December 2022

Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower

Taught to fly by the Wright Brothers, appointed the first and only five-star general of the Air Force, and remembered as the man who won World War II’s air war, Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold is one of the most significant figures in American aviation history. From 1938 to 1946, as the first Commanding General of the US Army Air Forces—the largest, most powerful air armada that has ever been assembled—Arnold fought World War II not in the field but in Congress, on the Army General Staff, in factories, and in universities. His vision of airpower as more than just sophisticated aircraft not only established US air supremacy during the war but also laid the foundations for the technology, infrastructure, and philosophy of today’s air force.
In the thoroughly detailed Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower, biographer Dik Alan Daso draws on Arnold’s personal papers and declassified documents to sketch out the adventurous career, dynamic personality, and bold vision of the “father of the Air Force.” Daso traces a career centered around the airplane, the technological achievement that revolutionized twentieth-century warfare.
Describing the technology, institutions, and individuals—from the Wright Brothers to the president of Caltech—that influenced Arnold’s decisions as a general, Daso shows how the peacetime experiences of World War II’s foremost military airman shaped the evolution of American military aviation as a whole.

About the Author

Dik A. Daso

Dik Daso serves as the Executive Director of the Air Force Historical Foundation (interim). As the senior administrator for the Foundation, he is responsible for day-to-day operations and support for the Executive staff, members, and corporate partners. The Executive Director is the hub for communications for the Executive Board, the Board of Directors and Committee Chairs and is the lead planner for AFHF events and activities. He ensures that the Foundation meets or exceeds goals established in the long-range planning documents developed by the Executive Staff and the Board of Directors. Dik will be an integral part of the search for a permanent Executive Director for the AFHF.

Daso is adjunct faculty in the department of history at the University of South Carolina and teaches a variety of courses that focus on the history of technology and science. He retired from the USAF in 2001 and then served at the Smithsonian National air and Space Museum as the curator of modern military aircraft until retiring from that post in 2012. He earned his B.S. from the USAF Academy in 1981 and his doctorate in history from the University of South Carolina in 1996.

Daso flew T-38, RF-4C, and F-15 aircraft during his service. He was assigned to the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board during the visionary New World Vistas S&T study in 1995 and also held the position of Chief, Air Force Doctrine, as a member of the Air Staff in the Pentagon. Lt. Col. Daso retired after 20 years of active service in 2001.

Daso has authored several books and contributed chapters to several more. The books include, U.S. Air Force: A Complete History (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc., 2006), Doolittle: Aerospace Visionary (Brassey’s US, 2003), Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001; Special AFHF Edition, 2012; USAF 75th Anniversary Edition, 2022), Architects of American Air Supremacy: General Hap Arnold and Dr. Theodore von Kármán (Air University Press, 1997).

Book Club Session

Session Notes:

Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower


Air Force Historical Foundation Book Club (session 6), moderated by Mr. “Pepe” Soto featuring Author Mr. Dik Daso and Grandson Mr. Robert Arnold


13 Dec 2022 (1900-2000EST)


Key Take-Aways:


  • We’re not even close to Hap Arnold’s vision for the Air Force. He would not want hero worship but would want to inspire Airmen to move forward.


  • Today he would like what he sees, but he would constantly press people to do more, better, and faster.


  • Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. Hap Arnold also had a large library particularly of French and British books.


Opening Remarks by Mr. Pepe Soto who introduced the Author of the book, Mr. Dik Daso and Hap Arnold’s Grandson Mr. Robert Arnold.  Ms. Jonna Doolittle welcomed all attendees to the sixth session of the Air Force Historical Foundation book club and introduced the focus of next year’s book club on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war.


Mr. Daso offered that “this is a great topic” as Hap Arnold could be a general today and would still make just as much of an impact as he did at the end of WWII, while Mr. Arnold thanked the audience for the opportunity to share on his grandfather’s amazing life.



(Soto) Why don’t we know more about Hap Arnold? Outside of your book, no one else has done a deep dive on the man – why do you think that is?


(Daso) He died shortly after the war in 1950 and didn’t really have a follow-on civilian life afterward. If you try to research the man, it’s volumes and volumes and volumes of papers and documents. This book is a techno history – it focuses on only on his life, but also on how it influenced the course of the Air Force. There are a couple of other books out there, one called “Cataclysm” on the war in the Pacific, there are the diaries of Hap Arnold’s travels throughout Europe which you can get for free off of the Air University webpage. Studying Hap Arnold is a lifelong event.


