U.S. Army Primary Helicopter Center/School

U.S. Army Primary Helicopter Center/School Headquarters

Activated at Fort Wolters on September 26, 1956, shortly after the return of the post to Army control, the U.S. Army Primary Helicopter School grew steadily in size and importance. The first class of Fort Wolters trained helicopter pilots graduated in April, 1957 and numbered only 35. During its first full year of operation, the school trained approximately 250 students. During 1965, more than 1,110 students were trained at the school; in 1966, this number increased to over 3,600 students. Since its activation, through 1967, more than 15,000 students had completed helicopter pilot training at Fort Wolters. By the time the school was closed in 1973, the U.S. Army Primary Helicopter School had trained over 40,000 student pilots.

During the years after 1956, the school experienced various changes in its program of instruction and courses scheduled. Students included not only active duty Army Officers but also Warrant Officers and Enlisted Men slated to become Warrant Officers, National Guard Officers, Officers of allied countries and some civilians employed by government agencies. At times in the past the school has conducted qualification courses designed to teach Army fixed-wing pilots the techniques of rotary wing flying.

In 1957, there were 12 helicopters in the training fleet. To meet growing requirements for Army Aviators in Vietnam and other parts of the world, the training fleet was increased to 400 helicopters in 1965, 775 helicopters in 1966, and 1,058 helicopters by September of 1967. To accommodate this increase in aircraft, in 1966, a second heliport was built adjacent to the Mineral Wells airport, which joined the existing Main Heliport. The new heliport was named Downing Army Helicopter and had parking for over 300 aircraft. Another new heliport, Dempsey Army Heliport, was constructed west of Mineral Wells. It was completed and turned over to the School in January, 1968, and had accommodation for approximately 500 helicopters.

When the school at Fort Wolters was in operation, it shared with the Army Aviation Schools at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the Hunter Army Airfield, Fort Stewart, Georgia, the total effort directed toward training helicopter pilots to fulfill the army's requirements.

All potential Army helicopter pilots received their primary training at the USAPHS at Fort Wolters. They trained there for sixteen weeks (20 weeks for Warrant Officer Candidate students who underwent a four-week WOC indoctrination course prior to flight training) after which they go to Fort Rucker for advanced helicopter training for 16 weeks.

Courses that were offered at the school included the following: 16 week Officer / Warrant Officer Rotary Wing Aviator Course (ORWAC), designed to train Officers with no previous military flying experience;  the Warrant Officer Candidate Rotary Wing Aviator Course (WORWAC),  (the first four weeks which were the WOC Indoctrination Training Course - commonly known as  "Pre-Flight").

The first eight weeks of the students' flight training was devoted to learning the basic flight maneuvers of the helicopter at a fixed operation area on a "stage field". This training was conducted under civilian contract by Southern Airways of Texas, Inc., and Flight Department "C" of USAPHS.

The second eight weeks, or Primary II, taught students  to apply that basic maneuvers to small unimproved landing areas, and introduced formation flying, air navigation, and night flying. This training was conducted be Flight departments "A" and "B" of USAPHS. The military instructors of these divisions were nearly all combat veterans.