Stained glass window
Air Force at Furman During WWII
Aircrew detachment inspection and review At right, Major General Thomas J. Hanley Jr. At left, Command Officer of the Army Forces Eastern Training Command.Center, Leon Alrond (commander of the aircrew detachment).

The United States entered World War II in 1941. The war would prove to be unlike any before it. The technological innovations of the 1940’s introduced a new battle for control of the skies. As America entered the European scene in World War II the need for Air Force training at home was tremendous. Colleges and universities around the nation answered the call and developed Air Force training programs. As the war progressed Furman met the needs of the growing demand for air force pilot training programs. Throughout 1942 and 1943 Furman University’s administration and students volunteered their services to help the war effort.

The WACO 64-a Glider is a simple airplane, which in spite of its simplistic design had great impact on most of the European battles. The Glider has no mode of self propulsion. It is made of light weight steel tubing and canvas. There is no motor, only minimal flaps and a simple tiller. The WACO Glider was used to transport troops or supplies into specific areas. Two or even three gliders would be pulled together, on tow lines, by a large propeller plane such as a C-47. The C-47 would tow the gliders into the specific areas and release them to their own devices. The glider pilot would, usually at night, land in a field or a specified area. The WACO gliders were used heavily in D-Day to take troops across the front line and into Normandy. They were crucial to breaking German control. Of course there was a huge increase in the need for pilots, trained at home, who would be capable of controlling a glider behind a tow plane and controlling a safe landing under intense pressures. Very intense glider pilot training was required.

In 1942 Furman met the demands for glider pilots by instituting an Army Air force Glider Pilot training program on the campus. President John Plyler agreed to allow the university to participate in the program. The Glider Air Force detachment arrived to Furman in September of 1942. The program had great effects on campus life. As it expanded it required full occupancy of McGee Hall. The trainees required daily use of the gymnasium as well as the infirmary. The actual flight training was done at Greenville’s Municipal Airport. The mathematics department offered a course in plane geometry and one in basic algebra, which was designed for the pilots. The WACO gliders had no instruments and were of simple design , but excellent understanding of the higher mathematics of flying were required to make gliders successful in battle. The program was successful but it was dissolved in early March of 1943.

Left to right. Capt. Leon C. Alrond, Dr. John L. Plyler, Lt. Jones, Sgt. Wimbish, Sgt. Gerald A. Mucullough. Nov. 1943.

The battle for control of the skies became a chief issue in the war. When America entered the scene the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, controlled the skies with its numerical superiority. American Air Force responded by beginning training programs designed to create higher quality pilots. The pilot training programs were developed to make pilots who were smarter and more intensely trained than the Luftwaffe. Furman answered this call for highly trained pilots. President Plyler negotiated the training of two new units of air force trainees. After the 1943 school year the two new detachments arrived on the Furman campus. The first of these was an Army Air Corps Pre-Flight School. This changed campus life at Furman dramatically. The cadets were subject to intense training programs and the academic rigors of the Furman curriculum. These new pre-flight cadets were subject to a new set of strict rules and regulations. A medical detachment was required to accompany the training unit. The pre-flight school required daily occupation of the infirmary.

WACO 64-a glider plane

The new planes introduced during World War II had very technical instrumentation. Advanced “Link” instrumentalists were required in fighter and new transport planes, as well as on new bomber aircraft. The new technology required advanced training. The second air force training unit instituted in 1943 was a “Link Instrumentation” training unit. The men in training were not cadets like the Pre-flight unit. These men were enlisted men. They were older than the cadets. They were subject to the Furman Administration, and were academically enrolled. By the end of the 1943-44 school year the number of military trainees was almost 400. The total number of students reported enrolled after the 1942 school year was 978 students. 400 of those 978 were taking part in these new air force training programs. 307 students were in the pre-flight program, 85 students were Link Instrument trainees, and 5 were officers. The program required full occupancy of Geer Hall and McGee Hall for its trainees.

The Air Force programs were reported to have been very successful. In Mid 1944 Air Force training programs in colleges came to an end. The Link Instrumentation trainees left Furman in February and by June all the cadets were gone.


Works Cited

Reid, Alfred Sandlin. Furman University - Toward a New Identity 1925-1975. Duke University Press: Durham, 1976.

Plan For Glider School Reported. Manning Herald .Durham, NC. September 4, 1942. Southern Press Clipping Bureau. Atlanta, GA.

Basic Glider Training For Army Here is Nearing Start. Journal- Herald. Waycross, GA. August 24, 1942. Southern Press Clipping Bureau. Atlanta, GA.

Five Teachers Open Training.News & Press. Darlington, SC. July 2, 1942. Southern Press Clipping Bureau. Atlanta, GA.

World War II Data Sheet for Graduates. Furman University Speical Collections Archives.

The CG-4a Glider. Copyright 2002 by Vivian Wood, Exploring the North, Inc.

The Catalogue. (The Furman Bulletin)-v. 23-28, 1940-1945, Special Collections, James B. Duke Library, Furman University.