(Arnold) Part of the problem was that my grandfather was only 64 when he passed away. Just as he died, the Air Force became its own service and was looking for its own roots. Also, since he was a personally modest man he was more interested in putting other men out front and making them the face of Airpower like Tooey Spaatz and Jimmy Doolittle and Curtis LeMay.


(Soto) The book discusses his relationship with many of the pioneers of aviation – especially the Wright Brothers. How important were these relationships to Hap building the Air Force he needed for WWII?


(Daso) Hap’s whole life is traces the evolution of early airpower. Being introduced to the Wright Brothers and going to their school in Dayton was the establishment of his knowledge of aviation. It’s interesting to note that Hap Arnold never flew with the Wright Brothers. He went to ground school with them. Al Welch was his flight instructor and he was at the basement level of how to develop aviation and how to put the Aircraft together and deployment which was fundamental for his baseline knowledge that he employed in WWII.


(Arnold) His experience with the Wright brothers in 1911 in Dayton, Ohio is significant. He had other experiences with aviation previously, watching Frank Lam take a balloon off out of West Point which didn’t really impress him. He saw Balerio’s plane cross the English Channel, but was not impressed with the hardware he saw. He then met the Wrights, has meals with them at home with the family; this is where they could argue issues back and forth. He learns about resources required, weather and training—everything about aircraft production and notices it’s all about incremental improvements. Whatever machine he sees is not the machine of tomorrow. On top of that, these are all nice middle class people not geniuses from an ivory tower in Heidelberg, Germany. These were hardworking people with a vision and showed that hardworking people could make this thing go, which appealed to his practical side.  


(Arnold) The Wrights also introduced Hap Arnold to other people which was important since Dayton, Ohio had more patents per capita than anywhere else in the US. These people also ended up being involved in the rise of the aviation industry.


(Soto) I was really surprised that Hap was not an “ideal” cadet – and was not selected for the calvary assignment he wanted, pretty much due to his attitude. How did his evolution from his days as a cadet to one of the Founding Fathers of the Air Force take place?


(Daso) This is a great story for Academy grads and West Pointers. Arnold was not an academic. While he was militarily towards the top of his class, he gained his leadership skills in a different way because he was the leader of the “Black Hand” which was the “prankster” organization responsible for spirit missions. For example, they would take a reveille cannon and roll it to the top of the hill of the dormitories and roll cannonballs down the wooden steps to wake everybody up.  He did it particularly during his senior year, which led to marching tours and had him miss his senior dance because he on restrictions. They lit up a firework’s display on the academic building that said “1907, never again” which was their class motto. This was a different kind of leadership getting pranksters together out of their rooms in the middle of the night and not get caught. He learns leadership to get around the rules. One of the things of working on a new technology is to get around the old school rules. There are many ways to be a leader in a military environment. Tooey Spaatz said of him that he was “A different breed of cat.” Remember, one of Arnold’s professors at West Point fought in the civil war.


(Arnold) The sense humor in the family runs strong – the story our family likes to tell is about the Barling bomber in 1929 when Hap is at Wright Patterson with a WWI designed bomber from 1922. The bomber is at the base and Hap deems it useless and wants it destroyed, but the government doesn’t want to destroy it because it cost $1M. One Saturday afternoon it was lunch time and Hap looks at his watch and says its 1225, in 5 minutes there’s going to be a fire. 5 minutes later, sirens go off with trucks and smoke coming out of the hangar for the Barling bomber—Hap insists on recording the tail number as destroyed instead of “the Barling bomber” since it never existed, from his perspective.



*Questions from the Audience

(Paul Vivian) There’s a saying that not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. Was Hap Arnold a big reader, especially of military history?

(Arnold) My grandparents had a huge library and read a lot of classics from all of the French and old English writers. Box after box of the old professional books that ended up at the retirement house.

(Daso) During service after WWI he was less of a reader because he was too busy.

(Scott Marquiss) After having done “gobs” of research, what is the one thing you’ve looked for that you cannot find?

(Daso) During Arnold’s Alaska flight, he led 10 B-10 bombers up to Fairbanks, Alaska. While they were there for two weeks they did photo runs of territories in Alaska and there’s a theory that they actually photographed to map out the archipelago route to Russia, but even in his old pocket diary, we can’t find anything.

