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.
June 1944 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Flying Radiomen [and Radiowomen] of the Ferrying
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 practice table.
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
(2) A WAC corporal helped check lab equipment.
(3) Another sergeant and a male co-worker installed code-practice
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.
As background 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,
Another 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.
Flight Operators vs.
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.
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
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.
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 air.
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 ARTU
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.
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
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.
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.
The ARTU 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 or physical.
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
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
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
All 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.
Graduates of 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
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
Communications Officer. Headquarters, Ferrying Division, 309 Vine St
, Cincinnati. Ohio.