Mason Patrick and the Fight for Air Service Independence
Mason Patrick began his military aviation career in 1918 when Gen. John J. Pershing selected him to command the Air Service of the American ... Show synopsis Mason Patrick began his military aviation career in 1918 when Gen. John J. Pershing selected him to command the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force at a critical juncture in World War I. Patrick, one of Pershing's former West Point classmates and an engineer by training, did not earn his wings until 1923, but by virtue of his intellect, political acumen, and organizational skills, he transformed the Air Service and set it on the path to independence from the U.S. Army. In this assessment of Patrick's aviation career, Robert P. White credits Patrick, not his more vocal second-in-command, Billy Mitchell, with ensuring the survival of the Air Service at a time when it faced critical internal and external pressures. While Mitchell played the role of the attention-grabbing publicist, Patrick skillfully functioned as the true leader of the Air Service, expertly maneuvering behind the scenes and in selected public forums to ultimately ensure the creation of the Air Corps. He was certainly not averse to a good fight; the confrontations and challenges he faced to ensure the continued viability of the nation's airpower demonstrate his determination, intelligence, wit, and charm. One of the first aviation officers to recognize the full potential of airpower during war and peacetime, Patrick was remarkably successful in gaining support for the three legs of his aviation triangle: military aviation, commercial aviation, and the aviation-manufacturing base. Patrick's tenure as chief of the Air Service and, later, the Air Corps made possible the emergence of an independent Air Force.