Library preserves Army Aviation history
August 11, 2011
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- From 1955 to 1995, the Aviators of Fort Rucker chronicled their story in the pages of the Army Aviation Digest.
Since publication ended nearly two decades ago, the only place to find old issues were in large, bound collections, but that all changed earlier this year when the U.S. Army Aviation Technical Library made every issue available online.
It took months of preparation and hard work, but the end result is an amazing piece of Army Aviation history, according to Beata Totten, head of public services for the U.S. Army Aviation Technical Library. Every issue of the Army Aviation Digest is now available online at http://www.rucker.army.mil/usaace/techlibrary/avdigest.html.
“It’s something we’d wanted to do for a long time but we just didn’t have the resources to do it ourselves,” said Totten. “It’s such a unique part of Army Aviation. We thought it was something that was important to make available to the Aviation community.”
The first issue of the Army Aviation Digest was published in February 1955. At that time, Gen. Matthew Ridgway, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, wrote of his confidence that the publication would be of great value in stimulating professional military discussion and in disseminating information concerning the increasingly important role of Army Aviation.
For the next 40 years, Army Aviation Digest did just that, according to J. P. Hughes, Ph.D., Army Aviation Branch Historian.
“The Army Aviation Digest has really uniquely captured a lot of the things that were of concern to the Branch,” said Hughes. “It’s one way that we have to go back to the years that the Aviation Digest covers and allows us to find out what the branch was focusing on at that point in time and what sort of work was being done to develop the fleet we presently have.”
Digitally preserving the Digest was an arduous process, said Totten. The issues had been bound together in large volumes, but they did not lend themselves well to the scanning process.
“We had to find the copies loose leaf,” said Totten. “The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory library gave us some. We got more from the U.S. Army Aviation Museum. We had to hunt them down until we got all of the issues from 1955 to 1995.”
Once collected, the issues were sent to a company that had been contracted to cut them apart and scan them.
“It was a couple of months before we got the first CDs back. We went through them, page by page, comparing the scans to the originals,” said Totten. “We spent a lot of time on this. It was tedious but I think it was well worth it.”
The finished product was every issue of the Army Aviation Digest, scanned in full color in PDF format. The next step was to make them available to the entire Aviation community online.
“It’s out there,” said Totten. “You can get it at your home, on your desktop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You don’t have to wait until the library is open to get a black-and-white copy. You’ve got exactly what it looks like in the library.”
Compared to today’s Army Aviation magazine, published by the Army Aviation Association of America, the Army Aviation Digest “was not as glossy, a little bit more of a tight community of Army Aviators and not so industry-oriented,” said Hughes.
“One thing the Digest had that I don’t see in our more contemporary magazine was a lot of traditions and customs of the service,” said Hughes. “They did not hesitate to have jokes in there or to talk about customs and traditions of the Aviation community. Of course, that’s completely missing in modern publications, which are much more polished products.”
While the Army Aviation Digest was being preserved, the U.S. Army Aviation Technical Library was also digitally archiving 40 years of annual command histories. These are narrative accounts of historically significant events and activities of the command in the context of the history of the Army and serve as a guide for future operations, according to Totten.
“These are historians’ versions of ‘What happened this year at Fort Rucker,’” said Totten. “It’s unclassified, unlimited information that is uniquely Fort Rucker. You aren’t going to find it anywhere else.”
The annual command history archive is located online at http://www.rucker.army.mil/usaace/techlibrary.
Hughes says that future histories will be created and published digitally.
“I am extremely grateful that the librarians have digitized these two works because the entire Aviation community can use them as a resource,” said Hughes. “I constantly talk to veterans who ask ‘Do you have anything on…?’ I’ll say ‘I can look it up for you but did you know that you can look it up now?’ and now they do.”