HISTORY OF THE AIR SERVICE SCHOOL FOR RADIO OPERATORS,
PENN FIELD, AUSTIN, TEXAS
ON MARCH 29, 1918, the War Department arranged with the University of Texas for the establishment of a school at the University of Texas for the purpose of training Radio Operators for the Air Service, Field Artillery and Coast Artillery. The aim of this school was to train men as quickly as possible in the science of maintaining, construction, and operating radio apparatus of the Air Service, including the wireless telephone.
Dr. S. L. Brown, of the University of Texas was selected as President of the Academic Board, and assembled a staff of civilian instructors to assist and cooperate with the commissioned and enlisted staff for the course prescribed by the War Department.
The following subjects were included in the curriculum: Elementary Electricity, Practical Radio Operation, Buzzer Practice, Artillery Cooperation, Direction Finding and Wifeless Telephony. Military Drill and Discipline was also emphasized to make soldiers as well as Radio Operators of the students. Lieutenant C. H. Thallman was assigned as Senior Military Instructor.
In the beginning the course consisted of twelve weeks of intensive training in classes of approximately fifty men.
Early in April Captain T. L. Bailey, who had been stationed at S. M. A. Austin Texas, was assigned as Commandant of the School. Other officers reported rapidly and when the first contingent of students arrived, the school was ready for operation.
Brackenridge Hall on the University campus was taken over to be used as a barracks, and the Engineering Building was used for classes and headquarters office. The men were fed in the cafeteria of the University. The Athletic Field was used as a drill and parade ground.
During the summer the attendance was increased considerably and additional space for barracks was found in the Law Building. K Hall was taken over for classes and the auditorium of the University in the main building was used also. The men’s gymnasium was used for a buzzer practice laboratory.
With the rapid increase in demand for trained radiomen, the need was soon seen for the expansion of the school and plans were drawn up for the construction of a school and flying field to be situated near Austin. A site of 310 acres was finally chosen, located about three miles south of the city on St. Edward’s Plateau. The location is ideal and the surrounding country favorable to flying.
The plans called for buildings of a permanent type consisting of an administration building, two school buildings, mess hall, six barracks, ten hangars, a Y. M. C. A. hut and a hospital, estimated at a cost of $600,000.
On August 27th work was started on the site and a large part of the Field was cleared of underbrush. The engineering work was under the direction of Prof. Edward C. H. Hantel of the University Faculty.
It was decided to call the new location “Penn Field” in honor of the memory of an Austin boy, Eugene Deak Penn, an aviator cadet who was killed in Italy near the town of Foggia on May 29, 1918, while in training.
During the summer months a band was organized under the direction of Lieutenant Hoffhaus, and from a small beginning it expanded into one of the finest military bands in this part of the country.
In September the students of the school under the direction of one of the men talented along that line, staged one of the best minstrels ever seen in Austin at a local opera house.Three performances were given. It was a decided success and reflected great credit upon the school.
Athletics were not forgotten and the coming of cooler weather witnessed the organization of a football team. Games were scheduled with the other army schools of the city and with the University team.
On September 26, the Commandant, Captain T. L. Bailey, was promoted to the grade of Major.
On October 11, there appeared the first number of a weekly paper called “The Radio” published by the student body. This paper was a five column sheet of eight pages, and was full of live news about the school and the progress of the war. It was generally conceded to be a very creditable piece of work and was eagerly read by all the friends of the school. The editor was Lieutenant E. B. Smith.
About November the 1st the school was moved to Penn Field where construction was progressing rapidly. Sufficient buildings had been completed so that the proper quartering of men and continued instruction were possible.
Lieutenant Ahl, Commanding Officer of the student detachment, then organized the student regiment. First Battalion, consisting of the Air Service Men, was quartered in “A” Barracks under command of Lieutenant Conway. Second Battalion, consisting of Field Artillery Men, was quartered in “B” Barracks under command of Lieutenant Hung. Third Battalion consisting of Coast Artillery Men, “D” Squadron, and a detachment of the 817th Depot Aero Squadron under command of Lieutenant Everall.
The entire student body consisted of about 1000 men and was growing rapidly when the Armistice was signed. Orders were then received to cease all construction. The instructions of students, however, continued until about December 15th, 1918.
On or about January 15, Major Bailey received his discharge and was relieved by Captain B. H. Mills. Captain Mills, prior to his assignment as Commandant of the school, was chief organizer and inspector of Radio Schools with his headquarters at Washington, D. C.
Lieutenant J. Belmont Jiskra, who was inspector of Radio equipment with headquarters at Washington, D. C., reported for duty shortly before the arrival of the new Commandant, and was appointed Post Adjutant. Upon arrival of the new Commandant, Lieut. Jiskra was relieved by Lieut. Redman and was made Executive Officer.
The present staff consists of sixteen officers on duty at Penn Field, whose names and duties are as follows:
Captain B. H. Mills, Commanding Officer; Lieut. J. Belmont Jiskra, Executive Officer; Captain Robt. V. Gallagher, Post Surgeon; Lieut. Parker V. Ahl, Personnel Adjutant; Lieut. Morris Herman, Finance Officer; Lieut. Jesse B. Howe, Aero Supply Officer; Lieut. Chas. H. Thalmann, Police Officer; Lieut. Geo. W. Sawyer, Engineer Officer; Lieut. Wellington Arnold, Transportation Officer; Lieut. Mark H. Redman, Post Adjutant; Lieut. R. W. Boulware, Radio Supply Officer; Lieut. Cecil E. Archer, C. O. 817th D. A. S. Det.; Lieut. Arnold S. Morse, Asst. C. O., 817th D. A. S.. Det.; Lieut. J. Harold Carrell, Camp Supply Officer.
From the book, Kelly Field in the Great World War, edited by Harry David Kroll, Press of San Antonio Printing Co., 1919, 220 pages
Another description of School Military Aeronautics:
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson and the Council of National Defense established military schools for aviators at six college campuses around the country. The Schools of Military Aeronautics (SMAs) were to provide basic technical instruction for beginning pilots before they moved on to flight training. The SMA students were not considered regular university students. Those attending the SMA became soldiers in a new branch of the US Army called "Air Service," later becoming the United States Air Force. The UT SMA was initially housed in B. Hall, but moved housing once enrollment expanded from 50 to several hundred men. By the end of the war, the UT SMA had over 1,000 men enrolled--the largest in the country--and was known as the "West Point of the Air." It would be the prototype for the Air Force Academy. World War I officially ended on November 11, 1918.
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