Auxiliary Pilot Badge

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The Glider Pilot, Service Pilot, and Liaison Pilot badges were qualification badges of the United States Army Air Forces issued during the years of World War II by the AAF to identify a rating in one of three specialized, limited-duty pilot categories, whose required training differed from that of the traditionally trained, universally assignable military pilot. These individuals were normally selected on the basis of past flying experience and pilot certificates, gained in civil life prior to their induction into the U.S. Army. Further training tended to be highly specialized, falling within a narrowly defined set of missions, and for which skills and experience gained through civilian flight training were directly applicable. The badges were similar to the standard USAAF Pilot Badge with one of three letters centered on the badges’ shield, or escutcheon. The letter on the badge indicated the specific rating: G denoted a Glider Pilot, L a Liaison Pilot, and S a Service Pilot (as shown in the illustration at right). N.B.: the term auxiliary as used within the scope of this article by the original contributor is a misnomer, and was never an official U.S. Army Air Forces usage with reference to these aeronautical ratings.

In contrast to the Aviation Cadet Training Program, medical standards for initial entry into the Glider Pilot, Liaison Pilot or Service Pilot ratings were somewhat less restrictive. As opposed to the USAAF Class I medical examination required of all prospective Aviation Cadets, prospective Glider and Liaison Pilots meeting only USAAF Class II standards were allowed into those respective training programs, while the still less restrictive Class III standards were permitted for entrants into the Service Pilot rating. The most significant difference between each medical class lay in the uncorrected distant visual acuity requirements. While 20/20 or better uncorrected was demanded on the initial Class I exam given to Aviation Cadet applicants, the Class II and Class III exams of that period required a minimum of 20/40 and 20/100 respectively; applicants in all cases were required to be able to attain 20/20 or better with corrective spectacles (N.B.: USAAF medical examination Classes I, II and III differed significantly in purpose and scope from those in use in military and civil aviation today, and do not directly correspond to current USAF, US Army or FAA standards titled under the same terminology).[1][2][3][4][5]

Higher maximum age limits were also allowed: whereas Aviation Cadets could be no older than 26 years of age, a maximum limit of 35 years was allowed for Glider Pilot and Liaison Pilot candidates, and 45 years for Service Pilot applicants.[1][2][3][4][6]

Glider Pilot[edit]

Glider Pilot wings were awarded to soldiers who completed training as pilots of military gliders (MOS 1026). The wings were issued initially during the Second World War. These wings should not be confused with the Glider Badge which was created in 1944 to recognize glider-borne ground troops (mostly Infantry, but also their supporting arms) of U.S. Airborne Divisions, who rode into combat as passengers.[7]

The success of German glider-borne forces early in World War II catapulted the Air Corps into a glider program in February 1941. Glider Pilots often said that the G on the shield stood for Guts. Glider pilots were unique in that they had no parachutes, no motors and no second chances.[8] In December 1941, plans called for training 1,000 AAF glider pilots, but eventually about 5,500 received their wings. Most Glider Pilots came from the enlisted ranks — all were volunteers. Upon graduation, enlisted men would be promoted to Staff Sergeant (or would retain present grade if higher) while officers would train in grade. But after Nov. 21, 1942, all enlisted graduates were appointed as Flight Officers equal to the then existing rank of Warrant Officer Junior Grade (WO 1) upon completing advanced glider training.

Initially, applicants for Glider Pilot training had to be between 18 and 35 years of age, able to pass a Class I or II flying physical examination much more stringent than a regular physical examination, have a visual acuity of at least 20/40 correctable to 20/20 (N.B.: by June 1942, this requirement was reduced to 20/100 correctable to 20/20),[9] and score at least 110 on the Army AGCT Test or 65 on the Aviation Cadet Mental Screening Test, and were required to have prior flying experience meeting one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Hold a currently effective civilian airman certificate in the grade of private pilot or higher, or
  2. Held a lapsed airman certificate, provided that such certificate did not lapse prior to 1 January 1941, or
  3. Completed 200 or more previous glider flights, or
  4. Previously eliminated from military or naval pilot training, provided at least 50 hours had been logged as principal pilot (solo or performing duties of first-pilot under supervision)and/or as student pilot on military or naval aircraft.

