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History of the
Society of USAF Flight Surgeons

The practice of aviation medicine has developed largely around the military use of aircraft and the need for flight surgeons to address the many challenges that military flight poses. The roll of the modern flight surgeon during World War I was shaped by need to address the appalling death rate among military flying cadets and front line pilots due to poor aviator selection and other medical issues. By 1929 the role of aviation medicine had expanded to the point that the Aerospace Medicine Association (AsMA) was formed. This organization included all those with an interest and expertise in aerospace medicine, military and civilian, including aerospace physicians, scientists, flight nurses, physiologists, and researchers. AsMA provided a forum for the "dissemination of information as will enhance the accuracy of their specialized art...thereby affording a greater guarantee of safety to the public and the pilot, alike." (Louis H. Bauer, MD)


The Society of United States Air Force Flight Surgeons (SoUSAFFS) is a constituent association of the Aerospace Medical Association. As AsMA grew from a very small society to a larger, more diverse, organization, a need was felt by many of the Air Force members to form an organization that specifically represented the interests of aerospace medicine as practiced in the USAF. In 1960, a group of flight surgeons from the USAF Surgeon General’s Office, Aerospace Medicine Division, worked to start such an organization. They decided to make the new society a subset of AsMA. They presented their ideas to Major Gen O.K. Niess (Surgeon General). In this reply to the presentation, he cited the "need to develop an organized and more aggressive effort within the Air Force to improve the practice and advance the status of (aerospace medicine)." He also hoped the new society would "take its place in parallel with the Air Force Society of Clinical Surgeons and the Air Force Society of Internists." On 1 April 1960, General Niess sent letters to ten officers (Colonel Fratis L. Duff, Colonel Harold V. Ellingson, Colonel James B. Nuttall, Colonel Robert A. Patterson, Colonel Charles H. Roadman, Colonel Alonzo A. Towner, Lieutenant Colonel Norman I. Condit, Lieutenant Colonel Hugh W. Randel, Lieutenant Colonel William R. Turner, and Major Charles A. Berry), selecting them to serve on the original Board of Governors for the Society. This board set about to write a constitution and by-laws, recruit members, petition the AsMA for constituent association status, and plan for the first annual meeting of the Society. On 12 Nov 60, the Executive Council of the AsMA "accepted the newly organized SoUSAFFS as a Constituent Association."


While AsMA continues to be the largest and most broadly representative, international aeromedical organization in the world, many issues of the day-to-day practice of military flight medicine remain the purview of the flight surgeon and may not interest the broader organization. The Society of USAF Flight Surgeons was founded in April of 1960 to provide an arena for the dissemination and discussion of Air Force, flight-surgeon-specific information. The Society provides newsletters, meetings, and lectures where the wisdom of more experienced flight surgeons can be passed to the younger physicians and the vision of the flight surgeon leadership may be provided to all.

History: Text
History: Text

History of Dr. Schick

Who can say what inspires those of us in the medical profession to join the ranks of military service? There are probably as many motivations as there are flight surgeons who make that commitment but the ideas of courage, dedications, and service prevail. Moreover, who can say for any one of us how great the demands of that that service may be? Military flight medicine is a specialty where the physician works very closely with the war fighter. Part of our commitment is accepting the responsibilities, challenges, and risks that go with military service to our nation.

In the last days of June, 1941, William Schick made the decision to accept those risks. The patriotic son of German and Lithuanian immigrant parents, he joined the U.S. Army. At the time he had completed Medical School and was a surgical resident at Leila Hospital in Battle Creek Michigan. With the War in Europe looming on the horizon, Bill must have felt a responsibility to serve the nation he loved. He left residency and was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant. He and his wife of one year, Louise, moved to their new duty station with the 19th Bombardment Group in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Schick was then sent to the eleven-week flight surgeon’s course at Randolph Field, Texas where he was to graduate on December 20th. However, with the nation preparing for a war that appeared imminent and his unit, the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron, deploying to the Philippines, he was graduated four weeks early and returned to Albuquerque to prepare for departure.

On December 3rd, despite poor weather, he departed with the other eight members of his crew aboard a B-17. I’m sure we can all feel the mixture of excitement and trepidation as he put on his new leather bomber jacket and climbed into the aircraft for his first military deployment. The plane left Albuquerque without guns but was equipped with them after the first leg to Hamilton Field, California. They would not pick up ammunition until their next stop. At 2115 hours on the night of December 6th, Lt. Schick and crew departed for the Islands of Hawaii.

Some 14 hours later, about 0800 Hawaii time, Lt. Schick, his crew, and the rest of the B-17 flight stumbled unknowingly into the first wave of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The new radar installation on Oahu, aware of their planned approach had mistakenly attributed the many radar hits from the Japanese to the inbound B-17s. Meanwhile, the B-17s, first seeing anti-aircraft fire and later pursuit aircraft surrounded by flak, assumed it was practice. Even when they saw smoke pouring from Pearl Harbor they thought perhaps the cane fields were burning. Only when they turned final into Hickam and lowered the gear did they see aircraft burning on the ground and begin to realize what was happening. About that time two Japanese Zeros passed the B-17 firing into the fuselage. Lt. Schick was hit in the leg and some flares in the mid-fuselage of the aircraft ignited and began to burn furiously. Without the ability to shoot back, the crew thought to try to raise the gear and fly into the clouds. However, thick smoke soon filled the cockpit and they were forced to land.

The landing was hard with the limited visibility but they were rolling to a stop when the fuselage broke in two where it had burned. The crew successfully egressed the aircraft but was caught in an open field as more Japanese fighters passed down the runway. The group split and ran half to each side. As he tried to escape the fire, Dr. Schick was hit by enemy fire. He was picked up by an ambulance and declared dead later that day. Some reports indicate he was killed instantly.

Lt. (Dr.) Schick was the only member of his crew killed and his was the only B-17 destroyed in the attack though several others were damaged in crash landings and all the B-17s stationed at Hickam were destroyed during the attack while still on the ground. Two Navy physicians were killed that day, one on the USS Arizona and the other on the USS Pennsylvania. Lt. Schick was the first U.S. flight surgeon to lose his life in combat. Others would follow. Since that time thirteen Air Corps and Air Force flight surgeons have given their lives in combat service to this great nation. Others will yet be required to offer this greatest of all sacrifices to the cause of freedom and democracy. Let us hope the next time we think to grumble about the demands of our duties we will remember those of whom greater demands have been required. The Society of USAF Flight Surgeons Board of Governors has voted to name the annual Business Meeting lecture for Dr. Schick in honor of his and other Flight Surgeons’ ultimate gift to their country and their service.

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