(Bill) As a cadet while he marched tours, he was a “clean sleeve” and never wore cadet rank as a cadet. Tooey Spaatz who took his place as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force never wore rank as a cadet and neither did his replacement, Hoyt Vandenberg—interesting note for Air Force leadership!


Did Arnold have any influence on the Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s? Was he called upon to reflect or talk about Strategic Airpower?

(Daso) He didn’t talk to the guys at the Air Corps Tactical School at all- he gave one speech there. Overall, Arnold supported that decision, but the programs he supported later in his career didn’t pay any attention to the Air Corps tactical school or strategy or doctrine, like the TB-1 thru 8 guide bomb series designed specifically to stand off from the target as opposed to the strategy at the time of pickle barrel bombing.

(Bill) Kathy Wilson is currently writing a biography of an Airman named Frank Andrews who was a contemporary of Hap Arnold. What was the relationship between the two? If Frank Andrews was called back to Washington in 1943 who called him back and for what? He was logistics command commander in the European theater at that time.

(Daso) I think it’s speculative as to what the reason was. The rumor was that he was going to lead the invasion- I don’t think that’s the case—I think he was going to be what Tooey Spaatz became during that time. I can’t imagine that Arnold called him back, perhaps MacNarney.

(Arnold) Andrews has a tight relationship with Marshall as well. The family said that Andrews was going to have the Eisenhower job in Europe. Eisenhower was seen as “the young guy”.

(Pepe) How did his relationship with Tooey Spaatz start and how tight was it?

(Daso) He and Spaatz go back to WWI. Arnold trusted Spaatz completely. Spaatz was the operational arm to Arnold’s administrative arm. When Eisenhower was putting together his staff for the invasion, he was talking about who would be the air commander. This led into a change of air commanders. Ira Eaker was the 8th Air Force commander and was moved to be the commander of a combined force in the Mediterranean. It wasn’t because Eaker was fired for doing a bad job, but Eisenhower liked Spaatz and was familiar with him and Eaker had the qualifications (3 star rank) to do a combined job as required by the Brits.

(Arnold) Relationship with Tooey Spaatz is almost like brothers, but close. Tooey is completely unflappable. An example is when Arnold and Spaatz were together at Chrissy Field in San Francisco doing crazy things with Airplanes/Biplanes doing stunts to attract attention from the Army Air Service. It’s prohibition time and they can’t have drinks on post, but they’re still drinking and Spaatz is the bartender. Hap decides to have some fun and yells outside, it’s a raid! Spaatz, without missing a beat, pours all of the bottles down the drain and stays cool under fire.

(Pepe) The next one is about Jimmy Doolittle who was busted as a young pilot by Arnold. He had a critical trust with Doolittle prior to the Tokyo Raids from the Airmanship and tactical perspective.

(Daso) The story about Cecille B. DeMille filming Doolittle riding on a bike lane is infamous when Arnold is the exec. This was not the most favorable introduction possible. The thing to keep in mind is that Doolittle goes off in the mid 20s to get a master’s degree in Aeronautics and the first PHD in Aeronautics from MIT. He has the technical knowledge that Arnold was a huge advocate of. In the 30s he leaves to work for Shell and gets experience in industry and developing higher octane fuel. When things get heated in Europe, Arnold brings Doolittle back to be the problem solver. A story with Paul Tibbets is when Doolittle takes him up to show him to not stall an aircraft in front of an entire squadron. It was a no brainer to select Doolittle to execute the Tokyo raids.

(Arnold) Again he was kind of like Hap’s younger brother. He was a go-to guy on his list of go-to guys- Doolittle, Spaatz, Eaker, Eilson, Corkoran, Tibbits, Lemay. He picks up people, sizes them up, gives them ultimate authority and sends them out to do whatever he trusts them to do. Doolittle has a huge amount of skill sets. He was a crazy fighter pilot, but settled down with MIT, Shell, and instrument flying. He was one of the best pilots he’d ever seen. You’re watching the hinge where the Army Air Corps is changing from the Red Baron Red Scarf to a technical Air Force.

(Daso) Doolittle is the first pilot to fly across the US in less than 24 hours and then less than 12 hours and then he broke all sorts of records in other air competitions. He was also difficult to deal with because he was a trouble maker.

(Bill) You’ve written about Doolittle a lot. It’s easy to forget that he was not only a great pilot, but also a great leader and became the 12th Air Force and then 8th Air Force CC for Operation Overlord. Arnold looked to him as the go-to guy for combat command.

(Pepe) It seemed like Arnold had a close relationship with Theodore Carmen as well- how important was this relationship to build the Air Force?

