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This Month in AFMS History: 100th anniversary of first flight surgeon school

Aero Medical Laboratory, Medical Research Laboratory, Hazelhurst Field, N.Y (Courtesy photo)

Aero Medical Laboratory, Medical Research Laboratory, Hazelhurst Field, N.Y (Courtesy photo)

In this photo from the early 1920s, researchers conduct an altitude classification test at the Medical Research Laboratory and School for Flight Surgeons, which would eventually become the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. May 2018 is the school’s 100 year anniversary. (Archive photo)

In this photo from the early 1920s, researchers conduct an altitude classification test at the Medical Research Laboratory and School for Flight Surgeons, which would eventually become the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. May 2018 is the school’s 100 year anniversary. (Archive photo)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- On May 8, 1918, U.S. Army Aviation Branch, Col. Theodore Lyster created the first ever course for flight surgeons, at the Medical Research Laboratory, Hazelhurst Field, New York.

With World War I ongoing, Lyster’s course was initially still informal, as he was creating a new medical specialty. Lyster saw the need to support pilots’ health and well-being and address the physiological effects on the human body of decreased atmospheric pressure caused by increased altitude. Flight surgeons would oversee flyers’ health and physical fitness and serve as their trusted advisor.

Three young otologists (ear doctors), Capt. Robert Hunter, Capt. John Gallagher, and Lt. Claude Uren, were the first to graduate. Hunter was the first to report for duty, five days later.

In May 1919, the Army designated Lyster’s informal program the Medical Research Laboratory and School for Flight Surgeons. After many iterations, this evolved to become the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Less than a month later, on June 3, 1918, the Army Aviation Branch re-designated the Surgeon General’s Aeronautics Division into the Air Medical Service. Three days later, the Army officially gave the first graduates their new title, “flight surgeon.”

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