The Early Days

While the Ground Observer Corps officially started in 1951, the Air Force began running test operations in 1950s. The January 22nd, 1951 issue of Life magazine gives us a glimpse of those early days and the first volunteers.

The woman is working in a filter center and wears a distinctive striped apron. I’ve only seen this apron in this issue of Life magazine. It was probably something that the Air Force was trying out to give the GOC volunteers a uniform, but they probably realized that producing hundreds of thousands of these aprons would be costly and not be a good return on investment. Volunteers got their wings instead.

The first manual is a little blue booklet that is a shade of the larger manual issued in 1951. The Instructions to the Ground Observer Corps, contains only the basic information about GOC structure, operations, and expectations. It doesn’t contain the removable pages for aircraft identification nor much information about aircraft in general apart from a few plane silhouettes and tail marks for a few countries. In fact, the USAF had not determined the branding for the GOC because images for old Aircraft Warning Service are used for the observer ID cards. The form listed in the book is form 6-2, which looks like it was only used at the very beginning of the GOC. The 1951 guide shows form 6-3, an upgraded version. This form was again updated in 1955. Images of the forms are in this blog post.

Despite being tiny and brief, you can see the basic structure of the GOC, which didn’t change throughout it’s 9 year run. Observation posts are still overseen by a supervisor and a chief observer. Observers needed to call their local filter center to make reports. Observing posts didn’t get any money to actually run or build their facility but did get a dedicated phone line paid for by the USAF.

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