The Tip Of The Spear And Onward: An Early History Of Marine Aviation
(August 9, 2010)
Lt. Col. Alfred Austell Cunningham, known better to Marines as A.A. Cunningham, is considered "the father of Marine aviation." He received less than three hours of instruction before flying his first solo flight as a Marine aviator. Cunningham later became the "de facto director of Marine Corps aviation," according to Navy archives., Official Department of the Navy Photo
| ||MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER (MCN - 8/5/2010) — Marine Corps aviators like to call themselves the "point" at the tip of the spear. They are capable of flying low-altitude troop support missions, high altitude bombing missions and even electronic warfare missions. Marine aviators fly aircraft ranging from jets to helicopters and with the arrival of the MV-22B Osprey, a combination of both. |
Like their infantry counterparts, Marine aviators of the past live on in the history of the Marine Corps. Recruits are taught about World War II aces Gregory "Pappy" Boyington and his Black Sheep Squadron, and Joe Foss, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor as a Marine captain.
But perhaps the most famous flying Leatherneck is Lt. Colonel Alfred Austell Cunningham, known better to Marines as A.A. Cunningham, "the father of Marine aviation."
According to Navy historical records, Cunningham was born in 1882 in Atlanta, and served in the 3rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War.
But it was flight that always fascinated Cunningham, and in 1903, he went airborne for the first time in a hot air balloon.
Cunningham spent the next decade selling real estate and becoming more infatuated with flying. He eventually decided the time was right to pursue his
|After being commissioned a Marine second lieutenant, Cunningham served in the Marine Guards aboard several ships, although he still retained a strong desire to fly. |
In 1911, he joined the Aero Club of Philadelphia and flew test flights in a rented airplane at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
1st Lt. Cunningham arrived at Annapolis with orders in connection with aviation on May 22, 1912, and received flight training at the Burgess Aircraft Factory in Marblehead, Mass.
He received less than three hours of instruction before flying his first solo flight as a Marine aviator.
His career was temporarily thwarted by his fianc�e, who would not consent to marry him unless he gave up flying. After much convincing she relented, and he earned his designation of Naval Aviator No. 5 on Sept. 17, 1915.
Cunningham did more than fly planes. Naval aviation was in its infancy. World War I would be the first testing grounds for this new concept of aerial war fighting and he would be the man to lead the Marine Corps into the fray.
Aircraft had been used since the beginning of the war, but only as aerial observation platforms. That all changed in 1915 when a French pilot began shooting his rifle through his propeller blades. It wasn't long before the introduction of plane-mounted guns.
As a machine of war, newly commissioned aircraft of the day had a tactical advantage over the foot soldier bogged down in the trenches.
Pilots had a greater vantage point and could see the opposing army much better than the ground troops. The problem was, flight gave the enemy the same advantage. Hence, aerial combat was about to arrive in full force.
Cunningham became the "de facto director of Marine Corps aviation," according to Navy archives.
He recruited flight volunteers and began an aggressive campaign to define exactly what the mission of ground support Marine aviation would be.
He was sent to Europe to gather information on British and French aviation and participated in a myriad of missions over German lines. With these missions, his view became broadened, and he began to plan using Marine aviation against enemy submarines.
Out of those plans came the North Bombing Group, the first Marine aircraft group, which consisted of four squadrons. The bombing group was equipped and trained within five months and arrived in Brest, France, on July 30, 1918.
The Marines participated in 43 raids with allied groups and 14 independent raids. Cunningham was awarded the Navy Cross for organizing and training these Marines. He retired in 1935 and died in Sarasota, Fla., on May 27, 1939.
To commemorate his legacy, the Navy commissioned the USS Alfred A. Cunningham; additionally, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point was originally named MCAS Alfred A. Cunningham in his honor.
Although he died long before most can remember, his name lives on in the annals of Marine history, and his spirit still flies with the dedicated and courageous men and women who push the boundaries of Marine aviation every day.
By LCpl. Nichole R. Werling
1st Marine Logistics Group (FWD)
Reprinted from Marine Corps News
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