It Came From the Archives: RAF pilots trained at Napier Field near Dothan

Class SE-42-H before Napier Field HQ building, 1942. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)

Class SE-42-H before Napier Field HQ building, 1942. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)

During World War 2, the skies over Great Britain were filled with too many German airplanes, and the weather was too inclement, for pilot-cadets to train safely.  So they trained in colonies like India and South Africa, but they also trained in the US from June 1941 to March 1943.

AT-6 trainers on Napier Field. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)
AT-6 trainers on Napier Field. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)

Called the “Arnold Scheme” for General “Hap” Arnold who devised it in April 1941 (before Pearl Harbor), the training place created a primary, basic, and advanced flight training curriculum in the United States Army Air Corps’ Southeast Air Corps Training Center (HQ at Maxwell Field).  There were two advanced training bases for single engine pursuit planes, one at Craig Field in Selma, the other at Napier Field near Dothan.

Napier Field’s story is one unto itself and will be the subject of a later post.

D.S.S. Fraser with Stearman trainer during primary flight training, 1941-1942. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)
D.S.S. Fraser with Stearman trainer during primary flight training, 1941-1942. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)

RAF cadet pilots arrived at Napier Field in classes designated by year and consecutive letter, the first class was SE-42-A (Single Engine – 1942 – A); the last was SE-43-C, though it was composed of a few cadets held over from earlier classes.  Classes contained almost 200 cadets each, and alternated so they overlapped at about the midway point in their 8-week training (class SE-42-B arrived at the 4-week mark in SE-42-A’s training, and SE-42-C replaced 42-A at about 4 weeks into 42-B’s training).

The Wiregrass Archives was fortunate to acquire a small collection from former RAF cadet D.S.S. Fraser that documents his time in Alabama.  When Fraser died in England in 2010, his friend rescued the materials from the trash, discovered the Wiregrass Archives, and mailed them here.

Kelly Springs Park during World War 2. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)
Kelly Springs Park during World War 2. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)

Fraser was in class SE-42-H which arrived with 184 cadets (RAF and a few Americans) on July 5 and graduated on September 6, 1942.  While at Napier Field, Fraser trained in the AT-6 trainer, made cross-country flights, learned formation flying, practiced aerial gunnery at Eglin Field in Florida, shot skeet as gunnery practice, and became proficient in instrument-only flight (in the on-ground Link Trainer cadets called “The Jeep”).

Kelly Springs pavilion had opened on May 30, 1942 near the current Troy University Dothan Campus, so in his limited off time Fraser might have enjoyed a break from the south Alabama summer heat there.  Other cadets wrote that they had snuck off base to visit people in Dothan and see movies (27 letters in the John Davis Papers, RG 7, not yet online).  It’s possible that Fraser did the same.

Washout rates were just under half for the entire Arnold Scheme, but they were much lower for advanced training.  The RAF commissioned approximately one-third of pilot-cadets upon graduation, and the rest became sergeant-pilots.  The RAF also retained a number of pilots to become instructors, with the remainder drawing operational assignments.  

Those returning to Europe left Alabama by train bound for Canada where they boarded passenger ships for transport.

It is unclear how D.S.S. Fraser spent World War 2 or his post-war life, but he survived and, when he passed away, was an amateur (“ham”) radio operator living in Cornwall, England.

Instrument Flying certificate, September 6, 1942. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)
Instrument Flying certificate, September 6, 1942. (TROY photo/Wiregrass Archives)

His collection is available online at D. S. S. Fraser Collection, RG 106, Wiregrass Archives, https://www.troy.edu/about-us/dothan-campus/wiregrass-archives/inventories/106.html.

Other sources for this post:

“Arnold Scheme,” Wikipedia, accessed July 20, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Scheme.

“Henry H. Arnold,” Wikipedia, accessed July 20, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_H._Arnold.

Guinn, Gilbert S. The Arnold Scheme. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2007. https://archive.org/details/arnoldschemebrit0000guin/

“Series 2: US Army Air Corps Reports,” in Town of Napier Field (AL) Collection, RG 75, Wiregrass Archives, https://www.troy.edu/about-us/dothan-campus/wiregrass-archives/inventories/075.html.

Spencer Sanders Postcard Collection, RG 228, Wiregrass Archives, [not available online].

Link Trainer for instrument flying, Napier Field. (TROY Photo/Wiregrass Archives)
Link Trainer for instrument flying, Napier Field. (TROY Photo/Wiregrass Archives)
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