United States Air Force
and its predecessors1
have maintained a variety of records relating to the aircraft operated by the service. Beginning in 1923, the Air Service maintained individual records for each aircraft added to the inventory listing location and activity from its acceptance by the service until its retirement from the inventory. Such records have had a number of official names --Aircraft Master Record, Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC), etc. --but are most commonly called "Aircraft History Cards." Originally, these records were manually compiled from unit inventories, morning reports, and so on, but the increased use of automated systems in the 1940s allowed automatic compilation and machine printing of the IARC entries after 1940.
IARCs do not record the entire history and activity of an individual aircraft. They do not include information about missions or crews, nor do they record exact locations or manners of loss. Rather, they serve as a compilation of the locations, transfers, and "controlling activity" (the unit responsible for reporting the aircraft) of the aircraft at a set time. The exact type of information and its manner of presentation changes over time and can be best described in chronological groups:
through c.1940 This period actually covers a variety of record card styles, but the data is hand-written or typed. The information follows the printed columns on the card. The information generally consists of reporting location, inventory date (month and fiscal year2), and flying time (both total and during the inventory period). The reporting activity is generally the base, rather than the unit. Transfers between bases are included as separate listings which include the authority for the transfer.
c.1940 --November 1942 During this period the USAAF switched to the use of electronic accounting machine (EAM) technology for inventory reporting and this allowed the automated compilation and printing of IARC data. The data and card presentation remains constant from the forms in use before the change, but the cards are machine printed, rather than hand written. Some data is abbreviated; location, for example, is given by a seven-character abbreviation.
November 1942 --April 1944 At the end of 1942 the responsibility for maintaining the inventory and individual aircraft status information was shifted from Headquarters, Air Materiel Command to one of several Statistical Control Units (SCU) within the Continental United States (CONUS) or overseas. IARCs were still prepared as before for newly-purchased aircraft and added to the main IARC file to track each aircraft from the factory to its initial assignment within CONUS or to an overseas shipping destination. The 15th SCU was responsible for tracking aircraft inventory and status information for aircraft within the CONUS and developed its own form for recording this data. The 15th SCU forms radically changed the data presentation --flying time was no longer recorded, some unit information was recorded for the first time, and location either appears as the abbreviations used previously or as a four-character shipping destination code. No effort was made to transfer 15th SCU data to the IARC master file, so that no activity was recorded on IARC cards during this period. Further, the inventory records on aircraft outside of the CONUS were maintained by SCUs in theater; as a result the entries on IARCs end with their transfer overseas, save for the final entry showing their removal from the inventory or until they returned to a CONUS location.
April 1944 --September 1949 At the beginning of this period, entries again appear on the main IARCs, although the concentration on CONUS-based aircraft continued until after the end of World War II. There are no records for aircraft transferred overseas once they leave the CONUS until they are dropped from the inventory, return to the United States, or until the reporting requirements changed after the end of the war. During this period the entries recorded a change in the status of the aircraft --either a transfer of station or a change in the usage of the aircraft. Entries record the reporting and other involved station and unit and the type, nature, and date of the change. The exact presentation of the data varies slightly over the period but generally involves a number of codes used to speed transmission of the data.
September 1949 and subsequent Beginning September 1949, IARCs entries were printed in batches, giving rise to groups of entries followed by a "bookkeeping" line indicating the serial number and number of entries printed. The data presentation for each entry remains similar to the entries from the previous period.
During the machine-printed period (from 1940 on) IARC entries become more and more difficult to understand due to the increasing data density and the use of one- or two-character codes for a variety of information. The Museum staff is currently preparing a guide to understanding the USAF IARC, which will treat the various code groups and data presentations in greater depth.
1 Aviation Section, United States Army Signal Corps (1914-1918); United States Army Air Service (USAAS; 1918-1926); United States Army Air Corps (USAAC; 1926-1941); United States Army Air Forces (USAAF; 1941-1947); United States Air Force (USAF; 1947- )
2 Until 1976 the government fiscal year (FY) ran 1 July --30 June. Thus FY1941 ran 1 July 1940 through 30 June 1941.