The Air Guard and the Community

March 1, 1956
The Air National Guard is today the biggest military user of civilian airfields. I make this remark because I believe it is typical of Air Guard operations. Our units, situated throughout the forty-eight states and territories, occupy facilities in 155 different locations. Approximately seventy of these are civilian airfields housing flying the non-flying units of the Air National Guard. This compares, according to our facilities charts, to forty-one civilian fields having some form of Air Force activities, twenty-four Navy, five Army, and three Coast Guard.

By way of background to the selection of these civilian fields for Air National Guard activities, at the end of World War II there were only twenty-nine units-all observation squadron and then part of the Army National Guard-were the forerunners of the Air National Guard as we know it today. Following World War II, Air Guard planners anxious to get their program under way came to the conclusion that our units should be located, where possible, on an in-being facility and in an area where the manpower pool would permit extensive recruiting and rapid build-up of the Air National Guard organization. It was simply a matter of bringing these two together. The civilian airfields, many of them built or expanded during World War II by the Air Force, and then turned over to the municipalities, were “naturals” in this planning.

The National Guard Bureau, in conjunction with the Air Force, determined requirements, established airfield criteria, and then went to work assisting the states in organizing units, generally on a per capita bases. The Adjutants General of the respective states and territories were given the responsibility for negotiating leases and service contracts, both subject to approval by the National Guard Bureau. Municipal authorities and airport managers were contacted and negotiations started. The relationship established at that time between the states and the airport managers has for the most part continued amicably, and the Air Guard units have since been a welcome addition to the community life of the cities where they are located.

This is the manner in which the Adjutant General obtains occupancy of a civilian field. The first step is to obtain the approval of the municipal authorities and the airport managers. A long-term lease must be obtained where any federal construction is contemplated. Present requirements call for a fifty-year lease unless unusual circumstances warrant a waiver, such as in the case where a Virginia state statue prohibited the city of Richmond from entering into a lease in excess of thirty years.

Once the lease is obtained, a service contract must be negotiated. Under this contract the airport authority agrees to Air National Guard use of the runways and agrees to provide such services as snow removal, weed cutting, structural fire protection, and control tower support in return for a fixed fee. This contract is renegotiated annually to conform to government funding procedures, and the federal government bears seventy-five percent of the cost and the state twenty-five percent. There is no solid pattern covering these contracts, and they vary from field to field depending upon the services that are provided.

Generally speaking, our leases have been readily negotiated and the annual renegotiation of the service contracts have been accomplished without the encountering of any real problems. This does not mean, however, that the Air National Guard has not run into any difficulties or problems and the action taken by the Air National Guard to overcome them, I want to briefly discuss the advantages of present Air National Guard locations.

We are all aware that any air attack against this country will see the weight of that attack directed against our communications and industrial centers. It naturally follows that our air defense effort must be aimed at the protection of these centers to insure that they will not be knocked out or seriously crippled. The deployment of Air National Guard units, as part of the defense effort, fits neatly into this picture. Our flying units are located in or near our major cities and in a position to join readily in their defense.

But aside from this strategic advantage, there are other advantages which work is the benefit of both the Air National Guard and the cities concerned. From the standpoint of the Air National Guard the two chief assets are the existence of an in-being field and abundance of manpower. Available construction dollars stretch much father when they are used to improve already existing facilities than they would if we were to undertake construction of complete facilities. The cost of such a program would, as you know, be prohibitive. As for manpower, our operation is of such nature that it requires a wealth of the technical skills which are available only in the diversified industrial set-up of the city.

We need mechanics in great numbers, communications and electronics experts, shop men, professional men, and men skilled in administration. In addition, however, to their availability in numbers, our personnel must be in a position to mobilize readily. The extensive communications network and transportation network and transportation facilities available in the city are likewise assets to any mobilization. Our Air Guardsmen can be alerted quickly and almost simultaneously, and they can get to the airfield in short order and in large numbers.

This is of particular importance to a reserve component where time would be of the essence if a threat of attack should arise. Aircraft waiting on the field ready for the interception are of no good to us unless we can get the pilots into the cockpits and the aircraft into the air with a minimum of delay. We have been able to do just that. The ability of the Air National Guard to beat the time periods set for mobilization added to the success of our recruiting efforts is proof in itself that the cities with their readily available airfields are the best spots for the deployment of reserve units.

From the municipal point of view, the Air National Guard offers important facilities, additional income, and training programs which increase the skill levels of its manpower. We have improved and extended runways, built aircraft parking aprons and taxiways, provided crash and fire protection facilities, and accomplished other improvements too numerous to mention. Our investment in these facilities have been sizable since 1951-$93.5 million having been obliged over the period from 1946 through June 1955. This year we expect to obligate another $14 million on these fields. This gives you some idea of the investment that the Air National Guard has in these civilian fields; it represents a substantial capital improvement.

