By Lt. Col. Sarah C. Santoro
41st Airlift Squadron commander
The 41st Airlift Squadron celebrated its 75 year anniversary in February, inviting all current and former Black Cats and friends to commemorate the occasion.
The 41st AS stems from a long tradition of tactical airlift, which all began in mid-February 1942, with the creation of the 41st Troop Carrier Squadron at Duncan Field, Texas. Less than a year later, in January 1943, the 41st TCS found itself in the Pacific theater of operation.
New to the C-47 aircraft, untested, minimally trained, inexperienced and young, the men initially became known as the Jungle Skippers, providing tactical airlift throughout the Southwest Pacific. This elite group of young men understood the hazards and inherent risk of their profession and pushed themselves to be the best with a “safety first” mindset.
Then squadron commander, Major Herbert Waldman, stressed the importance of “safeguarding of equipment and flyer” in a belief that it was better for the war effort to ensure both made it to their destination, rather than take a chance and lose both.
Waldman stated “Everybody in our organization was made conscious of one factor … that the plane must be perfect before it left on its flight and the pilot must have every bit of available knowledge of the route and landing field to which he was going. In this way, every department -- engineering, intelligence, and operations -- was held as responsible as the pilot himself to maintain the safety record.”
Since its inception, the 41st takes the job of professional tactical airlift seriously and firmly understands that it takes a team to safely and effectively make the mission happen.
In the young squadron, the unit developed robust training programs and quality mission planning products to ensure pilots were armed with the best knowledge, judgment and aircraft possible to overcome the challenging missions of the day, in a time when fatal mishaps were common.
The culture of the 41st from its outset is unquestionably one of excellence and it showed in the recognized, impeccable safety and performance record of the 41st TCS during that time. In a unit Letter of Commendation dated Feb. 18, 1944, the squadron was recognized on its two year anniversary for flying operations without a fatal accident to passengers or members of the crew and also without the loss of an airplane.
Brig. Gen. Paul Prentiss noted in the commendation that “this record is particularly outstanding in view of the valuable contribution which your squadron and others of the 317th Group have made to the war in the Southwest Pacific, first on the mainland and later in New Guinea. Flying to Wau in January of last year , dropping paratroopers at Nadzab in September, and carrying the daily loads to the Markham Valley and north have not been the safest assignments for your C-47s, and it is to the everlasting credit of your pilots, crews, maintenance personnel, and yourself that no serious accidents have been sustained throughout the thirteen months of foreign duty.”
The young men of the Pacific earned the unit’s Black Cat name during World War II and built a strong foundation which future generations steadfastly carried forward through Europe, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, the Americas, Kuwait, Bosnia, Iraq, and mostly recently in Afghanistan where the 41st AS, along with 19th Maintenance Group and Operations Support Squadron personnel, completed a highly successful combat deployment in January 2017.
The Black Cat name and symbolism of the squadron’s patch is derived from the 41st Troop Carrier Squadron’s outstanding safety record during WWII as it frequently overflew the “Black Cat Trail” in New Guinea. The Black Cat is pictured on our patch carrying its precious cargo safely over the clouds to its destination and has been our designated patch since 1943.
The US Air Force has a rich history with many roots that reach back well before the US Air Force’s creation in September 1947. From its beginning, the 41st set a high standard of professionalism and excellence which continues today. Our 41st Airlift Squadron story is only one thread of a rich U.S. Air Force tradition and history, a history we are proud to build upon.
In February 2017 we came together to celebrate our unique tactical airlift heritage, paying tribute to those who have gone before us in a special memorial service held on Little Rock’s flightline and toasting with pride that the extraordinary legacy of tactical airlift continues on here at Little Rock AFB. Only a select few from our nation choose to serve and it continues to be our distinct privilege to serve alongside such incredible Airmen and honor the memory of those giants that built the foundation upon which we continue to build upon today.
The 41st Airlift Squadron – Anywhere, Anytime since 1942!