Arsenal Illinois. (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution).
THE 1913 MILITARY AVIATOR' BADGE
AWAARDED TO CAPTAIN PAUL W. BECK, U.S. INFANTRY.
by Walter Schott
Army airplanes were considered experimental from 1909 to 1914. In March of 1912 the Secretary of War established regulations providing for physical fitness examination and flight testing to qualiry "pilots" for rating as Military Aviators. Upon meeting the Qualifications, a 'certificate' was awarded to those aviators, stating they were "rated" as Military Aviator, however this certificate was not authorized until 1913.
On May 27 May 1913, General Order (GO) No. 39 was issued by the War Department, authorizing a badge for military aviators.
On 18 July 1914, Congress enacted the establishment of the Aviation Section for the Signal Corps. The Signal Corps personnel assigned or personnel detached from other Army branches formed the Aviation Section.
Two levels of qualification were specified in War Department Bullentin No. 35 on 4 May 1914. All aviators would be ranked as 'Junior Military Aviators' and those who ranked Captain with at least three years flying experience would be rated as 'Military Aviators'.
The first officer awarded the 'MILITARY AVIATOR' badge was Captain Charles DeForest Chandler, on 6 October 1913. Some 23 aviators were awarded the badge.
Captain Beck was the fourth officer to qualify for a Military Aviator rating (July 1912).
NOTE: In 1911, then 1st. Lt. (Inf.) Beck was the first person to take a radio transmitter (of his own design) up in an airplane and make the first successful air-to-ground telegraphic transmission. This landmark event took place at a civilian 'flying meet' near San Francisco, California in early January 1911 and on 21 January 1911 at the Joy Aviation Field located near Mt. Clemens, Michigan. The Joy Aviation Field later became Selfridge Army Airfield.
On 1 July 1917 Captain Byron Q. Jones, Signal Corps, established the Selfridge Army Airfield and was its first commanding officer. Airfield operations commenced on 8 July, Capt. Beck was assigned to the field as an instructor. His airplane mechanic was Herman Yanke. When the MILITARY AVIATOR badge became obsolete 15 August 1917 by the new 'wings' badge, Capt. Beck gave his 'old' military aviators badge to his mechanic Herman Yanke. NOTE: 'Wing" badge was adopted for aviators as specified by Special Regulation 41 (1917).
Major Henry H. Arnold made the first sketches for the new 'wing' badge in early 1917.
After the death of Herman Yanke, his wife Grace Yanke gave Capt. Beck's 'MILITARY AVIATOR' badge to their nephew. The nephew, later enlisted in the United States Air Force, and retired as a Chief Master Sergeant. In retirement, as one usually does, he developed a hobby of collecting World War I U.S. Army items. Upon learning the 'MILITARY AVIATOR' badge pre-dated World War I U.S. activites in the war, he traded it ot Thomas Halpin, of Las Vegas Nevada, for some World War I items. William Schott, the Curator of the U.S. Martial Arms Collection, of Las Vegas, obtained the badge from Mr. Halpin.
Intense research followed with many consultations with many knowledgeable persons and using established reference materials, thus leading the identification to Captain Beck. This research also revealed the badge to be of the first group manufacture in 1918 by the V. H. Blackinton Company of Attleboro, MA, as opposed to those manufactured in 1913 by the Rock Island Arsenal. Captain Beck's original 1913 Military Aviator badge made by the Rock Island Arsenal is on display at the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
SPECIAL NOTE: On 21 September 1920, then Lt. Col. Paul W. Beck, Commanding Offecer of the post airfield at Fort Sill, OK, was shot and killed. Thus ending the life and career of this notable officer.
William Schott, Curator/Historian
U.S. MARTIAL ARMS COLLECTION
Las Vegas, Nevada October 22, 2003
The following contributed to this history:
William Russell, Maxwell Air Force Base
Louis Nigro, Lt. Col. Selfridge Air Force Base Museum
The Nephew of Herman Yanke,
Joseph Weingarten, Weingarten Gallery,
J. Duncan Campbell's book;
'Aviation Badges & Insignia of the
United States Army 1913-1946'