The Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer)
was the U.S. Navy
's material-support organization for Naval Aviation
from 1921 to 1959. The bureau had "cognizance" (i.e., responsibility) for the design, procurement, and support of Naval aircraft and related systems. Aerial weapons, however, were under the cognizance of the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance
Origins: 1920s and 1930s
Congress established BuAer in 1921 in order to create a single organizational home for Naval Aviation. Prior to 1921, cognizance for aviation had been divided among various Navy bureaus and other organizations. The first Chief of BuAer was Rear Admiral William A. Moffett
(1869-1933), a Medal of Honor recipient and battleship commander who had long supported the development of Naval Aviation
. He served as bureau chief from 1921 until his untimely death in 1933, in the crash of the airship USS Akron (ZRS-4)
A talented administrator, Moffett ensured the continued independence of Naval Aviation during the 1920's, when Army Brig. Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell and others sought to merge all U.S. military aviation into a single, independent air force. Upon Moffett's death, he was succeeded as Chief, BuAer, by Rear Admiral Ernest J. King--a future Fleet Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations during World War II. Other important bureau chiefs included Rear Admiral John S. McCain, Sr., the grandfather of U.S. Senator John S. McCain III (R-Ariz.).
During the 1930's, BuAer presided over rapid technological change in Naval aircraft. The bureau's policy was to limit its own production, in order to support the civilian aircraft industry. BuAer used the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a facility for building small numbers of prototype aircraft.
World War II and the postwar period
World War II
brought immense changes as well. BuAer was forced to expand rapidly in order to comply with the nation's defense needs. By the war's end, the bureau had developed an administrative structure that oversaw thousands of personnel, and the procurement and maintenance of tens of thousands of aircraft. In 1943, the Navy established the position of Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air, or DCNO(Air), a move which relieved some of BuAer's responsibility for Fleet operations. RADM McCain
, now promoted to Vice Admiral, was the first to fill the position.
BuAer downsized after the war, but continued its focus on aeronautical research and development. But as Naval technology became increasingly complex, it became clear that the Navy's material organization was insufficient. In particular, the Navy needed better integration of aerial weapons with Naval aircraft. There was also the question of "pilotless aircraft" (the ancestors of the late 20th century's Unmanned Aerial Vehicles)--BuAer considered these to be aircraft, while BuOrd saw them as guided missiles.
To fix the problem, in 1959 the Navy merged BuAer and BuOrd to create the Bureau of Naval Weapons (BuWeps). This was only a temporary solution, however, and in 1966 the Navy undertook a wholesale revision of its material organization. The bureau system, which had existed since the 1840's, was replaced with the "Systems Commands" (SYSCOMs). BuWeps was replaced with the current Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).
Chiefs of the Bureau of Aeronautics
1. RADM William A. Moffett
, 26 Jul 1921 – 4 Apr 1933
2. RADM Ernest J. King
, 3 May 1933 – 12 Jun 1936
3. RADM Arthur B. Cook, 12 Jun 1936 – 1 Jun 1939
4. RADM John H. Towers
, 1 Jun 1939 – 6 Oct 1942
5. RADM John S. McCain
, 9 Oct 1942 – 7 Aug 1943
6. RADM Dewitt C. Ramsey
, 7 Aug 1943 – 1 Jun 1945
7. RADM Harold B. Sallada, 1 Jun 1945 – 1 May 1947
8. RADM Alfred M. Pride
, 1 May 1947 – 1 May 1951
9. RADM Thomas S. Combs, 1 May 1951 – 30 Jun 1953
10. RADM Apollo Soucek
, 30 Jun 1953 – 4 Mar 1955
11. RADM James S. Russell, 4 Mar 1955 – 15 Jul 1957
12. RADM Robert E. Dixon, 15 Jul 1957 – 1 Dec 1959