The above were classified by the Glider Program as Class A Students. Effective 12 June 1942, individuals with no previous flying experience were also accepted into glider training; these were classified as Class B Students. Several critical changes were introduced into the training program during 1942-43 (as described in the next two paragraphs), however ground training devoted significant and thorough emphasis on basic infantry skills in addition to the normal aviation ground school subjects throughout.[10][2][4]

Glider Pilot Training[edit]

April 1941 to June 1942

The USAAF's Glider Pilot Training Program was in its embryonic stage. Several experimental courses were conducted during this period, using two-place sailplanes acquired commercially. Extensive use was made of civilian instructors, and of facilities and aircraft at civilian soaring clubs and flight schools. The sailplanes used were optimized for long-duration, unpowered soaring flight however, and did not adequately simulate the flight characteristics of the cargo gliders under development. This resulted in several significant changes to the training program effective 15 June 1942.[11]

15 June 1942 to 13 September 1942

Glider Pilot Training was divided into two principal stages: Preliminary and a combined Elementary-Advanced stage. For Class A students, Preliminary lasted four weeks and included 30 hours of dual and solo training on liaison (L-series) aircraft (e.g.: Piper Cub, various Taylorcraft and Stinson types), with particular emphasis on steep gliding descents, approaches and precision landings without power ("dead-stick" landings).

Class B students underwent a somewhat longer Preliminary phase, itself divided into two further phases: Phase I, of five weeks' duration and consisting of 40 hours dual and solo flying on primary trainer (PT-series) or liaison (L-series) aircraft, emphasizing basic aircraft handling, and Phase II, a further two weeks and 15 hours of flight time emphasizing "dead-stick" landings.

Training for Class A and Class B students merged at the beginning of the Elementary-Advanced stage, consisting of one week and eight flight hours on two- or three-place training gliders — typically Aeronca TG-5 and similar aircraft — followed by another week and a further eight hours on Waco CG-4 cargo gliders. Total training time was typically 46 flight hours (six weeks) for Class A students and 56 flight hours (13 weeks) for Class B students.[10]

14 September 1942 to 26 February 1943

The Glider Pilot training syllabus followed a progression of Preliminary, Elementary, Basic and Advanced phases, with Class A and Class B students training together under a common syllabus from the commencement of the Elementary phase. Preliminary was attended only by the Class B students, was four weeks in duration and included 30 hours dual and solo flying much the same as earlier classes. Elementary was also four weeks long, with a further 30 hours on the same trainers as flown in the Preliminary phase, but with emphasis on "dead-stick" landings. A Basic phase was introduced after Elementary, lasted another four weeks and included 30 hours on TG-5, TG-6 and/or TG-8 training gliders. The Advanced phase until 21 December 1942 was a four-week period of training, with a further 15 flying hours on training gliders mastering low-approach and "blitz" landings (as used in combat). Beginning 21 December 1942, this phase was reduced to two weeks in length and consisted of eight flying hours on CG-4 cargo gliders.[10]

Glider Pilot Duties[edit]

Glider Pilots deployed under USAAF's Troop Carrier Command, and were tasked to deliver personnel and cargo deep into enemy-held territory aboard cargo gliders designed especially for that purpose. Gliders such as the U.S.-built Waco CG-4 or the British-designed Airspeed Horsa AS.51/58 were towed to their destinations by multi-engine cargo transports — most commonly the C-47 — then released directly overhead of their landing zones. Glider Pilots would execute a steep, rapid descent from the moment of tow release, arresting their descent rate and airspeed only in the final seconds prior to touchdown. Ingress on-tow into enemy airspace was typically executed at less than 1000 feet above ground level (AGL), often at night and/or in marginal weather, and frequently under severe enemy small-arms and anti-aircraft artillery fire. Wake turbulence generated by the tow-planes' wingtips and propellers coupled with low-level atmospheric turbulence typically resulted in an extremely rough ride, and many of the glider-borne troops suffered airsickness.[12][13][14][15]

