L-R: Crane, Holloman,and Stout, Aug. 23, 1937. Kirtland AFB, N.M.
Photo Caption & Credits

Namesakes: George Holloman

Sept. 1, 2020

It would be no exaggeration to say that George V. Holloman’s life revolved around the radio and that military aviation revolved right along with him.

Holloman, in whose honor USAF named a base in New Mexico, enlisted the radio for pioneering work in avionics, remote control systems, and guided missiles. The remotely piloted aircraft of today are traceable to work by Holloman in the late 1930s.

George Vernon Holloman was born in 1902 in tiny Rich Square, N.C. He graduated from high school in 1919, just as the first radio receiver arrived in town.

Holloman was fascinated, so much so that he enrolled in Southern Radio College in Norfolk, Va., from which he was hired by the American Marconi Company (now, RCA). He took an electrical engineering degree at North Carolina State University as a Reserve Officer Training Corps student.

In 1925, he was commissioned into the Army infantry and rose to regimental communications officer.

In 1927, he transferred to the Air Corps and went to Brooks Field, Tex., for flight training. After receiving his wings in June 1928, he became an engineering officer of the 88th Observation Squadron, where he helped revive its reconnaissance capabilities.

Holloman’s big break came in 1934, when he spent a summer at the Air Corps Technical School at Chanute Field, Ill., for advanced study in communications. He then sought and received assignment to Air Corps Engineering School at Wright Field, Ohio, where he soon became head of the Instrument and Navigation Laboratories.

This unit was researching the feasibility of automatic pilots, instrument landing systems, and day/night, all-weather automatic flight and landing equipment.


In 1937, Holloman helped aviation take a giant step. He and Capt. Carl J. Crane invented, developed, and demonstrated the first fully automatic landing system. On Aug. 23, 1937, Holloman, Crane, and observer R.K. Stout took off from Wright Field in a modified Fokker C-14B and landed at Patterson Field, Ohio, guided only by a ground radio system of five transmitting beacons. It was the first completely automatic “hands off” airplane landing in history.

Holloman and Crane were awarded the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of 1937, and were also awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses.

In World War II, Holloman commanded a group of laboratories, known as the Special Weapons Unit, which helped lay the foundation for the powerful air fleets that helped defeat the Axis powers.

He was transferred to the Pacific theater on secret assignment, but the project—whatever it was—was still-born. That is because Holloman and nine others were killed on March 19, 1946, when their B-17 slammed into a mountainside on Taiwan.

Holloman’s remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The Air Force several years later renamed Alamogordo Army Air Field, N.M., in his honor. Today, this air base is home of the 49th Wing, a large training organization for MQ-9 Reaper RPAs.

Col. George V. Holloman. Courtesy

George Vernon Holloman

  • Born: Sept. 17, 1902, Rich Square, N.C.
  • Died: March 19, 1946, Taiwan
  • College: North Carolina State University
  • Occupation: Electrical engineer, U.S. military officer
  • Services: U.S. Army—Infantry, Air Corps, Air Forces
  • Main Eras: Interwar Period, World War II
  • Years Active: 1925-46
  • Final Grade: Colonel
  • Honors: Distinguished Flying Cross; Mackay Trophy for 1937
  • Resting Place: Arlington National Cemetery
MQ-9 Reapers at Holloman Air Force Base. J.M. Eddins Jr./USAF

Holloman Air Force Base

  • State: New Mexico
  • Nearest City: Alamogordo
  • Area: 93.2 sq mi / 59,639 acres
  • Status: Open, operational
  • Opened as Alamogordo Gunnery Range: May 14, 1942
  • Renamed Alamogordo Field Training Station: May 27, 1942
  • Renamed Alamogordo Army Air Base: June 10, 1942
  • Renamed Alamogordo Army Air Field: Nov. 21, 1942
  • Renamed Holloman Air Force Base: Jan. 13, 1948
  • Current owner: Air Education and Training Command
  • Former owners: Second Air Force, Continental Air Forces, Strategic Air Command, Air Materiel Command, Air Research and Development Command, Air Force Systems Command, Tactical Air Command, Air Combat Command
  • Home of: 49th Wing