~USAF HELICOPTER PIONEERS~
By Brad McNally
Brigadier General Hollingsworth F. Gregory
Hollingsworth Franklin Gregory was born in Rockwell, TX in 1906. Frank Gregory as most people knew him, graduated from high school in Shelby, MS in 1923. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Mississippi in 1926, Gregory worked for several years as a Mississippi high school principal (Official Air Force Biography, 1956).
In 1928 Gregory enlisted in the U.S. Army as a flying cadet and attended the Primary and Advanced Flying Schools at Brooks Field, TX. The following year, after receiving his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, Gregory began his military flying career as a fixed wing pilot. In 1935, the Army purchased its first direct control autogyros. They were sent to Langley Field, VA to be tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA. In 1936, while stationed as the Engineering Officer with Flight E of the 16th Observation Squadron at Fort Sill, OK, Gregory was picked to be one of the autogyro test pilots (Gregory, 1944). The Army saw the autogyro’s future as a reconnaissance aircraft because of its slow flight capability. Gregory’s technical background and his experience in observation squadrons made him ideally suited to be the senior officer in charge of the autogyro test program at Langley.
Gregory and Lieutenant Erickson Nichols, the other test pilot, spent the next year evaluating the autogyros. The evaluation program consisted not only of flying these aircraft at Langley to determine their flight characteristics, but also evaluating observation, communication and logistical issues through actual field use with Army ground forces. In 1937, the Army bought seven more autogyros and Gregory was chosen to head up a new school to train the pilots needed for a more extensive autogyro test and evaluation program (Gregory, 1944). The school was to be located at Patterson Field in Dayton, OH and would become the Army’s first rotary wing flight school. Gregory was quickly becoming one of the Army Air Corps’ experts on rotary wing flight. Overall, Gregory had a favorable impression of the autogyro. However, he could see that in the near future fixed-wing aircraft would have the capability to fly almost as slow as the autogyro could and what was really needed was an aircraft with true vertical and zero airspeed flight capability.
In June of 1938 Congress passed the Dorsey Bill, named after Pennsylvania Congressman Frank Dorsey. This bill was the result of lobbying by the autogyro industry and it authorized two million dollars to be spent on the development of rotary wing and other aircraft. At about this same time, Captain Frank Gregory was transferred just a few miles from Patterson Field to Wright Field, home of the Air Corps’ Materiel Division. Gregory’s new assignment was as the project officer for the Air Corps’ helicopter program. This program was initially funded with money appropriated by the Dorsey Bill. The Army became the lead military service for helicopter development. Gregory’s job was to investigate new helicopter designs and direct the development and acquisition of this new technology for the military. Gregory had visited the Sikorsky plant as early as 1938 and was impressed by the work being done there. During a return visit on July 24, 1940 Igor Sikorsky offered Gregory the controls of the VS-300. Gregory accepted the offer and after an eight minute flight became the first military helicopter pilot (Beard, 1996).
German submarines were becoming a huge problem and it was envisioned that helicopters could be used to counter this threat. The S.S. Bunker Hill was a tanker ship that had the middle portion of her deck converted to a landing area. On the morning of May 6th the ship was stationed in Long Island Sound, offshore from the Sikorsky Factory. Gregory skillfully piloted the XR-4 between the Bunker Hill’s superstructure forward of the landing area and the mast and stays at the rear of the ship to accomplish the first American helicopter shipboard landing. Over the next two days his expert piloting allowed him to accomplish numerous landings using different approach angles, relative wind combinations and ship speeds (Gregory, 1944). The Bunker Hill tests helped set the stage for another set of shipboard tests conducted two months later on a newly developed flight deck installed on the S.S. James Parker.
