It might come as a surprise to learn that Aviation is one of the youngest branches in the United States Army—at least in its current incarnation, that is. While the Aviation Branch was not established until April 12, 1983, the use of aviation assets in the Army and the creation of distinct branches for them dates back almost to the start of the 20th century.

Created in August, 1907, the Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps has the distinction of being the nominal founder of both a branch of the United States Armed Forces—i.e., the Air Force—and a branch within one of those Armed Forces, Army Aviation. In 1914, it was renamed Aviation Section, Signal Corps, a designation it retained until President Woodrow Wilson created an independent (albeit temporary) branch of the War Department named Air Service, United States Army in May, 1918.

The officers’ insignia that was initially authorized for members of the Air Service who were assigned to overseas duty in 1918 reflected the Air Service’s roots in the Signal Corps: It was composed of a winged globe superimposed over the Signal Corps’ insignia of two crossed signal flags with a vertical, flaming torch at their point of intersection. But the use of this insignia was short-lived; in July 1918 the Air Service officially adopted an insignia comprised of a silver propeller and bronze wings.

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The passage of the National Defense Act of 1920 permanently established the Air Service as a branch of the United States Army, but the remaining six years of its existence under this designation were marred in controversy over how aviation assets should be incorporated into the U.S. military organizational structure. Air-power “evangelists” like General Billy Mitchell lobbied fervently for the establishment of an entirely independent Air Force, while longtime leaders in the Army and Navy were firmly in favor of integrating military aviation into the existing branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Although the Air Service was renamed the Air Corps in 1926, it still operated as something of an auxiliary combat arm to Army ground forces. The branch was again rebranded in 1941 as the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), but this time the operational exigencies of World War II meant that it quickly evolved into a branch that was independent in practice if not in name, leading to the creation of the United States Air Force in 1947 as unique branch of the U.S. Military.

But the establishment of the United States Air Force did not diminish the Army’s need for organic aviation assets that could be employed to help achieve Army goals and objectives. In the decades between the establishment of the Air Force and the creation of the Army Aviation branch, the focus in the Army shifted heavily toward rotary-wing aircraft for tactical operations and fixed-wing craft for supply and reconnaissance.

In short, Army aviation didn’t go away just because it was not classified as a basic branch; instead, its increasing importance led Army leaders to realized it needed to be classified as a basic branch. And when that decision was formalized in April, 1983, the insignia that was chosen was almost an exact replica of the one employed by the Army’s very first aircraft-based branch: the winged propeller of the Air Service.

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