But aside from construction dollars, the Air National Guard is a source of other community income, which likewise contributes to the maintenance of a stable propriated for the support of the Air National Guard are intended to provide a first line and ready reserve. Certain of these funds are allotted to each state annually, and a substantial amount is funneled directly into the communities where our units are located. As an example, one state, typically of those states having only a tactical squadron, obligated almost $700,000 in federal funds during Fiscal Year 1955. Of this amount, $600,000 covered military and air technician pay, and the balance covered such things as operating expenses. These dollars increased purchasing power and worked to the benefit of the community as a whole.

As to our training program let me say that more than 22,000 Air Guardsmen have completed service schools and technical training under Air National Guard quotas, the vast majority of them in the last three to four years. Sixty percent of the technical course offered by the United States Air Force are now participated in by the Air National Guard. The benefit to the local community is reflected in the type of courses offered. These include, aside from flight training and other aviation courses, training of many phases in such fields as communications, construction, vehicle maintenance, medical technician, accounting and auditing, fire fighting, food service, photography, public relations, and many others. It is easy to see from the extent that Air Guardsmen have participated in these course and from the anture of the course themselves that the Air National Guard training program adds considerably to the skill levels of the surround community.

I have given you here just a few of the advantages, as I see them, that surround Air National Guard use of our civilian fields. The chief disadvantage has been the objection of certain airport authorities and communities to military aircraft operations.

Now, let’s look at the future.

Questions like these face all of us:

  • What will the effect be of jet noise from engines of twelve, sixteen, twenty, twenty-five thousand pounds of thrust, which are not too far off?
  • What will be the effect of hundreds of jet airliners operating in and out of population centers?
  • What will be the effect when increasing numbers of light planes become jets?

As civil airplanes become jet-propelled, military aviation will no linger receive sole blame for jet noise. But that is no consolation, even to us. This noise problem will become one the whole nation will face—and I think you civil operators will find your choices of action even more limited than we are finding them in the Air Force.

For one thing, airliners will find it more difficult to play with traffic patterns. Air Force planes, even bombers, can and do execute sharp turns, steep pull-ups and so on, to avoid flying over communities near bases. I do not know what would happen if you put a load of paying customers through even a mild two-G turn, but I’ll bet the outery would drown out the jet noise.

Also, airliners operate on tight cost margins. You will not want to fly large, time-consuming, money-consuming traffic patterns.

Even more important—your business is carrying people and cargo. You can’t find many customers in isolated areas. Your business takes you and your noise to the cities. For passenger convenience, the closer you are to the city the better.

So what is the solution?

This is becoming a national problem. Military and civil aviation must work together to do everything possible consistent with security and progress.

We should expend every effort to reduce disturbance to communities by routing, flying techniques, and mechanical silencers.

But I am afraid that these solutions will not be enough.

The big job is to get our nation to recognize this as a largely unavoidable consequence of progress. Gill Robb Wilson had pointed out that every technological advance has had undesirable side effects—and opponents of those side effects always try to stop our progress. Their efforts to halt progress always succeed in slowing it down, but they have never succeeded in stopping progress.

Noise is just something we are going to have to live with. The American people will eventually understand this. We must do all we can to speed this understanding.

In fifty years we have learned to live with the stench, noise, expense, death, and destruction of the automobile. I doubt that noise will cause the destruction in a hundred years that the automobile does in one.

While there is a threatening death toll on the highways, there is not a one of us who does not value the automobile. We have not like its by-products, but we have learned to live with them.

I foresee the same acceptance of the undesirable side effects of flying. It is conceivable that the airplane will affect our way of life just as has the automobile. Homes may be designed sound-proof—boom-proof. Communities may grow away from centers of air activity.

Now, as far as the Air Force is concerned, let us look a little further into the future. We are getting into the field of short take-off and landing planes. We are developing zero launchers to get aircraft airborne, and mats and barriers for landing. We are getting boundary layer control and reverse thrust. The vertical take-off aircraft is coming. All of these will alleviate the noise problem because they will get us up and down faster, and make it easier to stay away from communities. Like all new developments, they will probably bring on new problems we haven’t even imagined yet.

Looking even further into the future—we are getting more and more into the missile business. Eventually, a great proportion of our defense and offense will be in place, poised—ready-to-fire—missiles. Let me add, parenthetically, that this won’t happen until missiles are as dependable and effective as pilots. This time is coming, but it’s not here yet. Now, these missiles won’t make a bit of noise until we need them—and at that time we’ll have other things to worry about.

To sum up my remarks on noise—it’s a growing problem. It will be handled partially by our noise-suppressing measures. The end answer is acceptance. We must not only pre-condition communities, we must pre-condition the nation.

I just wish our jet noise were our only problem. To me the echoes of Communist H-bomb tests obliterate the noise that comes from building defenses against them.

