Aircraft Warning Service Volunteer Observer Pin


Volunteer aircraft observers of the Aircraft Warning Service wore these small lapel pins.

During WWII, the east and west coasts of the United States were protected by civilian volunteer aircraft spotters, members of the Ground Observer Corps. The GOC was a component of the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) that was established in May 1941 in response to the development of heavy bomber aircraft capable of flying over 1,000 miles.

Almost one million men and women–volunteer “soldiers out of uniform”–served in the AWS. Some were ground observers scanning the skies for enemy aircraft; others worked in the information and filter centers as part of the Aircraft Warning Corps, the second component of the AWS. Almost 750,000 of these volunteers served under the First Fighter Command whose jurisdiction stretched from Canada to Key West, Florida.

Since it wasn’t practical to use military personnel as ground observers, the logical solution was to call on civilians to watch the skies. Newspaper ads, radio programs, and other means were used to recruit the tens of thousands of volunteers needed to join the Ground Observer Corps and man the observation posts. From all walks of life, all ages, all professions, the volunteers of the GOC were united in a common goal–to protect the United States.

Over 14,000 observation posts were manned in two-hour shifts around the clock. Some were only shacks, hen houses, or junked automobiles while others were more elaborate shelters. Delaware was one of the first states to have ground observers organized and serving at observation posts.

While the ground observers were the eyes of the AWS, the nerve center was the Aircraft Warning Corps. The AWC was made up of information and filter centers based in secret locations. These centers, also manned by volunteers, received reports from the observation posts and plotted and tracked aircraft aerial activity. Modeled after the successful British system, each filter center controlled about 20 observation posts.

Aircraft spotters learned to identify all types of aircraft through intensive training classes and training aids such as aircraft spotter cards, guides, and silhouette models. Buttons and armbands identified ground observers, and special pins and medals were awarded to those with the highest number of volunteer hours. The Aircraft Warning Volunteer magazine devoted to the activities and interests of the GOC and AWC contained news articles, photos, and aircraft recognition tests.

When the focus of the war moved from a defensive position at home to an offensive position in Europe and Asia, the risk of attack on the home front was reduced. In May 1944 the War Department ordered the inactivation of the Ground Observer Corps and the Aircraft Warning Corps.

Filed In:
Era: World War II
Clothing & Insignia: Other
Location: On Display
Accession #:
Museum Location:
Aircraft Warning Service/Ground Observer Corps exhibit

Question about this artifact? Email the Collections Manager, Hal Sellars.

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Every artifact in the Air Mobility Command Museum, including this one, is part of the United States Air Force Heritage Program. We are not able to loan or sell artifacts in the museum's collection.

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I lived on a farm near the Village of Audubon, Montgomery County Pennsylvania during WW2. I was born in 1938. My father was in the Navy stationed in the Panama Canal Zone. My mother worked in a nearby manufacturing industry as an airplane riveter. She worked the afternoon shift, wore a blue jumpsuit – thought she was Rosie the Riveter. She also volunteered as an Aircraft Identification Spotter. I have several photos of her along with my aunt and others on the job showing the building both interior and exterior. I believe it was located in Lower Providence Township in the vicinity of Rittenhouse Road. It was extremely exciting to go there and see the charts of the different planes.

In 1942 I was 10 years old, and my father went with me to the meeting in Greenbelt, MD, to answer the call for volunteer spotters. I was the only kid there. We were issued a deck of 52 cards, each with three views of a U.S., British, German, Japanese. or Italian aircraft. We were to study the silhouettes for a few days, then come back for a recognition test. I studied and was the only one who got 52 planes correct. I was assigned a watch from two to four Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When a plane came over I filled out a line on a report to record the direction it came from and the direction it was going, how many engines, whether it was high or low, whether it was seen or just heard, and finally the type of plane. Then I went indoors to the telephone and dialed the operator. I said, “Army Flash”. This would get me immediately connected to an Army tracking station. I would read my report to them, and they would thank me and hang up. After I had done this for several months my Dad was transferred and we moved to Massachusetts. I went to the local group of spotters, but they were not interested in a 10-year-old doing the same work they did.

Trying to identify if my father was a part of the AWS Aircraft Warning Service…stationed in Washington State…He was under the impression that he was.
Name…Richard Lorenzo Smith…….B.D. Nov. 18, 1917…….Born… Cedar Creek, Latah County, Idaho
Would his name be recognized or on a form or list somewhere ?
Were these individuals in any way part of our official Army?

Thank you for your help