USAAF Aviation Cadet's Khaki Visor Hat by Bancroft

This visor cap represents the standard issue worn by U.S. Army Air Force aviation cadet's during World War II (1939-1945). It has a khaki cotton twill body with blue mohair cap band that, along with the cadet's winged propeller device, set it apart from an officer's visor. There are two vent grommets on each side. The interior lining is made of gold satin with a clear plastic sweat shield. There is a Bancroft logo attached to the lining beneath the shield. The hat has a soft oilcloth sweatband and plastic shape retainer.

Training of World War II Aviation Cadets

After the Air Corps presented several expansion proposals in the years prior to the United States entering World War II, the War Department approved a final plan called the Army’s Second Aviation Objection in March 1941. The plan called for reorganizing the Air Corps into eighty-four combat groups fitted to produce 30,000 pilots, 5,590 bombardiers, 4,888 navigators, and 110,000 enlisted technicians annually. The program was initiated in October of that year under the new United States Army Air Force (USAAF).1

By the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the active membership of the USAAF totaled 354,161 men (24,521 officers and 329,640 enlisted men), an 820 percent increase since the start of expansion in 1939. These numbers continued to skyrocket as young men were drafted or volunteered and the need for able-bodied men rose. Over the course of the war, the number of commissioned and enlisted men and women in the USAAF reached a peak of 2,411,294 in March 1944, equaling about 31 percent of the total Army’s strength.2 Beginning in 1941, around 36,000 aviation cadets (pilots, bombardiers, navigators, etc.) were receiving instruction. As the war progressed, this number peaked in 1943 to near 681,000 cadets with 561,072 graduating that year.3 These figures demonstrate the rapid armament of the USAAF and the growing importance of modern air-based warfare during World War II.4

Receiving wings as an aviation cadet during World War II was a arduous process. At the beginning of the Air Corps expansion plans in 1939, a cadet was required to have a minimum of two years college education, which eliminated about half of the applicants. However, the Air Corps dropped the two-year college requirement in June of 1941 to meet an increasing need of aviators. Reception centers formed to select men suitable for aviation training and initiated a placement process that encompassed strict physical requirements and medical, mental, and psychomotor tests. The “aviation cadet candidates” that passed all examinations were sent to pre-flight school to be classified and placed in a training program.5 For many cadets, getting through the qualification process proved the easy part. Training programs eliminated many cadets before they ever earned their wings.

Pilot Training

Pre-flight School – The USAAF did not officially establish pre-flight school until April 1942. After all examinations and requirements were passed, the aviation cadet landed in pre-flight to begin his training toward aircrew membership. For the majority of the war, pre-flight training lasted nine weeks and entailed all aspects of basic training and Officer Candidate School to amount to about 175 hours of academic, physical, and military training.6

Primary Flight School – Primary flight school lasted nine weeks and was operated by civilian companies under contract from the USAAF. For many aviation cadets this was the first time they ever flew or been in the presence of an airplane. The contracted companies provided civilian instructors to teach the cadets the fundamentals of flying in four phases: 1) Pre-solo, 2) Intermediate, 3) Accuracy, and 4) Acrobatic.7 In total, each cadet received about sixty hours in a Stearman, Ryan, or Fairchild trainer plane and, if deemed satisfactory by the instructors, he shipped to basic flight school. Most cadets that “washed out” during pilot training did so in the primary stage.8

Basic Flight School – As primary taught the rudiments of aviation and instruction by civilian trainers, basic flight school came directly under the supervision of the USAAF and transformed the cadets into combat pilots. Each cadet received about seventy hours of flight training in the two phases, Transition and Diversified. Basic trainer aircraft were significantly larger and more powerful, and the curriculum included night and cross-country flying. After nine more weeks, the cadets who passed were selected for either single or twin-engine advanced flight school.9

Advanced Flight School – In advanced flight school the cadet flew combat-type aircraft. Those that qualified for the single-engine fighter flew a total of seventy hours and learned the tricks of aerial combat maneuvers and toned their skills in gunnery, navigation, and formation flying. The single-engine schools consisted of five phases: 1) Transition, 2) Instrument, 3) Navigation, 4) Formation, and 5) Acrobatics. Those that went into twin-engine bomber training also flew a total of seventy hours in the same phases as the single-engine regimen, except with an emphasis in formation and instrumentation flying. After completing this nine-week training session, the cadets received their commissions and wings. The USAAF reassigned those cadets who did not receive their wings (at any point in the process) to other sections of the aircrew or other positions.10

Transition Training – After the successful graduation from the nine week advanced flight school, the new pilots flew for about two months in the aircraft they would eventually fly in combat. The transition period was the last stop before deployment overseas.

Bombardier Training

Pre-flight School – Same as pilot training.

18-week Course – For the majority of the war, the 18-week bombardier course was the standard for developing skilled bombers. The course consisted of 425 hours of ground instruction that encompassed all aspects of the duties of a bombardier. These aspects include air mission review, bomb equipment inspection, use of bomb sights, elementary navigation, weather pattern study, air and naval recognition, radio code, etc. After about three weeks into the course, cadets began air training, which usually totaled 120 hours of instruction. The two stages of the air training (Instructional and Combat) began with practice runs then moved to live bombings of targets to receive qualification and advancement to the combat stage under simulated conditions. Before or after the 18-week course, bombardier aviation cadets also received a 6-week instruction of flexible gunnery. If he was found satisfactory as a bombardier, the cadet received his wings and shipped to a continental air force crew for unit training and eventual deployment overseas.11

Navigator Training

Pre-flight School - Same as pilot and bombardier training.

18-week Course – “The stated objective of navigation training was to qualify students as precision dead-reckoning navigators with basic proficiency in pilotage, radio, and celestial navigation.”12 The course required a total of 500 hours of ground instruction on charting, directional bearings, computed headings, airspeed, radio codes, celestial navigation, etc. After about four weeks, cadets began air training, which ran concurrent with the ground instruction. The air training consisted of night and day flights to master all the skills of navigation and putting the ground instruction to the test. Like the bombardier, the navigator also received a 6-week instruction of flexible gunnery, and if he was found satisfactory as a navigator, the cadet received his wings and shipped to a continental air force crew for unit training and eventual deployment overseas.13

United States World War II
Visor Hat
Bancroft Military Caps

Description by Jordan Winter
Training of World War II Aviation Cadets by Jordan Winter