While aviation has played a part in Army operations for more than a century, the Army aviation branch celebrates its 38th anniversary next week.
The United States became the first country in the world to contract for military aircraft when in December 1907 it called for bids on a military airplane. Of the three bids accepted by the Army, only the Wright brothers delivered. The Army accepted the aircraft Aug. 2, 1908 at Fort Myers, Va., after its successful test in July by Orville Wright. A working replica of that aircraft now sits in the National Museum of the United States Army.
In 1914, Congress created the aviation section within the Signal Corps, but it wasn’t until much later, March 1983, when the Chief of Staff of the Army recommended forming a separate aviation branch. The Secretary of the Army approved that recommendation on April 12, 1983 - the date celebrated as the Branch’s birthday.
Army Aviation’s role of providing the indispensable vertical dimension to the modern battlefield has become universally recognized. For example, during operations in Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf region, Army Aviation played major and decisive roles. One of the first blows of Operation Desert Storm was struck by Army Aviation. Apache helicopters destroyed key Iraqi early warning radar sites and thus opened the air corridors to Baghdad for the bombing campaign that preceded the ground war. Then, during the 100 hours of ground combat, Army helicopters dominated nighttime operations.
Davison Army Airfield has played a storied role in this region, and to this day, remains a unique component for the Army, according to Col. Winfield Adkins, commander of The Army Aviation Brigade.
“The United States Army Aviation Brigade’s colors were uncased on December 9, 2005 and it continues to build upon a rich history of excellence being headquartered out of Davison Army Airfield, Fort Belvoir, as the only multi-component, multi-mission, multi-airframe, and multi-installation aviation organization in the Army,” Adkins said. “Although consequence management and contingency operations are the primary focus areas for the brigade, it also conducts routine executive and non-executive rotary and fixed-wing mission support to Department of Defense leadership across the contiguous United States and around the globe.”
One of those pilots, CW4 Michael Lovell, a Gulfstream pilot who flew with the U.S. Army Priority Air Transport, said Davison stands out for its excellence.
“You realize the second you walk through the door that you are amongst the absolute best aviators in the Army, and from that moment forward, you strive to also be the best aviator in the Army,” said Lovell.
One of the missions is preserving continuity of government, according to Dale Walters, who is chief of Air Traffic Control maintenance, and the airfield’s volunteer historian.
“If the Pentagon calls 911, we’re on the other end,” said Walters, adding that Davison has managed the Pentagon heliport since 1955.
“On 9-11, the heliport’s air traffic control tower was a prefabricated building in front of the Pentagon. Our air traffic controller, Sean Boger, was in the tower,” and survived the attack just yards away, Walters said.
Adkins said Monday’s anniversary will be commemorated with a small and meaningful ceremony of both reflection and insights for the future.
“From humble beginnings, working alongside the Wright Brothers, Army Aviators have been critical pioneers forming and shaping Army doctrine and tactics,” Adkins said. “Today, as global threats dynamically change and grow, Army Aviation seamlessly continues to adapt while ensuring unparalleled readiness and the advancement of modernized capabilities to dominate across the battlefield. Army Aviators are committed to a culture of fostering excellence in tactical and technical competence, are masters of their craft, think dynamically in space and time, routinely assess and mitigate risk, and live true to the branch motto of “Above The Best” because they fly supporting the best fighting force of Soldiers in the world.”