Since the advent of flight, its application for military and civilian life had been vigorously debated. “Undoubtedly, the next war will be decided in the air,” Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick, USA, Chief of the Army Air Service, stated in 1923. Patrick was was an engineer officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before being selected to lead the Army Air Service during World War I. He was a charter member of SAME and would later be elected Society President in 1930. He continued to champion for the military potential of aviation, his efforts helping pave the way for the creation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
Even before SAME was formally established in 1920, however, TME‘s predecessor publication, Professional Memoirs, extensively covered the usage of aircraft in military engineering, surveying, mapping, and surveillance. In a 1913 edition, an article appeared entitled “The Fifth Arm.” It contained the first references to military engineering and aviation in the publication, which began as a serial in 1909.
“A great deal is being written at the present time about the value of air craft in future wars. The enthusiasts are inclined to claim that man’s ability to navigate the air will completely revolutionize warfare. The sober student, however, of military history and military operations in general does not agree to this. Nevertheless, air craft (aeroplanes and dirigible balloons) are gong to exercise a very important influence in all future wars between civilized nations.”
A 1923 editorial in TME by The Honorable John Weeks, Secretary of War, espoused on the activities of the Army Air Service and how the investments made by the government for military aviation progress will have a multi-fold benefit on the commercial sector and the nation’s prosperity. This process of seeding research and development would be an influential practice of the U.S. government throughout the 20th century. (In the same article, Weeks also detailed how the Army had a leading role in the development of the radio.)
“The pioneering activities of our Air Service are preparing the way for an aviation industry in stimulating manufacture and in projecting or advising on projects for air ways and communication facilities for air traffic. In the near future aerial activity will play a great part in our national existence. The aerial development of the Army is not only for the purpose of war preparation but an extension of the service to commercial life. The department encourages the construction and development of new and better airplanes and is furnishing every aid practicable within appropriations to develop air lines which will be beneficial commercially. If this were not done, I venture to say that there would be years of delay in obtaining any commercial results worth mentioning. I have no doubt that within the next 10 years we will see many air routes established and doing a prosperous business; in fact, it would not be an extreme statement to make that the development will be comparable to that of the auto mobile.”
Throughout the last century, aviation has gone from a nascent innovation to a way of everyday life. Air travel has shrunk the world and made possible that which was previously inconceivable. An average of 87,000 aircraft now travel the United States each day. People and goods are transported nearly anywhere in the world, at any given moment. Military engineers were at the onset of setting in motion this game-changing growth 100 years ago.
The Society of American Military Engineers is now 100. Founded in 1920, in the interests of patriotism and national security, the organization has never wavered from a vow to support the needs of the United States and strengthen the profession of engineering. As was stated in the inaugural issue of The Military Engineer a century ago: “this Society will serve no selfish purpose.”
The genesis of SAME was born from the lessons of World War I, and the realization of those who went “over there” that the engineering community was unprepared for what was confronted. That prescient leadership would prove invaluable, as “The War to End All Wars” was anything but.
During 2020, the Society is celebrating a century of service to the nation through local and national events, programs and special activities, and coverage in print and online. At Bricks & Clicks, we will be publishing information from the TME archives, capturing the growth of SAME and the emergence of engineering and technology on the world’s stage. Follow and contribute using #SAME100.