Complete, non-stop mail service across the continent was first attempted by 2d Lt. John Fowler (unless he was Army the correct abbrev is 2d). A 40-pound sack of mail that was fastened to his airship was lowered by rope to a designated location, where it was placed on a second plane and transferred again. The entire operation lasted 15 minutes and showed the diversity of airships.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY-U.S. ARMY AIR CORPS STRATOSPHERE FLIGHTS
During the mid-1930's, a flight crew set out to complete Capt Hawthorne’s world record attempt of 61,237 feet.
The National Geographic Society agreed to sponsor this task. The Dow Chemical Company built a special lightweight gondola and the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation manufactured a three million cubic foot balloon, which was the largest balloon ever made. Maj. William Kepner was appointed to pilot the craft. Capt. Albert Stevens and Capt. Orvil Anderson accompanied him as the alternate pilot and organizer of the expedition camp dubbed the “Stratobowl.”
A spot 11 miles from Rapid City, S.D., was selected as the launch site.
During this attempt on July 28, 1934, they were only able to ascend 60,613 feet, just shy of the world altitude record, due to a tear in the gas bag of the hydrogen-filled balloon. Everyone landed safely, even though the gondola crashed.
Soon after, they were back to planning another ascension in 1935. Scott Field, because of its central location and LTA facilities, was considered a possible launch site for their second attempt to break the record. Anderson took over as pilot because Kepner was attending tactical training in another state. Capt. Randolph Williams, who graduated from Scott’s balloon and airship school in 1926 and would be the future “father” of the Air Weather Service, filled in as a meteorologist-balloonist for this attempt, which never left the ground due to a tear in the balloon. A third attempt was conducted on the aircraft, “Expolorer II,” Nov. 11, 1935, but a 17-foot tear almost ended the cast off. A group of enlisted personnel, who were assigned to Scott Field, successfully repaired the tear in near zero temperatures, allowing the flight crew to continue with the attempt. They soared to 75,395 feet, surpassing all previous altitude records.
Cameras on board the “Explorer II” captured almost 10,000 aerial photographs, which were the first from such distances above the earth.
GENERAL HEADQUARTERS AIR FORCE
In 1938, Secretary of War, Harry H. Woodring, recommended to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that General Headquarters Air Force relocate to Scott Field. They would manage the air combat arm for the U.S. Army.
Woodring wanted to move the headquarters from Langley Field, Va., to a more central location, believing it would be in the best interest of national defense. Scott Field, in anticipation of this new, prestigious mission, would be completely rebuilt.
During this time, President Roosevelt, congress, and military leaders had noticed the growth of Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaff and the threat it posed to the U.S. and Europe.
The Chief of the Air Corps, Maj. Gen. Henry Arnold, won presidential and Congressional approval in 1938 for more airplanes, as well as a complete expansion of the Air Corps, including installations and personnel. After receiving funds of $300 million, Scott Field started its major expansion, growing from 628 acres to 1,574 acres. A year later, an additional 1,882 acres were purchased.
Initially budgeted at $7.5 million, the reconstruction of Scott Field provided the surrounding communities a tremendous economic boost. All old wooden World War I and unusable LTA structures were torn down and residential quarters were built.
Other items built included two warehouses, a garage, gymnasium, maintenance building, Quartermaster office, commissary, and the General Headquarters Air Force building.
Before Scott Field could become the GHQAF, World War II broke out, disrupting the plans for the installation. Gen. George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, decided to keep the headquarters of the air combat arm close to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C.
As a result, Scott Field reverted to its former role as a training installation, and became one of the Air Corps’ major training installations for the next 20 years.
In 1940, the Air Corps Institute was organized at Scott Field. Chanute Field’s Radio School was relocated to Scott Field, too, marking the beginning of Scott’s communications training era.