Q&A With Andre Swygert
MEET THE AUTHOR — A Q&A With Andre Swygert
An Aficionado of Things on Land and Air Takes to the Sky (and Water)
A new book By A Car Show Safari team member focuses on a decades-long and unique aviation program conducted at the U.S. Naval Academy.
In addition to his other responsibilities, Car Show Safari’s VP of Information, Andre Swygert, has penned a number of articles on topics that indulge his dual passions for automotive and aerospace subjects. Many of these works, such as his series of “Cars to Planes and Back Again” articles about automotive manufacturers retooling to provide aircraft during World War II, remain available through the Safari News portion of the website.
His latest endeavor, a book entitled Flight Training At The United States Naval Academy, is exclusively devoted to an almost forgotten segment of aviation history. It is the story of the academy’s almost 50-year aviation program that utilized seaplanes as the primary vehicles for training. Swygert recently spoke with Safari’s Editor of News & Social Media, Ruby Scalera.
What prompted you to write Flight Training at the United States Naval Academy?
Growing up on U.S. Air Force bases during my father’s military career, I developed a fascination with anything involving aerospace, which actually predates my interest in the automotive field. As an amateur historian during my working years, I collected a lot of material on a range of aerospace-related topics with the goal of someday sharing what I had accumulated in as many ways and venues as convenient. Writing a book was the ultimate form of fulfilling my goal, so after I retired the opportunity had finally arrived.
Why did you choose to write about naval aviation when you are also an Air Force veteran?
First, I have a particular affinity for seaplanes, both floatplanes and flying boats. Over the years I have enjoyed reading about and seeing the Navy’s large number and variety of such aircraft at airshows and in museums; in the past the Air Force used seaplanes, but not to the extent that the Navy used them.
Second, some years ago I collected information on seaplanes that had been based at the U.S. Naval Academy for training, and thought that it was an interesting story that was worth further exploration. Third, while living in southern Maryland just after retiring from a defense contractor that is near to and supporting operations at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, I realized that academy and its archives in Annapolis was relatively close in proximity. The convenience of being near this repository was another advantageous opportunity, and through several visits there I obtained a significant portion of the illustrations in the book.
Many authors talk about what they learned about their subject in the course of writing a book. What did you learn from your experience?
Of all of the information that I learned there are two items that stand out for me on this question. Number one is that the U.S. Navy’s first naval air station was established on academy property in 1911 with three academy graduate aviators and an equal number of aircraft. Through a long but rewarding search I was able to find information that pinpointed its exact locations, as there were actually two sites that housed aircraft and personnel on academy property. The second item was that the variety of seaplanes based at the academy throughout the history of the program, including the last biplanes operated in U.S. military service. The book includes images and brief histories of all of these aircraft in use at the academy and in some cases in fleet operations as well.
In a time when many of us have been exposed to naval aviation from the Top Gun movies, you devote a large portion of the book to the accomplishments and exploits of the Navy’s earliest aviators. Since much of that history occurred in the first 10-20 years of the prior century, did you do anything to enhance the appeal of that part of the book to today’s audience?
I did give a good deal of consideration to this aspect. I concluded that the heavily visual format and concise text of the book would illustrate the enthusiasm, determination, and bravery of the first naval aviators to utilize rudimentary (and often dangerous) machines to explore the tactical use of aircraft in naval applications. Their efforts were the foundation for the employment of aviation as a game-changer in naval strategy, especially during World War II, when aircraft were prominently employed in the Pacific Theater. In many cases, they developed uses for aircraft for naval applications that continues into the present day, albeit with technology that the original naval airmen probably could not imagine.
Regarding the book’s extensive visual format, was that a factor in getting your book published?
It was a factor in my decision to approach them [Arcadia Publishing], since they have published thousands of books that utilize the same format and focus on the history of a vast array of places and subjects throughout the country. The format provided an excellent canvas in which to present often rarely-seen images of equipment, personnel, training operations, and support equipment and functions that would not have been possible in a text-heavy format. In addition, I was also inspired to go beyond just the military aspects and include information on some local people, places, and landmarks that were associated with aviation operations at the academy.
You state in several places that the flight training program at the academy evolved into providing familiarization with naval aviation to the academy’s students, and not to turn out combat-ready aviators and aircrew. Why did this evolution occur?
As a result of the pioneering efforts of the early naval aviators, by the end of World War I some farsighted and influential leaders in the Navy recognized the potential for employing aircraft as a component of naval warfare. While a number of factors precluded the academy’s ability to turn out combat-ready aviation specialists, these same leaders believed that it was vital for a professional naval officer in every specialty to have an understanding of aircraft operations. They were successful in making aviation a subject of study on par with others like navigation, seamanship, and gunnery, which were long-standing prerequisites for the academy’s officers-in-training, known as midshipmen.
The result was that all midshipmen underwent training on every aspect of naval aviation, including piloting, navigation, aerial gunnery, and fleet defense operations. It also helped to fuel interest among midshipmen in becoming involved in naval aviation after graduation, after which they would then go to Pensacola or other installations that were dedicated to providing certified aviation professionals.
Were there other benefits of this training?
Yes, but probably the most important was that the knowledge that each midshipman gained was put to use when they joined the fleet. This was a contributor to the synergy required of the U.S. naval sea and air forces to carry out strategies and campaigns that resulted in victory in the Pacific in World War II, and shaped the focus of naval warfare into the present day.