General Tunner was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in June 1918 and from the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas a year later. During the 1930s he served with various tactical and training units of the Army Air Corps. 1939 found him assigned to the Military Personnel Division, Chief of the Air Corps. When General Robert Olds was given the job of organizing the Ferrying Command, General Tunner, then a major, joined the staff as personnel officer.
His contributions to this new command were numerous, including the introduction of standardized qualification levels for the pilots, use of civilian and women pilots, and use of a “pony express” type operation much like the current Military Airlift Command stage crew. Selected to command its Domestic Division, he came to believe airlift should be operated by professional airlifters, an idea he promoted throughout his career. His airlift expertise continued to expand as he later commanded the India-China Division of Air Transport Command, the famous “Hump” airlift. A firm advocate of safe operations, he pushed the tonnage totals ever higher, while at the same time reducing aircraft accidents eight fold.
In 1948, he was again called to perform miracles as Combined Airlift Task Force Commander during the Berlin Blockade. His leadership in this bleak situation allowed a combined force of American and British airlifters to keep that city alive for almost a year. When the Korean conflict erupted, he was placed in charge of all intratheater airlift, another validation of his “single manager for airlift” concept. His Combat Cargo Command (CCC) quickly airlifted the wounded from the front back to Japan. His final command was that of Military Air Transport Service from 1958 to 1960. A most turbulent period, Tunner battled limited funding and Congressional meddling. His evaluation of the airlift requirements was proven correct when Congress authorized funding for a much needed increase in airlift capability. Many of his basic concepts are still in use by AMC today.
His vision of the role of airlift in our national defense capability is as valid now as it was in China or Berlin. Lieutenant General Tunner’s outstanding contributions to airlift heritage warrant his being the first inductee into the Airlifter Hall of Fame.
Categories: Hall of Fame Inductee