology and methods at a break-neck pace for nearly a decade (remember
WWII began before the U.S. entered the fray in 1941). Aircraft and radio were
powerful new weapons for all sides at that point since both were still in
their fledgling modes in WWI. Efficient and effective execution of aircraft
ferrying, troop movement, and supply delivery was absolutely dependent on
radio equipment and operators that could adapt to new strategic situations
and endure all sorts of weather and geographic stresses. While the Army Signal
Corps had a good cadre of radio operators available, few were experienced
with operating in their gear while airborne. Background noise (audible and
electronic) and vibration from the engines and airframe tested the limits
of skills. This article from the June 1944 edition of the ARRL's QST magazine
tells the story of one of the Army Air Corps' greatest wartime successes.
Take a good look at the photos; some guy or gal in one of them might just
be your parent or grandparent.
of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the
ARRL's QST magazine. Here is a list of the
QST articles I have already posted. As time permits, I will
be glad to scan articles for you. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
See all available
vintage QST articles.
Flying Radiomen [and Radiowomen] of the
Duties and Training of Flight Radio Operators of the Ferrying
Division, ATC, AAF
By Lt. Col. Howard J. Haines,*
All Official Ferrying Division Photos
The author, ex-W2EIS, at his desk at Ferrying Division Headquarters in Cincinnati.
As director of radio training for the Ferrying Division he is in charge
of the Advanced Radio Training Unit.
ARTU students get post-graduate training in code ...
... and lab to qualify them for their specialized jobs.
The 60·day course ends with graduation exercises ...
... and the class leaves for points all over the globe.
WAC code instructors help ARTU students to boost code speeds and learn finer
points of operating procedure. Here Sgt. Carol A. Briggs is shown sending
a practice transmission from a student's operating position on a code-room
When the ARTU schools at Nashville and Long Beach were consolidated at the
Reno Air Base, the WAC code instructors from the Nashville school got some
actual experience as flight radio operators aboard the convoy of C-47 transports
which transferred the personnel and equipment to the new school.
WAC operating radio in C-47
WAC training in Army Air Corps C-47
WAC group standing under nose of Douglas C-47 Skytrain (I'm jealous - the
C-47/DC-3 is my favorite twin prop airplane)
After the WAC radio instructors of the Ferrying Division landed at the Reno
Air Base (opposite page, below) they shed flying togs and immediately went
to work helping the male instructors get the school in operation. Top to
bottom - (1) Two WAC sergeants inventoried supplies.
(2) A WAC corporal helped check lab equipment.
(3) Another sergeant and a male co-worker installed code-practice tables.
This war has brought great
strides in the development of aircraft radio communication and navigation.
The U. S. Army has great accomplishments to its credit in this field, and
not the least of these is the way thousands of men have been finely trained
to operate the new instruments. A notable example of such achievement by Air
Forces schools is the work of the Advanced Radio Training Unit of the Ferrying
Division, Air Transport Command.
To understand the work performed
by this Unit it is necessary first to know that the Ferrying Division of the
Air Transport Command delivers to Army air bases throughout the world most
of the aircraft manufactured in the United States for the AAF, and in addition
handles the movement of aircraft manufactured for lend-lease to the United
Nations. Operations of the Division extend throughout the world and include
regularly scheduled transport service between Florida and India over the longest
such route in existence - a distance of 14,000 miles.
it may be noted that the Air Transport Command itself is an outgrowth of the
original Ferrying Command. Created in the summer of 1941, the initial function
of the Ferrying Command was that of delivering to Canadian airports lend-lease
aircraft being manufactured in this country for the British. Shortly thereafter
it was given the additional assignment of carrying diplomatic mail and important
personnel between the U. S. A. and the United Kingdom.
After U. S.
entry into the war the functions of the Ferrying Command multiplied, and in
July, 1942, it was reorganized as the Air Transport Command. Eight separate
wings of the ATC now perform varied duties ranging from administering priorities
for air travel to flying vital cargoes of military freight to focal military
points all over the globe. The renamed Ferrying Division still performs its
original function of ferrying military aircraft, however.
major activity of the Division is conduct of most of the Air Transport Command's
training program. Advanced radio training is one of the important phases of
that program, as developed by Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner, commanding general
of the Ferrying Division - a graduate of West Point who, incidentally, at
the age of 37 holds a command pilot rating.
vs. Ground Operators
With the development of the stepped-up
air program for World War II, it was early discovered that a vast difference
existed between the qualifications required for ground radio operators and
those for flight radio operators.
