Happy Birthday Henry “Hap” Arnold

US #2191 from the Great Americans Series.

General of the Air Force Henry “Hap” Arnold was born on June 25, 1886, in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. 

After graduating from high school, Arnold had intended to go to Bucknell University to enter the Baptist ministry.  However, after his older brother refused to take the entrance exam for West Point, in opposition to their father, he took the test himself and placed second on the list.

Arnold received a delayed appointment and entered West Point one month late.  While there, he earned a reputation as a prankster, helping to found the “Black Hand” group of pranksters.  He also played football, track and field, and polo for the school. 

Upon graduating, Arnold hoped to enter the cavalry, but was instead assigned to the 29th Infantry.  In 1909, he saw an airplane in flight for the first time and was fascinated.  Two years later, he jumped at the chance to transfer to the Signal Corps to attend flying school.   Arnold went to Ohio to learn how to fly at the Wright Brothers’ aviation school.  After 28 lessons, he made his first solo flight on May 13, 1911. 

US #2191 – Classic First Day Cover.

In June, Arnold went to Maryland to begin work as one of the Army’s first flight instructors.  While there, he set and broke an altitude record three times.  And in September 1911 he became the first US pilot to carry mail.  Arnold is credited as being the first pilot to fly over the US Capitol.  He also won the first of two Mackay Trophies for “most meritorious flight of the year.”  In 1917, Arnold went to Panama to organize and command the air service there.

US #2191 – Fleetwood Plate Block First Day Cover.

When the US joined World War I, Arnold requested a post in France, but he was in Washington, DC at the time, and the Aviation Section needed officers at their headquarters.  While he didn’t get to fight, Arnold gained important experience he would later put to use during World War II.  He was involved in aircraft production and procurement, the building of air schools and fields, recruiting and training cadets, and more.  In August 1917, he became the youngest full colonel in the Army. 

Arnold spent the inter-war years moving up in rank and promoting long-term research to improve the Air Corps.  He also wrote a series of children’s books, the “Bill Bruce Series,” for children interested in flying. 

US #2191 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

As World War II loomed, Arnold pushed for the development of jet engines and was promoted to lieutenant general after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He also worked to get new aircraft created, including the B-29 Superfortress, and backed initiatives like the Doolittle Raid. As commanding general of the US Army Air Forces, Arnold directed all air activities in the war against Germany and Japan.  Under his command, the force grew from 22,000 men and 3,900 planes to 2.5 million men and 75,000 planes.

Item #20006 – Commemorative cover marking Arnold’s 98th birthday.

In 1943, Arnold went on a 35,000-mile tour of North Africa, the Middle East, India, and China and attended the Casablanca Conferences.  In the final months of the war, Arnold oversaw the campaign against the Japanese home islands.  It was his B-29 Superfortress that brought an end to the war when it dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Item #CNM11221 – US Half-Dollar honoring Arnold and Omar Bradley.

Arnold created Project RAND (Research and Development) after the war, aimed at studying military issues.  Failing health forced him to retire in June 1946.  By the time he retired, Arnold had earned a number of honors – three Distinguished Service Crosses, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and an Air Medal, as well as decorations from several other nations.  In 1949, he was made the first five-star general of the Air Force.

Arnold died on January 15, 1950.  Many places and awards are named in his honor, including the Arnold Engineering Development Complex and the Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee.  He was also inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.

Click here for a neat video about Arnold’s life.

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  1. The Arnold Air Society, the professional fraternity of USAF ROTC cadets, is also named after General Arnold.

    1. In 1968, the Major William Vincent Holohan Squadron !of Manhattan College hosted the Arnold Air Society Conclave. From 1968 t0 1969 we were the AAS National Headquarters working with the National Director retired Air Force Lt. Col. Louis Ciccoli. Donald Johann was the AAS BG National Commander and I was the AAS Col National Vice Commander. During my active duty tour I was able to speak at numerous AAS dining-ins throughout the United States. I was proud to wear the AAS blue and gold Fourragere!

  2. I graduated from H.H. Arnold High School in Wiesbaden, Germany. I never really knew much about him before reading this article. As a kid, one tends not to be too interested in the history of military figures that installations are named after:)

    1. Hi Marcus,
      I started junior high at the American School in Wiesbaden in 1954, then attended Gen’l. H. H. Arnold High (and junior high) School when it opened in 1955. Then stateside after 9th grade to finish HS in Ohio. My three years in Wiesbaden are among my most cherished memories.
      When were you there?

  3. As a retired USAF CMSGT I was always fascinated by the early Army Air Force
    officers who eventually were the leaders of the New USAF in 1947. Arnold, Spaatz, LeMay, Vandenburg and other early AF pioneers. “Hap” Arnold was always my favorite, just ahead of Curtis LeMay (who was the AF Chief of Staff} when I entered the Air Force so many years ago.

  4. In 1966, while stationed just north of San Francisco, I was sitting in my back yard reading a book about WWI pilots. I was in the middle of this intense dog-fight which was so real that I could hear their engines. It was then that I realized that the sound was real and it was coming from four Jenny’s flying overhead. They were doing a fly-over for Hap Arnold’s wife on the anniversary of his 80th birthday. She lived in Santa Rosa.

  5. I received the Hap Arnold Scholarship for three years of my College. The fourth year it was changed to a Loan and I did not need to do a loan. The admin for the Scholarship were in touch with me each semester to make sure I had not dropped out of school because I was not able to have this Scholarship. My Father was in the Army Air Corp and then the US AF and did Field Mechanics on all kinds of aircraft. He knew all of the Generals and LeMay was one of his friends, whom he saw for many years after they were both retired. This article was a real bonus for me and many fond memories.

  6. I did 27 years in Air Force and recognized all these names; however, this description helped me put them all together to understand how the puzzle’s pieces support one another. Thanks

  7. I enjoyed this article very much because I knew very little about this man and all his accomplishments prior to reading it and because I have a son in the Air Force. I also enjoyed reading the comments left by other readers of this article. You do a great job with these articles. Thank you!

  8. I have letter that personally signed by Hap Arnold notifying my wifes grand parents of the loss of her uncle a P-38 pilot serving in the Aleutian Islands theatre in WWII. After completing a mission returning to base and under radio silence flew into heavy cloud and fog. Running out of fuel he bailed out but was killed He was MIA for several days before his body was recovered in the sea. I have the letter and mailing envelope that was signed by Hap ARNOLD. I also have the several telegrams notifying the family of his MIA status and several updates until the confirmation of recovery and KIA status. My wife never got to meet her uncle as she was not born until 1954 but we have many mementos of his service

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