Capt C F Schilt
Marine Corps Aviation came into being on May 21, 1912, when USMC Lt Alfred A Cunningham was ordered to flying duty, receiving Naval Aviator's Certificate number 5. Marine pilots received the same training at Naval Aviation stations as did those of the Navy, and the designation of "Naval Aviator" is identical in both services.

Expansion of Marine Aviation from 1912 to the entrance of the United States into World War I was rather slow as the strength of the entire force on April 6, 1917, was 5 officers and 30 enlisted men—all were on duty at NAS Pensacola, Florida. One of these officers, Lt F T Evans, was firmly convinced that it was possible to loop and spin a seaplane, although several engineers proved mathematically that it could not be done. On February 13, 1917, Evans climbed to 3,000' in a single-pontoon seaplane and accomplished the impossible. He was promoted to Captain and, in October, 1917, placed in command of the original tactical aviation unit, the First Marine Aeronautic Company. Consisting of 10 officers and 93 enlisted men, the unit was ordered to the Azores in December to perform anti- submarine patrols as the first completely equipped American Aviation unit to leave the US for war service.

The remaining officers and enlisted men were formed into a landplane training unit at Philadelphia, operating also at Mineola, New York, Gerstner Field, Louisiana, and Miami, Florida. Practically all of the 26 pilots of this group soloed at Mineola in December, 1917, in temperatures far below zero. On arrival at Gerstner Field, the Marines found the Army with hundreds of new airplanes in crates, a large number of cadets awaiting instruction, several thousand drafted men who had never seen an airplane, and only a handful of pilots and experienced mechanics. All hands in the Marine Squadron, including the cooks, assisted in assembling the airplanes, and Marine pilots became flying instructors.

The value of air power was recognized at that time, and expansion of the air arm of the Marine Corps was ordered to keep pace with that of the other services. Four squadrons of 182 officers and 1,080 enlisted men were formed at Miami, and arrived in France in July, 1918. The force was termed the Day Wing of the Northern Bombing Group, and operated in conjunction with the British and on independent bombing missions. Due to delay in arrival of airplanes, only 57 raids were flown before the Armistice. Despite the limited number of raids, however, the official records reveal that 12 enemy aircraft were downed with a loss of only one Marine plane. On Armistice Day there were 250 officers, 32 warrant officers, and 2,180 enlisted men attached to Marine Aviation. The Day Wing returned to the US in December, 1918, and the majority of officers and enlisted men returned to civilian life. The exodus continued until only 46 officers and 756 enlisted men remained in 1923.

After the war, Marine Aviation units served in Santo Domingo, Haiti, China, and Nicaragua. In the first of these expeditions, to Santo Domingo and Haiti in 1919 and 1920, the air squadrons had no definite mission and individual pilots were struggling with the problem as to the best and most efficient employment of aviation. Ground forces were not cognizant of the capabilities and limitations of supporting air units and with the wartime training planes then assigned capabilities were extremely limited.

Those expeditions were ideal proving grounds, however, and most present-day tactics were evolved there. Air support of ground forces, so forcefully demonstrated in World War II, was used although on a smaller scale and without tanks and artillery, by Marines in Nicaragua. Liaison planes kept in constant touch with ground patrols and, on panel signals, would attack by dive-bombing any bandit force encountered by patrols. It soon became normal procedure to supply patrols with food, clothing, ammo, and all necessities by parachute drops, and interior stations were supplied in scheduled air transport trips. Even money for paying personnel was dropped to outlying posts without loss.

Evacuation of wounded from the interior of tropical countries was a matter of extreme importance where the only means of transportation consisted of horses, mules or bull carts. Many lives of Marines and natives were saved in these countries by getting the wounded to hospitals quickly and comfortably by airplane.

It was in Nicaragua that Capt Christian F Schilt performed dramatic rescue work for which he received the Medal of Honor. A ground patrol was ambushed and surrounded in Condega. Its commanding officer and most of the men were wounded, and it was a matter of time until the little group would be wiped out. Some native houses along a street were removed to make a small runway, and Schilt made a number of trips into the town, each time bringing supplies and fresh personnel and taking a load of wounded out. Landings and take-offs were made in the face of heavy rifle and machine gun fire that riddled Schilt's Corsair.

Invaluable experience in connection with reconnaissance and observation missions was also gained in China in 1927 and 1928 when Marine squadrons attached to the 3rd Marine Brigade covered more than 8,000 square miles on daily recon flights. In 18 months of operations, about 3,800 flights were made.

Service in early Marine Corps Aviation was as colorful as anyone could desire. Also, Marines participated in the National Air Races each year and in ceremonies dedicating airports. Planes with medicine and supplies were sent to areas stricken by earthquakes and hurricanes. Aerial photo mapping missions were completed in a number of distant localities, and Marine Attachés were on duty in foreign countries.

In 1927, Marines pioneered dropping troops by parachute at Anacostia when 12 Marines jumped from a transport plane in 14 seconds. Later that year, successful jumps were made over the Potomac River, each jumper carrying a rubber boat, inflating it on the way down and holding it under him as he landed. He unfastened his chute and rowed away, not a drop of water having touched him.

Until the formation of the Fleet Marine Force in December, 1933, Marine Aviation had only a general mission, that of being ready when called upon to perform any service required of it. The Fleet Marine Force was organized in definite military units with definite duties for which it is trained.

Flight Training

Although Marine aviators are given the same basic training as that received by their Navy contemporaries, their tactical training within the squadrons is of three distinct and quite divergent phases. First, each pilot receives indoctrination in all aspects of carrier aircraft operation and tactics. He must learn to navigate when far out of sight of land and the home carrier. He must have a knowledge of surface tactics and physical capabilities of surface craft, such as maneuverability, speed, armor and armament. In short, he must be able to go aboard and take his place as a member of the Navy team.

The same pilot must also learn the specialized art of rendering air support to a Marine Corps landing force. Problems encountered are quite different from those met in Naval warfare. He must be thoroughly familiar with the tactics employed by ground forces in effecting a landing in order to give them every assistance before, during, and after the landing. After a successful landing, the aviator must then do his part in preventing the enemy from retaking lost territory.

During an advance inland or in supporting ground forces in any land operations, the pilot must be familiar with a still different phase. He must have a full indoctrination in ground tactics, and must be prepared to conduct recon missions, guide artillery fire, attack enemy forces at the battle line, or bomb objectives far to the rear.

USMC Aviation Reserve

In order that required organizations can become available in a reasonable time, a trained reserve is maintained in all military branches. Marine Corps Aviation Reserve pilots receive the same basic training as do regular pilots and each serves tours with regular squadrons before going on inactive duty. No restrictions are imposed relative to what kind of a position he may accept in civil life or where he may locate. Marine Reserve organizations are located at Naval Reserve Bases geographically situated so that pilots can maintain their proficiency and are available in any emergency.balanced aviation force capable of performing any duty required of it.