The Ferrying Division lost
no time in correcting this difference by establishing its own schools for
the specific purpose of training ground radio operators for duty in the air.
Men who can successfully pull signals out of the air while sitting
on terra firma require altogether different training if they are to be able
to do the same thing successfully while in flight. The physical requirements
also are different; the airborne operator must have the same physical characteristics
as the pilot and navigator.
Furthermore, the flight radio operator
must know many things the ground operator seldom hears about. One of the most
important of these is radio navigation, a facility which has saved the lives
of many airmen in the past two years.
Prior to the war there had been
little development of radio navigational aids over the long routes across
the oceans. Most overwater air travel was accomplished in the traditional
manner - by employing celestial navigation. But celestial navigation, which
is a function of the navigator, depends upon a good sight of the stars, and
such a sight cannot always be had in fog-bound areas such as are common along
the North Atlantic routes.
Fortunately, however, there had been developed
good automatic direction finders with which our larger planes were equipped,
thereby enabling our radio operators to establish their position by triangulation.
Thus our flight radio operators - apart from supplying radio communication
- proved invaluable in providing position reports which enabled the navigator
to establish a compass course along which the ship could fly to its destination.
A program for providing flight radio operators with the specialized
training required for their satisfactory performance of this and other duties
was developed by the Groups of the Ferrying Division located at nine major
fields throughout the United States. It was from these fields that aircraft
left the continental United States to fly overseas to the combat areas.
To satisfy the heavy demand for qualified flight radio operators two
major schools were established - one at Nashville, Tenn., and the other at
Long Beach, Calif. At these schools a 60-day advanced course - given under
the direction .of prominent former amateurs - quickly produced some of the
finest flight radio operators in the world.
The demand for these
especially trained men continued to grow, and recently the Nashville and Long
Beach schools of the Advanced Training Unit were combined in the one large
school located at the Reno Army Air Base in Nevada. At this school the student
completes a 30-day ground course and then spends fifty hours in one of three
especially equipped aircraft working out radio problems in the air. Many improvements
are constantly being added for the benefit of the students and the 60-day
course is a pleasant one.
Upon completion of the advanced training course the student is assigned to
one of the eight Groups of the Ferrying Division. There he joins a flight
crew which may take him over all of the routes of the Air Transport Command
throughout the world.
The flight radio operator's duties begin
when the plane leaves the field, and from then on he keeps a constant radio
watch until the wheels of the plane touch the ground at one of the many far-flung.
airfields of the ATC anywhere on the globe. During the flight he will receive
at regular intervals time checks and weather reports for the information of
the navigator and pilot. He will depend upon the liaison transmitter, rated
at 75 watts, to contact ground stations over enormous distances. To aid the
navigator he will take frequent bearings on radio stations which serve as
a double check on the plane's position as plotted by the navigator.
The traditional ingenuity attributed to radio amateurs was aptly illustrated
in the early days of the war by one flight-radio operator - a former ham -
who used his head to save a valuable airplane and its crew. He was aboard
a four-engine bomber approaching the West Coast across the Pacific. For some
reason or other the electrical system on the bomber had cut out. At the time
the Pacific Coast was in a highly alerted state, and detecting apparatus at
scores of ground installations soon picked up the drone from the motors of
the big ship. But the aircraft remained unidentified; without power its radio
transmitter, of course, was dead. Soon the big plane was located by numerous
searchlight batteries, and fighting planes were ready to shoot it out of the
The situation was grim. There seemed to be no means of
signaling their identity, and the pilot gave up all hope of making a safe
landing. Then the radio operator remembered the emergency radio transmitter
- the famous Gibson Girl, an emergency hand-powered rig intended for use in
rubber boats when down at sea. Quickly assigning the flight engineer the job
of cranking for all he was worth, the flight radio operator tapped out their
assigned identification signals. Only his prompt action prevented the otherwise
certain destruction of the plane and its crew.
Hams in the
Hams dominate the radio training program of the
Ferrying Division. Capt. Richard T. Parks, ex-W5AB, communications officer
at the Long Beach Base and staff advisor to the present school at Reno, has
held a variety of amateur calls. While engaged as a pilot for Pan American
Airways he used the call OA4G in Peru and CE3EL in Chili. Capt. Hale P. Farris
is a well-known 80-meter ham from Wilmington, Delaware.
instructing group at Reno includes many hams. For instance, T/Sgt. Seymour
Mackoff served in Army radio since 1939 in the air and with ground stations.