(Daso) The Air Force we have today is fundamentally due to the relationship that Arnold cultivated with Theodore Von Carmen. Arnold primarily benefitted from relationships outside of the Army Air Corps like the future CalTech president Robert Millican. Arnold loans Millican bombers to do experiments with cosmic radiation and gets to know the entire faculty to include the Hungarian von Carmen. When it came time to look ahead, Marshall told Arnold to plan for what was next after WWII, Arnold went to von Carmen who chaired the scientific advisory board until he died in 1963. There were only 33 PhDs at that point. Now, there are over 400 scientists involved in 90s studies. Arnold’s legacy is his administrative capabilities to coordinate staff and the scientific and technological development and relationship with industry as well.

(Arnold) Hap constantly had industry individuals knocking on his door and trying to sell him something new!

(Troy Barnes) What role would Arnold play in today’s General Officer Corps?

(Daso) I think he would like what he sees, but he would constantly press people to do more, better, and faster.

(Arnold) He would be thrilled with the educational level of the force, he would be pleased that the enterprise is spread across so far, but he would be worried about the narrow nature of the technological advancement IE why are we only developing one bomber and the B-52 is the only thing still robust and flying?

(Daso) He got a lot of flak when he first started in command in the late 30s. The first thing he wanted to do was make training airplanes. He politely explained to those who said we just needed combat airplanes, that there was a process that required training. The title of the book refers to what he would refer to as “national power”.

(Daso) I’d like to talk about a couple of myths

Hap Arnold won the best flight of the year trophy twice, the name of the trophy is pronounced “MAH KEE”. This was the family’s name.

Hap Arnold didn’t start to be called Hap until 1931 when his mother became sick in January and suddenly died of a heart attack. It was even worse than when he lost his son John Linton in the 1920s. I had letters taped across my basement, and from March of 1931 he changed his name from signing “Sonny” and started signing “Hap” to assuage his mother’s memory.

(Joe Bassi) I’m a career space guy from Vandenberg with a quote to Von Carmen in 1944 saying that the problem the the Air Force is “Pilots, Pilots, Pilots and more pilots. I see a manless Air Force with pilotless Airplanes”. In my 26 years in the Air Force, one of my favorite memories was getting to show Benny Schriever around Air Command and Staff College!

(Arnold) Hap saw pilotless airplanes in 1945. Benny Schriever was spot on with his missile and technological development.

(Daso) If you go to the Chief of Staff’s 1943/1945 report, it’s an exact copy from Von Carmen and it went directly to Marshall. Arnold capitalized on Von Carmen (cut out Van Busch) in his technological development.

(Pepe) One final question, the strategic perspective from Hap Arnold on Airpower seems to be enduring today: “Airpower is not made up of Airplanes alone. Airpower is a composite of Airplanes, Aircrews, Maintenance crews, Airbases, air supply and sufficient places to maintain constant fighting strength regardless of what happens.” Given this perspective, what do you think Hap would think of today’s Air Force?

(Dik) I think Hap Arnold would be completely mortified by how contracts are let in the services today. He would contend that the system that technology is put into service now is ridiculous. On a regular basis its politics rather than business with a handshake. It’s a nightmare and he would probably just retire. Today we’re also building 100 total airplanes as opposed to 1000s.

(Arnold) You can’t imagine the situation in Witchita, Kansas when Arnold flies out to the B-29 assembly line and writes his name on the plane and says “I want this plane out of that door on this date, or Boeing will never get another contract for the US Government.” Can you imagine that today? He was in a hurry and had a war to win.

(Pepe) What are your last thoughts on Hap Arnold and his life and his career?

(Daso) When Gen Vogelman had the reigns in the Pentagon in the 1980s, he added to the legacy that Billy Mitchell was the father of the Air Force and gave more credence to Arnold as well.

(Arnold) Per Secretary of the AF Rosa, we’re not even close to Hap Arnold’s vision for the Air Force.  He would not want hero worship but would want to inspire Airmen to move forward.

Pepe closed the session with a nod to the Air Force giant that was Hap Arnold and that this was the final session of the year.


Capt Jenn (Mahowald) Brown ran technical solutions for this session and Maj Mel Sidwell Bowron produced notes. Both are Active-duty Air Force Intelligence Officers serving with the Tactical Air Control Party at Ft Bragg, North Carolina. Some statements in this document are paraphrased.

The next AFHF book club series will honor the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.