Alexander G. McAdie was director of Harvard University’s Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory when he agreed to provide instruction in Aerography to a small group of U.S. Navy officer candidates. On December 3, 1917 the class convened for six weeks of instruction. Enlisted weather observers, the predecessors of today’s Aerographer’s Mate rating, known as Quartermasters (A) aerographic, were trained at the QM School located at Pelham Bay Park, on Long Island NY.
Professor McAdie was sworn in to the U. S. Naval Reserve as a LCDR on February 1, 1918, and assigned to the Aviation desk in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. His instructions were to set up a Naval Aerological Organization. The Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, encouraged this action, which constituted the origin of what later became the Naval Weather Service.
In April LCDR McAdie was accompanied by eight junior officers and fifteen QM(A) en route to Ireland and France, to set up coastal Aerography stations for support of offshore patrol flights. By the end of hostilities in Europe, the Naval Aerographic Organization boasted 53 reserve aerologists and 200 enlisted personnel. Of course, the primary source for these personnel was the U. S. Weather Bureau. By October, 1919 this wartime number had shrunk to five officers and three QM(A) personnel. An effort was then undertaken to build up personnel strength sufficient to provide aerological support at all naval and Marine Corps air stations, plus three seaplane tenders. The aircraft carrier would be invented in 1922 with USS LANGLEY (CV 1).
Maintaining some semblance of wartime aerological support to naval aviation, a four-month training course on Naval Air Station Pensacola started on November 1, 1919. Creation of the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) in 1921 helped to clarify Aerology’s primary responsibilities to naval aviation. The following year LT Francis W. Reichelderfer USN took over the new Aerology desk within BuAer from LT Reed. In 1923 he managed to have the QM(A) rating replaced by Aerographer, with training relocated to Naval Air Station Anacostia. Bureau of Navigation (BuNav) Circular Letter 99, dated December 23, 1923, established the rating of Aerographer. Chief Quartermaster John R. Dungan USN changed his rating to Chief Aerographer while at Pensacola, and thereby became the first.
Seniority in the Aerographer rating was built up by accepting senior petty officers from other ratings, for training and conversion to Aerographer. Thus, by 1925 nearly all shipboard and naval air station Aerological units were led by Chief Aerographers.
While the aforementioned organizational changes were taking place in Washington, Pensacola personnel were busy establishing post-war training in the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” As early as 1917, during the latter days of WW1, aerological services to naval aviation were needed. In response, LT William F. Reed, USNRF reported aboard NAS Pensacola in April, 1918 and began to organize a meteorological observatory. Weather observations were made and there was a data exchange via telegraph with several other locations, one of which was the Blue Hill Observatory. Thus began map plotting, analysis and forecasting on the air station, carried out primarily by assigned QM(A) personnel. In 1921 LT Reed was relieved by LT J. B. Anderson, and took over the Aerology desk in BuAer.
Beginning on December 1, 1919, Navy, Marine Corps, and Army enlisted reported to Pensacola for instruction. This training routine was followed until the school was relocated to NAS Anacostia DC on May 15, 1924. CAerog Raymond J. Brown USN became the CPOIC there as Aerographers replaced the QM(A) Navy rating. Class size at NAS Anacostia ranged from seven to twelve students, both Navy and Marine, much the same as at NAS Pensacola. For example, Class #1, which graduated in January, 1925 consisted of seven.
Class #1 of the Primary Aerographer School on NAS Lakehurst consisted of nine students, eight of whom graduated on March 25, 1929. Sea1/c Fred Chase failed to graduate but later completed a full career in Aerology. Through the early 1930s class sizes were small, but toward the end of that decade the average number of students per class increased to twenty; and the length of the training course remained twelve weeks. These were lean times throughout the Navy and Marine Corps, but the advent of WW2 loosened the purse strings.
In early 1942, wartime expansion dictated larger class sizes to meet the needs of the fleet. Primary Aerographer School moved from NAS Lakehurst to nearby Lakewood NJ, where the Navy had taken possession of a former Catholic Prep School. The prep school had been purchased earlier from the Claflin family and renamed The Newman School. Primary Aerographer School occupied a portion of The Newman School called Locke Hall. Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) were added to the Aerographer rating for the first time. Class length was reduced from twelve to ten weeks and classes overlapped each month, so that every month 125 men and 25 WAVES graduated.
Commencing in 1933, senior petty officers began to rotate back to NAS Lakehurst for the annual Advanced Aerographer School, consisting of six months instruction with emphasis on forecasting. By the time WW2 appeared on the horizon, this course of instruction terminated with the final Class #9 graduating seventeen students in October 1941. This Advanced Class was re-established after WW2, and Class B-1 with 29 students, AGC and AG1, graduated February 20, 1946. Then called ‘B School,’ the course was shortened to four months.
On August 8, 1942, the Aerographer rating was changed to Aerographer’s Mate by Circular Letter 113-42 in order to accommodate the new Warrant Officer specialty being established. Wartime personnel detailing was de-centralized from BuAer and pools of AerMs were accumulated in Norfolk, San Diego, Seattle and Alameda; and detailing authority was granted to the Aerological Officers at those locations. By the end of WW2 there were roughly 5,000 AerMs serving but this was followed by rapid downsizing of the military when hostilities ended. For example, on July 16, 1945 the monthly quota for Class A Aerographer School plunged from sixty-four to twelve.
Another change occurred in 1948 when AerMs became AGs, as part of the Group IX (Aviation) restructured system for designating ratings by digraph. The change facilitated machine processing of personnel records. Ten years later, the Navy created Senior and Master Chief Petty Officers, pay grades E-8 and E-9. Lee O’Rork became the first AGCM. The new Command Master Chief program soon followed. AGCM William Heagley USN was the first to serve as CMDMC of the Naval Weather Service. Another senior AG held a billet in the Bureau of Naval Personnel, acting as AG Detailer.
In 1977 all enlisted military weather training was turned over to the U.S. Air Force and the USAF was designated Single Service Manager,’ in the interest of economy. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps weather training was consolidated on Chanute AFB in Rantoul IL, where USAF training had been conducted for many years. When Chanute AFB closed during a periodic Base Reduction and Consolidation evolution, weather training moved to Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS where a large, modern school building was constructed.
The AG rating continues to undergo rapid technological change. From the time of Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS) started to send cloud photographs back to earth allowing technology to process these and other satellite related data, training requirements have been revolutionized for this rating. There is an awesome responsibility at Keesler AFB to prepare AGs for duty in the fleet.