His experiences carried him to Panama, Trinidad, and British Guiana. He installed
GI radio equipment in a captured Italian Savoia-Marchetti transport in British
Guiana and flew it to the U. S. for exhibition purposes. S/Sgt. Mylus O. Sharpe
has spent three years with AAF radio, having been trained by the Hawaiian
Air Force. His experiences on missions into enemy territory brought him the
DFC and Air Medal with oak leaf cluster for Pacific duty. Sgt. Norman F. Miller,
holder of a Class A amateur license, owned station W3CRR, Allentown, Pa.,
from 1930 on. He worked at K5AF, Albrook Field, Canal Zone, as QSL manager
and also served with WFA at Albrook Field. Cpl. Ecles L. Gossert, jr., with
a Class B ham license had his own station W4FSQ, at Ft. Bragg, N. C. He also
operated at W4EZH and K5AY, in addition to Army stations WVL, WVN and WAR,
and was a chief operator at sea for a year. Pfc. Jacob S. Saperstein, W2IMN,
of Newark, N. J., holds a Class A ham license, has served as president of
the Amateur Club of Newark and is a member of the Bloomfield Radio Club. Pfc.
Frank Colvert, W4DOP, a ham since 1930, has a Class A amateur license. Before
the war he worked at WPTF, Raleigh, N. C.
The ARTU instructors are
among the world's finest. Each is a qualified, experienced radio operator
in his own right and has been carefully chosen because of his ability to impart
his knowledge to the students.
Every man who enters the ARTU is a graduate of a basic radio school and
many of the students have had previous experience on foreign flights. The
ARTU, however, goes into greater detail than do the basic schools and the
operators learn the latest developments in radio technique. Their errors are
ironed out by the ARTU.
Radio navigation is taught so thoroughly
that a graduate of ARTU is fully capable of bringing a plane safely to a base
on his own when called upon to do so. In fact, one of the ARTU alumnus did
that very thing on his graduation trip. Flying under conditions which made
celestial navigation impossible, the radio operator took triangulation bearings
on known radio stations and secured a position reading. By making progressive
readings the operator brought the plane safely to its destination.
The training given at the school accents the importance of flight radio operation
and stresses upon the student the fact that his training there may mean the
difference between life and death at some future date.
course is of six weeks duration with eight hours of daily classes, six days
a week. Only the most capable receive graduation certificates, and "washouts"
are not uncommon. The reason for a student's washing out may be either academic
ARTU classrooms are not confined to mere blackboards
and charts. Every classroom is fully equipped with a variety of radio instruments
in sufficient numbers to allow each student the opportunity to obtain ample
practice and gain necessary experience.
The course includes
classes in the detailed procedure of Air Transport Command routes. Call signs
and safest methods of entry are taught, for such familiarity with routes and
codes may prevent serious blundering upon future occasions in actual flight.
In the code room higher operating speeds are attained and sending
practice is emphasized. Men are divided into small groups to simulate actual
networks such as would be encountered along actual Air Transport Command routes.
A microphone on each desk enables the student to practice the voice procedure
used when working with radio towers and the like.
At the present time
there are a number of WACs among the code instructors. It is interesting to
note that the WACs find little difficulty in learning c.w. and they have been
an inspiration to the boys at the school - who marvel at their code speed.
The equipment laboratory is supplied with transmitters identical to
those used in planes. These long-range transmitters will reach half-way around
the world under proper conditions. Individual attention is given each operator,
and no more than three or four men are assigned to each unit.
is not taught in the classroom at ARTU, and much emphasis is placed on active
training in the air. It is not unusual for a man to be called from class to
board a plane. On such a trip an instructor accompanies the student and is
thus able to determine the operator's ability in actual flight. Use of the
rubber raft and life-saving accessories are taught as one of the many incidental,
yet highly important, subjects at ARTU. The finished graduate is a thoroughly
schooled aircraft crewman as well as radio operator.
the ARTU scatter to all parts of the globe and become integral parts of the
crews that deliver aircraft from the factory assembly lines to the fighting
fronts. ARTU trained men are among the world's finest flight radio operators
and of a quality that puts them on a par with the skilled pilots, mechanics
and others who make up . the huge Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command.
The operations of the Ferrying Division have demonstrated the necessity
for improved radio aids to aerial navigation. The development of radio navigation
has made overwater air travel a much simpler process than it was ten years
ago. No doubt many developments yet unthought of will come from the hands
of our radio operators doing their bit flying the overwater airways of the
world in the present war.
(4) ARTU administrative personnel moved into their new
* Division Communications
Officer. Headquarters, Ferrying Division, 309 Vine St , Cincinnati. Ohio.