Lt. Col. Horace Meek Hickam: Hoosier Pioneer of Military Aviation
By Mary Giorgio
On a flat patch of paradise in Honolulu, Hawaii, sits Hickam Air Force Base. Constructed in 1941, the military facility is named for Lieutenant Colonel Horace Meek Hickam, a military aviation pioneer and Hoosier native. Hickam was one of the first military pilots to successfully perform a nighttime landing. His trailblazing efforts to promote the military’s use of airpower were largely responsible for convincing Congress to invest in the technology back in the 1920s.
Born in Spencer, Indiana, on August 14, 1885, Hickam was the oldest of four children. His interest in a military career began at an early age. While attending Spencer High School, Hickam organized a cadet corps. After graduating, he enrolled at Indiana University Bloomington, where he joined the Indiana National Guard. Hickam later transferred to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Following graduation, he received his commission as a second lieutenant in the 11th Cavalry.
Hickam spent several years with various cavalry units, including tours in the Philippines. During this time, he attended one of the army’s first flying schools at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In 1916, Hickam was assigned to his first military combat operation – the Mexican Punitive Expedition – for which he was awarded a Silver Star. Hickam was promoted to captain the next year.
During World War I, Hickam was tasked with organizing an aviation camp for the army. From 1917 to 1918, Hickam also served as Executive Officer of the Army’s Aeronautical General Supply Depot and Concentration Barracks. In May 1918, Hickam traveled to California to participate in a groundbreaking Army pilot training course. Upon successful completion, he became a Junior Military Aviator for the elite United States Air Service.
In his hometown of Spencer, friends and neighbors eagerly anticipated Hickam’s frequent visits. Hickam flew in on an Army airplane, landing in a nearby farmer’s field. His airplane was quickly swarmed by curious throngs of neighbors, eager for a glimpse of the aircraft.
In January 1919, Hickam was appointed Chief of the Information Division, Office of the Director of Air Service. While holding this position, he started a project to record the first history of the Army’s Air Service. In 1920, Hickam was promoted to Major in the Air Service Division and became Assistant Commander of the Advanced Flying School in Texas.
By now a respected expert on the military’s air service activities, in 1925 Hickam was called upon to testify before the Morrow Board on the need for a separate Air Force and the importance of a military airpower program. His testimony was largely responsible for the board’s favorable recommendation. In 1932, Hickam was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In 1934, he was asked to command emergency mail delivery operations for the central zone of the United States following the cancellation of government contracts for air mail delivery by private companies.
Upon returning to his post at Fort Crockett in Galveston, Texas, Hickam was tragically killed on November 5, 1934, while practicing night landings. His Curtis A-12 Shrike crashed into an embankment, killing the celebrated lieutenant colonel instantly.
Hickam was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1935, a new state-of-the-art military flying field in Honolulu, Hawaii, was named for him. Had he lived, many historians speculate that Hickam would have been appointed the first Air Force Chief of Staff. Today, the Hoosier native is remembered as a pioneer in the early history of Army aviation.