Commissioned officers holding the Glider Pilot rating were eligible to command flying units equipped with gliders only. Effective 4 February 1943, rated Glider Pilots were authorized to pilot liaison aircraft of 180 horsepower or less and to perform the same duties as Liaison Pilots.[16][10]

Notable former Glider Pilots[edit]

Service Pilot[edit]

The Service Pilot Badge was awarded to soldiers in MOS 773: "Pilots airplanes on noncombat flights such as observation flights, tow target flights, and in ferrying aircraft. (Type of airplane flown depends on rating.)[7] This rating was awarded only to male officers, flight/warrant officers and enlisted personnel of the U.S. Army Air Forces, and had no connection whatsoever with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program.

The search for qualified pilots intensified in 1942. Early on, the Ferrying Command scoured the country for all available civilian fliers; bush pilots, test pilots, crop dusters, stunt pilots, barnstormers, and pilots who flew on personal business or for fun all became candidates. These draftees were expected to have five hundred hours of flying experience, a requirement that soon dropped to two hundred to three hundred hours, depending on the military’s need. If they could pass a ninety-day probation period, they became commissioned officers. By the end of 1942, a total of 1,372 pilots had been commissioned, but the AAF’s own flight-training programs began to replace these conscripts after that date. (Bilstein, 1998, p.13).

Bielstein, Roger E. (1998) "Airlift and Airborne Operations in World War II" — Air Force Historical Studies Office[17]

The late William H. Tunner (Lieutenant General, USAF) — commander of The Hump operation and a key leader in the creation of the Service Pilot rating — wrote:

It was obvious that the plane ferrying business was in for a great expansion. We had to have pilots, but it was now obvious that we were not going to get them from the military. Fortunately, from my experience in Memphis I knew that there were many pilots, good pilots, out there in the civilian world. I had the idea that they would rather ferry planes for us than be drafted into the infantry. I put word out that we intended to hire as many civilian pilots as we could get, and then began negotiating with the Civil Service Bureau as to just how we were going to do it. The Bureau finally decided on a rating which would give a pilot three hundred dollars a month and six dollars per diem when he was away from home on a ferrying mission. Every man was taken in on a three months' trial arrangement; if at the end of that time it appeared that he was not going to work out, we sent him back to his home and draft board. Those who did work out were commissioned officers. Within six months after Pearl Harbor, we had hired some thirty-five hundred civilian pilots for the Ferrying Command, of whom more than half were subsequently commissioned (Tunner & Herndon, 1964, p.23).

Tunner, William H., & Herndon, Booton (1964, 1998). "Over the Hump" (1st edition) New York, NY: Duell, Sloan & Pierce; (electronic edition) Air Force History and Museums Program.[18]

In addition to those directly inducted in the Service Pilot role as described above, currently serving USAAF officers and enlisted men could apply for the rating of Service Pilot on the basis of prior civilian flying experience — with subsequent reassignment into the associated flying duties, provided that the following minimum criteria were met:

  1. Age 18 to 45 years,
  2. 300 or more total hours flying time as a pilot, including (a) at least 200 hours solo — unless logged on an aircraft for which a copilot was required, (b) at least 100 hours on aircraft of 200 or more horsepower or on USAAF Primary Trainer (PT) type aircraft while acting as a flight instructor at a USAAF contract flight training school, and
  3. Passed the required written and flight examinations and been recommended by a board of reviewing officers.