Under Gregory’s leadership the Army helicopter developed quickly. Less than two years after the XR-4 had been accepted the XR-6 was flying. This aircraft had much improved performance, capability and reliability. On March 2, 1944 Gregory flew an XR-6 on a nearly 400 mile nonstop flight from Washington National Airport, DC to Patterson Field, OH. This flight unofficially broke three world records for distance, duration and speed (Gregory, 1944). Gregory left Wright Field in 1945 and went on to hold various jobs in intelligence, operations and policy making. During the later part of his career he graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College, Industrial College of the Army Forces and Strategic Intelligence School (Official Air Force Biography, 1956). Later assignments included being a member of the Air Force contingent on the Aeronautical Research and Development Board, senior military member in the Office of the Chief Scientific Advisor and as an air attaché in Paris. After being promoted to brigadier general, Gregory’s last assignment was as the Commander of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
In 1958, Frank Gregory retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general. Gregory moved to Tulsa, OK, initially working as a vice president for Midwestern Industries, which eventually became the Telex Corporation. Later jobs included president of the Tulsa based Crane Carrier Corporation and president and chairman of the board of the World Resources Corporation (Obituary, 1978). Gregory died in 1978 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. He compiled an impressive list of military and civilian awards which included the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal and French Legion of Honor. In 1944, Gregory was given the first Thomas H. Bane award by the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences. He received the Bane Award “for his contribution to the military and commercial development and use of the helicopter” and it was presented by Dr. Igor Sikorsky (Helicopter Expert, 1944). Also in 1944, Gregory and Dr. Sikorsky became the first two honorary fellows of the American Helicopter Society. Gregory wrote a book titled “Anything a Horse Can Do: The Story of the Helicopter” which told about his work with autogyros and helicopters in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In addition to his book, Gregory left behind a large personal collection which documented the early days of the autogyro and helicopter. This collection now resides at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.
General Hamilton H. Howze
Hamilton Hawkins Howze was born on the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. in 1908. To say that Howze was part of a military family would be an understatement. Howze’s father, grandfather and father in law were all U.S. Army general officers who at one time or another served as the Commandant of Cadets at West Point. Howze and his brother Robert would both attend West Point and go on to become general officers as well. Howze earned his commission in the Army after graduating from the Military Academy in 1930. His first assignment was with the 7th Cavalry at Fort Bliss, TX. At this time the cavalry was still using horses and Howze earned a reputation as an excellent polo player. For the rest of the 1930’s Howze served in several mounted cavalry units both stateside and abroad.
In 1942, Howze joined the newly formed 8th Armor Division. Around this time there was a dramatic shift in the Army from horses to tanks. Howze was involved in this change at the division level. Later that year, Howze became the operations officer (G-3) for the 1st Armor Division and spent the next several years fighting in Europe. Howze’s wartime assignments included commands at the battalion, regimental and task force level. His units took part in several major Italian campaigns including Cassino and Anzio along with helping to lead the Allied drive north to Rome (Grayson, 1991). After World War II, Howze held several positions at the U.S. Army Cavalry School at Fort Riley, K.S., attended the National War College in 1948 and was subsequently assigned to the Pentagon. Howze was promoted to Brigadier General in 1952 and became the assistant division commander of the 2nd Armored Division in Germany. It was while in Germany that Howze started flying. Most of his flying was done in an Army Cessna L-19 from a small grass strip near the Rhine River (Howze, 1996). Although this flying didn’t officially constitute flight training, Howze did develop a level of proficiency that he would build upon later in his career.
In 1955 Howze reported back to the Pentagon, this time as Chief of the Army Aviation Division. Lieutenant General Jim Gavin personally selected Howze for this job due to his keen understanding of battlefield mobility (Howze, 1996). Within a year his title changed and he became the first Director of Army Aviation. Howze filled both of these assignments before he was actually a designated Army aviator. However, he did earn his wings on September 30, 1955. Brigadier General Carl Hutton, who was Howze’s West Point classmate and also the commander of the Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker AL, pinned the wings on. This made Howze only the third Army general officer to be designated as an Army aviator and the first to earn his wings while holding the rank of general officer (Williams, 2005). Howze’s belief in the importance of battlefield mobility and his previous experience in the Army’s transition from horses to tanks made him uniquely suited to lead the charge for the expansion of Army aviation. Howze quickly began promoting an increased role for organic Army aviation in all of the combat and support branches. He took combat problems being used at the Army’s Command and General Staff College and developed a presentation which inserted an aviation element into the fighting force to show how effective aviation units could be. This presentation was given throughout the Pentagon to drum up support for the increase in an organic aviation component. During Howze’s tenure the terms sky cavalry, air mobility, air assault and armed helicopters became common. Subsequently, a new way to conduct battlefield operations slowly caught on. Another important step implemented by Howze was to increase acceptance of aviation within the ranks of senior Army officers. To do this several select classes of high performing colonels and lieutenant colonels were sent to flight training. By 1959 there were eleven Army general officers who were also designated Army aviators.