So far the public has objected to noise primarily because it is a nuisance, not a hazard. I believe we will be able to keep it from being considered hazardous.

Other Jet Age problems will be the result of public concern over danger. There are several of these. Problem areas include air traffic control, congestion at and near airports, and heavy landing and take-off traffic over populated areas with the increased potential for tragic accidents.

Most of these are problems shared by civil and military aviation. One, however, is peculiar to military aviation. I speak of the weapons carried on aircraft.

It is only common sense that whatever weapons our Air Force uses must be readily available. Instant readiness means survival.

The Air Force has been in the nuclear bomb business for over ten years now and you may be sure that full attention has been given to every detail of design and methods of handling required to eliminate the possibility of an accidental nuclear detonation of weapon, either in the aircraft or on the ground. You may readily appreciate that an aircraft crew would be hesitant to fly a vehicle unless the hazard to them of an accidental detonation was essentially non-existent. With this built-in safety, the worst condition to be expected would be the hazard associated with conventional high-explosive weapons. These safety features have been, and will continue to be, tested realistically, to assure that the chance of an accidental nuclear detonation is so remote as to be incalculable.

Even though our weapons have an extremely high degree of built-in safety, our handling of any kind of weapon is super cautious. Machine guns, for instance, are not charged until the aircraft is in an area where they can be safely fired.

External rocket connections are not hooked up until the aircraft is in take-off position—pointed away from all populated areas. It is standard procedure for aircraft carrying any kind of ordnance, even small practice bombs, to fly many miles out of their way to five a wide berth to all towns or villages.

The point is that handling and carrying ordnance, from bullets to A-bombs, is potentially less dangerous than many other operations. It is not, and will not be a major problem, to conduct these actions in safety.

The last topic I wish to include in my discussion of future operations is the nuclear-powered aircraft. I want to allay any fears there may be about hazards in operating this new plane. A nuclear engine will be merely a new form of propulsive power. Our sister service, the Navy, has been operating a nuclear power plant in its submarine, the Nautilus, with safety and dependability. The controls built into a nuclear engine will make it no more dangerous than any other engine.

By no means let anyone be confused. Nuclear weapons and nuclear airplanes are not synonymous.

Actually, our hopes for peace and progress rest, to a large extent, on this big difference between a nuclear bomb and a nuclear reactor. The bomb could, in many ways, darken the world. The reactor could eventually light the world.

The nuclear-powered aircraft will not be solely an instrument of war. It would be developed even if the threat of war were buried forever. It is a step of profess that is as inevitable as the nuclear power plants that generate electricity, or nuclear-powered ships.

There will, of course, be new problems associated with the operation of nuclear power plants. A great deal of our research in developing nuclear power plants is devoted to finding out what these problems will be.

You have read of the airborne nuclear reactor now being tested in an Air Force B-36 based in Texas. These are the first flights of an actually operating reactor. The reactor presently provides no propulsive power. It is running simply so we can test its effects upon the components of aircraft in flight.

This is one of the means by which we are determining the potential problems of nuclear flight in order to be able to whip them before they ever become real problems.

These flights will also enable us to design safety procedures for nuclear flights.

Actually, there are many ways in which nuclear flight could be much safer and even less hazardous than conventional flight. Theoretically, nuclear engines can be the most dependable engines ever made. Engine failure in flight and during take-off or landing should be almost non-existent.

Even a greater safety advantage is the nuclear plane’s boundless range and flying time. These days, bad weather combines with definite limitations on aircraft range and endurance to become a major cause of accidents. Imagine the day when a pilot can have an unlimited choice of alternate airfields, or an unlimited time to circle and wait for the weather to improve.

The same qualities will help to solve another problem that is being discussed in this conference. This is air traffic control. Everyone agrees that the high speed and high fuel consumption of jet airplanes is completely incompatible with our present air traffic control system. Planes with unlimited range and endurance will certainly be welcome in any system of control and will never be a problem.

Our main problem overshadows all the difficulties I have discussed here today. Our biggest problem of the future will be the same as it is now. That is, to keep American airpower able to do its job. Solving the difficulties we are discussing here will certainly enable us to do our job better.

I think the Air Force Association is to be congratulated for its foresightedness in organizing conferences like this. These meetings of civil and military aviation leaders will certainly point the way to keeping our airpower superior.

Maj. Gen. Winston P. Wilson, Chief, AF Division, National Guard Bureau, was born in 1911 in Arkansas and was graduated from Hendrix College. He was commissioned in the Arkansas National Guard in 1940 and, after serving with several groups, became Chief of the Tactical Reconnaissance Branch of Army Air Corps Hq., Washington, D. C., in 1943. He commanded the 16th Photographic Squadron and served as liaison officer in the Pacific in 1945. The Air Force recalled Gen. Wilson to active duty in 1950. He became Deputy Chief of the Guard Bureau in 1955.