|Part of American Expeditionary Forces (AEF)|
|Located near: Issoudun, France|
Issoudun Aerodrome - Field 3 with Nieuport 23M, 80 HP single seat (solo) aircraft, 1918.
|Controlled by||Air Service, United States Army|
|Condition||Abandoned, agricultural fields|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
|Garrison||Third Air Instructional Center|
Issoudun Aerodrome was a complex of military airfields in the vicinity of Issoudun, Centre, France. They were used during World War I as part of the Third Air Instructional Center, American Expeditionary Forces for training United States airmen prior to being sent into combat on the Western Front.
It was at that time the largest air base in the world. Today the entire complex consists of agricultural fields, the military facility totally obscured with no trace of its wartime history.
By the summer of 1917, two and a half years of the air war had begun to take a serious toll on the number of French and British aviators. While the United States possessed a relatively enormous pool of human resources, she lacked the well developed training methods and aircraft production capabilities of the Allies. In order to maximize the resources of both, the French submitted a memorandum to General George O. Squier, then the Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army, suggesting the establishment of an American advanced flying school in France.
The site decided upon for this advanced aviation school was Issoudun, France. Issoudun, located about 100 miles southeast of Paris, was primarily chosen because the surrounding countryside was extremely level and relatively sparsely populated with wide-open spaces for flying fields. The site was also relatively close to a major government-owned railroad line. Probably just as important was its proximity to the aviation factories and new plane assembly fields in the south which were to supply the aircraft to be used in the training at Issoudun. In spite of the advantages of this location, significant work was required to bring the Third Aviation Instruction Center (3rd AIC), as it was to be named, to life.
When General John J. Pershing first saw the site it was nothing but a series of flat fields, with no barracks, hangars, buildings or classroom facilities. Under the agreement with the French, the United States was, "...to furnish 200 workman to erect it (3d AIC) and 'all the tools, nails and other implements necessary,' including a narrow-gauge railroad, while France was to furnish the planes, motors and suitably cleared land." With this accomplished, American pilots were to begin training in July of 1917 and be ready for the front in the fall of the same year.
While this proposal was approved by Pershing, it met some resistance when it reached the Secretary of War. With an initial price tag of almost $800,000 just to open the field, the proposal was rejected by the Secretary of War on 19 May 1917. That same day the proposal was resubmitted with the additional argument that a facility such as the 3d AIC was critical to the development of the air forces that would accompany the A.E.F. to Europe. This time the proposal was accepted and by July 1917 the first Aero Construction Squadrons began to arrive in France.
By early fall of that same year construction at the field was in full-swing. While the initial pace of building was hectic in an effort to make the base operational as quickly as possible, construction at Issodun was never really completed and continued right up to the 1918 Armistice with Germany. As a result of this furious pace of construction, Issodun was fully operational and training was being conducted within a months of Pershing accepting the base.
The 3d AIC at Issodun was initially to be merely a "refresher course" for American pursuit pilots arriving in France, prior to being sent to the front. The intent was for the American pilots, having already received advance training in the United States, to become acquainted with the current tactics and aircraft being used at the front.
The advanced aviation schools in the U.S. were slow to develop and lacked both aircraft of the type being used at the front and pilots with combat experience to act as instructors. This lack of advance training in the U.S. dictated the development of a complete course in advanced flying and aerial tactics at Issodun.
Initially, the school was initially staffed primarily by French instructors, used French airplanes, and consequently, followed the French Bleriot system of instruction. At the time, America did not have the time, resources or pilots to establish its own program in France and therefore relied totally on the French to prepare American pilots for combat duty. American pilots with combat experience and flying time in the type of aircraft being flown at the front were a rare commodity. Many of them were flying with French units, or the Lafayette Escadrille, and chose to remain with those units rather than join the A.E.F. Gradually, American pilots, either graduates from Issodun or from the American front-line units began to replace their French counterparts. Even with this gradual transition though, the training program at Issodun remained fundamentally the Bleriot system. The various fields at Issodun (initially nine, later expanded to 15) each provided a different phase of instruction, allowing the student to progress in successive stages of training until adequately prepared to participate at the front.
The main aerodrome were also used for new aircraft delivered to the base and the major hangar repair field, for testing repaired or rebuilt aircraft
Fields #4, #5, #6 were used for basic flight training
Operating the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center required a large number of organizations. Serving at Issoudun were the following U.S. Aero Squadrons: 10th, 21st, 26th, 30th, 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 35th, 37th, 43rd, 101st, 149th, 158th, 173rd, 257, 369th, 372nd, 374th, 640th, 641st, 642nd, 644th, 801st, 802nd, and 1104th.
When the first students of the school at Issodun reported for duty to the front they were among the most extensively trained pilots of the day. The average American pilot received about 60 hours of training at Issodun and by the time he had completed aerial gunnery school, he averaged over 100 hours of training, "...nearly triple the number of hours of flying time with which pilots of the Royal Air Force had been reporting to their combat units two years earlier." 
When the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, Issodun was the largest flying school in the world. More than 1,800 men had attended advanced training at Issodun, of whom 829 completed the pursuit course, 627 served in combat against the Germans on the Western Front, and 202 became instructors. The combat record of those who went to the front speaks for itself--781 enemy planes and 73 balloons destroyed at the cost of 289 aircraft and 48 balloons lost by the AEF.
The United States Air Service formally left Issoudun Airdrome on 28 June 1919 almost eight months after the war ended. The sites of the former airfields have returned to their previous status as agricultural fields.
On 28 June 2009, the people of Issoudun had a commemoration ceremony in honor of the American aviators who had trained, and in many cases, died while training there. A single monument on Department Route 960 remains to mark Issoudun's part in the Great War.
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