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The Birth of Marine Corps Aviation

Alfred A. Cunningham, the father of Marine Corps Aviation

Alfred A. Cunningham, the father of Marine Corps Aviation

The birth of Marine Corps Aviation started with Alfred A. Cunningham.  Without his passion for aviation the Marine Corps would have never seen funding for it.  Alfred A. Cunningham’s love for aviation began while watching a balloon ascent in 1903.  That same year he made his own personal balloon ascent.  He was an air enthusiast from then on until his death in May 27, 1939.

Alfred A. Cunningham fathered Marine Corps Aviation through his his intense passion for the air.  He knew that his best chance to fly was by joining the military.  He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on January 25, 1909.  At this period of time aviation was in its infancy.  The Wright brothers had only taken flight six years prior on December 17, 1903.  There was a lot of work to do to lobbying the Department of the Navy to allocate funds and resources.

A.A. Cunningham poses next to biplane

A.A. Cunningham poses next to WWI biplane

Early Career

Stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Yard 1911, Lt. Cunningham retained his interest in flight.  He joined a group of fellow flight enthusiast in the city called the Aero Club.  He was able to meet with a civilian aviator there that leased their plane to him for $25 a month.  Alfred A. Cunningham retained the permission of the Commandant of the Navy Yard to use the field there to conduct test flights.  Unfortunately, the plane never took to the air.

WWI Marine Corps Aviation recruiting poster

WWI Marine Corps Aviation recruiting poster

Alfred A. Cunningham’s passion for flight did not go unnoticed.  He was able to establish many friends in the Aero Club that had connections in Washington.  They began to put pressure on former Commandant William Biddle to develop a Marine Air Wing.  Lt. Cunningham checked in to aviation school at the United States Naval Academy Annapolis on May 22, 1912.  This is formally regarded as the birth of Marine Corps Aviation.  However, the very first Marine Corps Air-Wing was not established until July 7, 1941.  The Wing was based out of Quantico, Virginia.  When World War II broke out the 1st Marine Air-Wing took part in the battle of Guadalcanal.  Based out of Henderson Field the 1st Marine Air-Wing was essential support for the Marines on the ground.

AA Cunningham’s Legacy

Alfred A. Cunningham’s contribution to Marine Corps Aviation is so profound that he has etched his way into aviation history.  In 1965 A.A.  Cunningham was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.  He also has a Naval vessel named after him.  The USS Alfred A. Cunningham (DD-752)

Without air power the Marine Corps Hymn would never say “In the Air, on Land, and Sea.”  Marine Corps aviators have always been at the forefront of major operations post WWII.  Having aircraft in the Marine Corps expands our role as an expeditionary force in readiness.  Yet without motivators like A.A. Cunningham that would not be possible.

So today on May 27th, Devil Dog Shirts would love to pay homage to a Marine Corps legend.  Alfred A. Cunningham.  The founder of Marine Corps Aviation!  Semper Fi!