N.B.: after 1 September 1943, completion of the Basic Flying Instructors' Course at the USAAF Central Instructors' School was accepted in lieu of the flight experience requirements listed in (2) above.[3]

The Senior Service Pilot aeronautical rating was authorized in 1942 for rated Service Pilots who had logged at least 1500 total pilot flying hours and had at least five years' experience as a pilot.[3]

Service Pilot Training[edit]

Service Pilots were not trained ab initio, but were drawn from the population of experienced civilian pilots inducted into the USAAF, then granted this aeronautical rating on the basis of previously acquired civil certifications and experience. The Service Pilot rating was not awarded automatically however; certain experience requirements had to be met and applicants were required to pass a series of written and practical examinations, then receive a favorable recommendation by a board of reviewing AAF officers. Formal training courses attended by Service Pilots generally were limited to those advanced courses normally attended only by already-rated pilots, such as flight instructor courses or multi-engine transition.[3]

Service Pilots who had logged at least 500 hours total flying experience as a pilot, including at least 400 hours on aircraft of 400 or more horsepower (at least 100 hours of which were required to have been flown on USAAF aircraft), and had flown at least 50 hours as a pilot within the preceding 12 months were eligible to receive an unrestricted Pilot rating upon application and recommendation of a reviewing board. An unknown number of individuals who had initially been ineligible (most commonly due to advanced age and/or deficient eyesight) for the USAAF Pilot rating via the Aviation Cadet Training Program were able to obtain it by means of this "back-door" avenue after proving themselves as Service Pilots. Some who elected to remain in the military post-war, such as James Stewart and Barry Goldwater, enjoyed long and successful military flying careers.[16][3]

Service Pilot Duties[edit]

Officers holding the Service Pilot rating were eligible to command air transport units, and units equipped solely with glider and/or liaison aircraft. Service Pilots performed flight instructor, ferrying, glider- and target-towing, and flight-testing duties, and piloted cargo and utility transports with Air Transport Command (known as Ferrying Command prior to 20 June 1942) and Troop Carrier Command.[16] Troop Carrier units, in accordance with the regulations of the period, were those USAAF units tasked to deliver "parachute troops, airborne troops, and cargo".[19] These air units were equipped with mission design series C-, G- and U-series (cargo, glider and utility) aircraft. While the original intent had been that Service Pilots perform non-combat missions only, many of those assigned to Air Transport Command and Troop Carrier Command regularly piloted cargo and utility aircraft into combat conditions. As of 1944, approximately 40% of ATC's total assigned pilot force consisted of Service Pilots[20][21][22]

Notable former Service Pilots[edit]

Liaison Pilot[edit]

The Liaison Pilot Badge was presented to enlisted military pilots of MOS 772: "Pilots and maintains a small liaison airplane of 175 horsepower or less for purposes of ferrying officers, taking observers on observation missions, or transporting small amounts of critical materiel. Inspects and performs minor maintenance on airplane to which assigned.",[7] and usually assigned to liaison units of the USAAF. A minority of Liaison Pilots held commissioned rank and were normally Field Artillery officers from Army Ground Forces and fully trained artillery forward observers.[26][27][28]

Liaison Pilot Duties[edit]

Liaison pilots flew light single-engine aircraft in direct support of Army Ground Forces units. Commissioned officers holding the Liaison Pilot Rating were eligible to command flying units equipped with liaison (L-series) aircraft only.[3]

Liaison units flew "...light single-engine liaison aircraft. Included were many enlisted aviation students who washed out of pilot training after having soloed and were given the opportunity to become Liaison Pilots. Flight training consisted of about 60 hours of flying time and stressed such procedures as short field landings and takeoffs over obstacles, low altitude navigation, first aid, day and night reconnaissance, aerial photography and aircraft maintenance. Unarmored and unarmed—except perhaps for a .45 pistol or .30 carbine—these men in 28 different squadrons flew low and slow with wheels, skis or floats. They flew varied and often hazardous missions in nearly every theater—medical evacuation from forward areas; delivering munitions, blood plasma, mail and other supplies to front lines; ferrying personnel; flying photographic or intelligence missions; serving as air observers for fighters or bombers; and other critical yet often unpublicized missions.

"During the campaign to recapture the Philippines, pilots of the 25th Liaison Squadron flew a dozen L-5 aircraft in short 30-minute flights (Dec. 10-25, 1944) delivering supplies (including a 300-bed hospital) to the 6,000 men of the 11th Airborne Division isolated in the mountains of Leyte.

