Eagle Profile

Major General Haywood S. “Possum” Hansell, Jr. was an original member of the Army Air Corps’ first aerobatic team, and one of America’s primary strategic planners during World War II. He turned down an appointment to West Point and completed his engineering degree at Georgia Tech in 1924. After 4 years in private industry, he entered the Army as an aviation cadet, earning his wings and a commission in 1929. During the following year, Lieutenant Hansell joined the aviation section of the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS), eventually becoming an instructor of strategic air warfare theory.

In 1939, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps in Washington where he initiated strategic air intelligence activities for the Air Corps. As General “Hap ” Arnold’s observer in England during the summer of 1941, he gathered invaluable information and insight on the German military. Back in Washington, he joined former ACTS instructors Harold George, Ken Walker, and Lawrence Kuter in developing the principal air war plan for the United States. Calling upon their knowledge of bombing theory, probabilities, and intelligence information, they devised a plan which proposed a force of some 68,000 aircraft and outlined target systems to be struck and timetables for employment.

This document, known as AWPD-1 for their newly formed Air War Plans Division, was developed in just 7 days and would prove to be remarkably accurate. In 1942, Colonel Hansell became the Army Air representative on the Joint Strategic committee and helped prepare the US grand strategy for the conduct of World War II. Promoted to brigadier general, he later commanded B-26 and B-17 wings in Europe and helped develop AWPD-42 and the plan for the Combined Allied Bomber Offensive. As the first commander of the XXI Bomber Command in late 1944, Hansell also directed the initial B-29 bombing raids against Japan from Saipan. Retiring in 1955 as a major general, he has remained active in aviation, writing The Air Plan That Defeated Hitler and numerous magazine articles on the role of airpower.

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1984 Lithograph

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Shortly after Lieutenant "Possum" Hansell arrived at Maxwell Field in 1930, Captain Claire Chennault formed an aerial demonstration team known as "Three Men on the Flying Trapeze." Chennault selected the team by "inviting all candidates to try to stick on my wing for thirty minutes of violent aerobatics." Flying the Boeing P-12B, a biplane with fabric-covered fuselage and metal-covered wings, Hansell won a position as left wingman. Over the next few years, the team entertained millions at air shows across the country, and set the 1934 National Air Race at Cleveland "on Fire with excitement with their daring maneuvers."