Howze became the Division Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in 1958, followed by an assignment as the Chief of the U.S. Army Advisory Group in South Korea. After being promoted to Lieutenant General in 1961, Howze commanded the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C. While at Fort Bragg, Howze was the chosen to lead an invasion by U.S. forces into Cuba in response to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Ultimately this invasion never happened. Also in 1962, then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara directed the Army to “take a bold new look at land warfare mobility…in an atmosphere divorced from traditional viewpoints and past policies…with recommendations to be protected from veto or dilution by conservative staff review…and to seriously consider fresh, new concepts, and give unorthodox ideas a hearing (Howze, 1996).” The outcome of this directive by the Secretary of Defense was officially known as the Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board. However, because McNamara recommended that Howze lead the board, it has forever been known in the Army as the Howze Board. The board stood up in April of 1962 and was to have its report completed by the end of August. This short timeline forced the board to work quickly. The membership grew to over 100 members representing all facets of the Army and the helicopter industry. The board investigated all avenues in forming its recommendations. Everything from logistics, supply and maintenance issues to potential weapons capabilities and battlefield simulations on paper and in the field was investigated. Largely based on Howze Board recommendations, the Army went so far as to create a new division, the 11th Air Assault Division (Test), to test out the board’s findings. Ultimately the Howze board forever revolutionized mobile warfare concepts and shaped the formation of Army aviation as we know it today. The impact of the Howze Board and the subsequent expansion of Army aviation have been likened to the replacement of horses with tanks in the 1930s and 1940s.
Hamilton Howze was promoted to four star general in 1963. Howze’s final military assignment was in South Korea simultaneously as the Commander in Chief United Nations Command, Commander U.S. Forces Korea and Commanding General 8th Army. General Howze retired from the Army in 1965 and began a second career as the vice president for product planning with Bell Helicopter. Howze worked for Bell in this capacity for five years during which time he kept an active qualification in the Bell Jet Ranger (Howze, 1996). Howze later left his post as vice-president to take a reduced role as a consultant for Bell. A charter member of the Army Aviation Association of America (the Quad A), Howze served for four years as its president. Howze’s numerous military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit and Bronze Star. In 1962 Howze was named an Honorary Fellow of the American Helicopter Society. He was inducted into the Army Aviation Association Hall of Fame in 1974. Howze’s autobiography, titled “A Cavalryman’s Story”, was published in 1996. It details his career in the Army including his time as the Director of Army Aviation and his work leading the Howze Board. Hamilton Howze died in 1998 and was interred next to his father at the United States Military Academy’s post cemetery.
The Army and the Air Force will forever be inextricably linked by their common beginnings as a single service. Today these services share a unique relationship evident by successful battlefield operations requiring a high degree of coordination between the two. Both services train their helicopter pilots at Fort Rucker, AL and several rotary wing airframes are common among them. Gregory and Howze played vital roles in shaping the role of the helicopter as we know it today. Frank Gregory helped shepherd the helicopter through its infancy. Gregory’s incredible foresight allowed him to see how helicopter operations could benefit not only the military but the world in general. His autogryo background provided him a unique perspective on what it would take to achieve this. Gregory played a vital role in establishing a crucial link between the government and the emerging helicopter industry. This link ultimately accelerated industry growth and helicopter development. Gregory’s own piloting abilities further hastened this development. His in flight accomplishments put him among a select group of brave men who were able to quickly master an altogether new type of aircraft.
Hamilton Howze expanded on the work that Gregory started. By the late 1950s the helicopter had been developed to the point where it was no longer seen as impractical and its unique capabilities were being applied to all sorts of new military and civilian missions. Howze, through his leadership of both Army aviation and the revolutionary Howze Board, played a critical role in shaping the future of the helicopter in the Army. Specifically, he helped usher in a new era of air assault operations and increased helicopter use. In large part because of Howze’s efforts, today the United States Army is the largest helicopter operator in the world. Both of these men had great foresight and significantly advanced helicopter flight making them true Rotorcraft Pioneers.
Beard, B. (1996). Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.
Official Air Force Biography. (1956). Retrieved April 15, 2010 from http://www.af.mil/information/bios/bio.asp?bioID=5621
Grayson, E. (1991, November-December). Hamilton H. Howze Visionary Giant from the Past. U.S. Army Aviation Digest, pp. 2-6.
Helicopter Expert Wins First T.H. Bane Award. (1944, January 13). The New York Times, p 14.
Howze, H. (1996). A Cavalryman’s Story. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Obituary for Hollingsworth F. Gregory. (1978, November 22). The Tulsa Tribune, pp. 1C, 10C.
Williams, J. (2005). A History of Army Aviation From Its Beginnings to the War on Terror. New York: iUniverse Inc.
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