"In another mission, an army officer wounded in the chest in New Guinea was evacuated in a liaison aircraft as the pilot pumped a portable respirator with one hand while he flew the aircraft with the other.

"In the northwestern United States, some liaison pilots flew forest patrols (Project Firefly), watching for fires ignited by incendiary bombs carried across the Pacific beneath unmanned Japanese high-altitude balloons."

(Citation needed. Extended quotation by original contributor does not properly attribute citation).

Notable former Liaison Pilots[edit]

Postwar (1945-1947)[edit]

Following the close of World War II, these pilot badges fell into disuse and there were no further issuances. With the creation of the U.S. Air Force, these three aeronautical ratings became obsolete.

Postwar Legacy (after 1947)[edit]

Glider Pilot Legacy[edit]

The United States Air Force Academy Cadet Soaring Instructor Pilots wear the Glider Pilot wings in honor of the WWII Glider Pilots, by permission of the National WW2 Glider Pilots' Association and the Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy.[30]

The following NASA astronauts have been inducted by the National WW2 Glider Pilots' Association as Honorary Members:

WW2 era Glider Pilots invited to fly the Space Shuttle Orbiter simulator at NASA's Johnson Space Center have reportedly completed every simulated landing accurately and correctly on the first attempt.[31]

The Civil Air Patrol awards a Glider Pilot Badge of its own — having a somewhat differing wing and escutcheon design while retaining the letter G — to its members who hold an FAA pilot certificate (private or higher) with a glider category rating and have passed a CAP/USAF mandated written and flight examination on gliders.[32][33]

Liaison Pilot Legacy[edit]

Following the USAAF's separation in 1947 to become the U.S. Air Force, the Liaison Pilots embedded with the U.S. Army's Field Artillery battalions remained part of the Army, forming the nucleus of what would evolve into today's U.S. Army Aviation Branch. What was once the Liaison Pilot rating has long since evolved, further expanding into the Army Aviator qualification of today's Army. The modern Airborne Forward Air Controller (FAC) role has its roots in the role of the Liaison Pilots of the WW2 era, and continues to be employed on modern airframes in the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps alike. In addition, many foreign military air arms developed their own FAC capability in similar fashion during and after the WW2 era.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Section 11 — Aeronautical Ratings, in U.S. Army Air Forces Pilots' Information File (PIF 1-11-3), War Department, 01 October 1943
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ "Aviation Cadet Training for the Army Air Forces" (p.7), War Department brochure LX-110-RPB-3-13-100M (March 1943), War Department, Washington, DC. Retrieved from
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c TM 12-427, Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel, War Department, July 1944
  8. ^
  9. ^ p.150 in Grim, J. Norman (2009) "To Fly the Gentle Giants: The Training of U. S. WW II Glider Pilots" Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse
  10. ^ a b c d
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c Section 11 — Aeronautical Ratings, in U.S. Army Air Forces Pilots' Information File (PIF 1-11-2), War Department, 01 October 1943
  17. ^ Bielstein, Roger E. "Airlift and Airborne Operations in World War II" (PDF). Air Force Historical Studies Office. Retrieved 21 December 2016. 
  18. ^ Tunner, William H. "Over the Hump". Air Force History and Museums Program. Retrieved 27 December 2016. 
  19. ^ War Department (21 July 1943). FM 100-20 Field Service Regulations — Command and Employment of Air Power, p. 4-5e. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Gene Autry as flight officer
  24. ^ "A Plane-Crazy America". AOPA Pilot: 79. May 2014. 
  25. ^ Indiana Illustrators and Hoosier Cartoonists — Life Stories of Artists, Illustrators, and Cartoonists of Indiana — Reed Kinert 1911-1976
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ a b
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ Civil Air Patrol (23 January 2015). CAP Regulation 35-6 — Personnel Procedures — Operations Ratings, Awards and Badges. National Headquarters Civil Air Patrol, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL
  33. ^ Civil Air Patrol (01 July 2015). CAP Manual 60-1G — Operations — CAP Glider Program Procedures Manual. National Headquarters Civil Air Patrol, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL