The Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) was founded in 1929 under the guidance of Louis H. Bauer, M.D., the first medical director of the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce (which later became the FAA). Dr. Bauer and his associates dedicated themselves and the new Association to "dissemination of information as will enhance the accuracy of their specialized art ... thereby affording a greater guarantee of safety to the public and the pilot, alike; and to cooperate ... in furthering the progress of aeronautics in the United States." From the 1929 organizational meeting of 29 "aeromedical examiners," the Association has grown to its present strength of more than 2,200 members from over 70 countries.
   The following narrative of the development of the Aerospace Medical Association was compiled by Douglas S. Files, M.D. (USAF RAM 2005).
   During and after the First World War, aviation grew rapidly around the globe. By the middle of the 1920s, the United States government formed an organization to regulate the popular field. Originally called the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce, it later became the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Flight enthusiast Dr. Louis H. Bauer resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to serve as medical director of the new branch. Subordinate government physicians were also appointed. On December 15, 1928, 29 “aviation medical examiners” met in Dr. Bauer’s office to discuss forming a new association for aviation medicine specialists. Chaired by Dr. William P. MacCracken, Jr., the Department of Commerce’s First Assistant Secretary for Aeronautics, the committee drafted a constitution and by-laws.
   The original documents emphasized the American character of the group: “The object of this Association shall be to promote the interest of those physicians in the United States and its island possessions charged with the selection of flying personnel, both commercial and military, and to disseminate through its several agencies such information as will enhance the accuracy of their specialized art; to establish and maintain an organized cooperation between the U.S. Department of Commerce and such agencies and individuals for which its members are responsible, thereby affording a greater guaranty of safety to public and pilot alike; and to cooperate with all legitimate air activities in furthering the progress of aeronautics in the United States.” Later, its scope expanded to include non-physicians and international colleagues.
   The first annual meeting of the “Aero Medical Association” took place in Detroit, MI, the 7th and 8th of October 1929. It had been a banner year for aviation: a few weeks earlier, test pilot James H. Doolittle had completed the first “blind” (instrument) flight, and 5 months before that, Willi Neuenhofen had piloted a Junkers Ju 49 to 41,000 ft using a pressurized cabin.
   Chilly autumn winds blasted the intrepid aviation medical examiners as they arrived at the 18-floor Statler Hotel, but the meeting was warm and collegial. The constitution and by-laws were approved by the membership, and the attendees chose Dr. Louis Bauer as their first president. Dues were set at $5.00 a year. During the business meeting, entertainer Will Rogers was awarded honorary membership alongside five U.S. government aviation political appointees.
   The doctors toured the Stinson manufacturing plant and flew in aircraft before socializing over beer. The following morning, Dr. John S. Tamisiea read a scientific paper about his experiences as a flight surgeon for the Boeing Air Transport Company. There were 60 doctors present at the 1929 meeting, but at least 25 of those were local Detroit physicians with little connection to aviation.
   The stock market crashed 3 weeks after the initial meeting, leading into the Great Depression. The closure of banks led to the small amount of money in the new organization’s treasury being unavailable for some time. Despite early challenges like these, the organization issued its first quarterly journal in March 1930. Dr. Bauer proudly claimed that it was the world’s first medical journal completely devoted to aviation medicine. The original editor-in-chief was Dr. Robert A. Strong; a year later, Dr. Bauer succeeded him and served in the position for 25 years.
   The Aero Medical Association grew slowly. The next few meetings were held in conjunction with the National Air Races and attracted 60 to 75 members. In 1933 Rosalie Gimple, R.N., presented a paper in Chicago on “Air Passenger Travel from the Standpoint of the Nurse.” Among the phenomena she noted was that airsick passengers normally were fatigued or had been drinking alcohol prior to the episode. This flight attendant’s talk garnered considerable discussion and she was the only female presenter until 1946, when two more nurses—Captain Grace H. Stakeman and Lieutenant Margaret Henson—read papers.
   In 1935, the annual meeting was held in San Antonio, TX, which gave the proceedings a military aspect. Attendees visited the Army Air Corps’ School of Aviation Medicine and the Flying Training School at Randolph Field. The group also passed a resolution urging Congress and the War Department to place U.S. Army and Navy flight surgeons on flying status. Dr. Ralph Greene explained, “A flight surgeon cannot remain on the ground and theorize…”.
   The first “international meeting” took place the following year when 20 members attended from countries other than the United States. When World War II broke out, overall membership increased from 333 to over 3000. After the war, even more international members joined, and in 1947, the name was changed from the Aero Medical Association of the United States to the Aero Medical Association, reflecting the international character of its membership, which has only increased over time. In 1948, the annual meeting was held in Toronto, Canada, emphasizing the group’s growing diversity.
   In 1942, the society began to appoint “fellows” and “assistant fellows.” Initially, fellow status was only granted to 10 members each year. Simultaneously, the constitution was rewritten to reflect the association’s broadening mission: “This shall be a non-profit organization, whose object shall be (1) to advance the science and art of aviation medicine – (a) by stimulating investigation and study; (b) by disseminating knowledge; (2) to establish and maintain cooperation between the medical and other sciences concerned with aeronautical development and progress.”
   In 1944, the Executive Council decided to create awards. The first two were given 3 years later. The Theodore C. Lyster award recognized general achievement in the field of aviation medicine and the first recipient was Dr. Louis Bauer. The other award was the Major Raymond F. Longacre award for “outstanding accomplishment in the psychologic and psychiatric aspects of aviation medicine.”
   In late 1949, the U.S. Air Force School of Aviation Medicine established a Department of Space Medicine. At the Aero Medical Association conference the next year, several space medicine enthusiasts held a side meeting and formed a constituent organization called the Space Medicine Branch. This was the first constituent organization to be formed. At its first formal meeting in May 1951, Dr. Paul Campbell was selected as president and Dr. Hubertus Strughold was chosen as Secretary and Bibliographer.
   In 1953, the Board of Preventive Medicine began to certify specialists in aviation medicine. The Aero Medical Association significantly aided efforts to establish it as an independent specialty. The U.S. military had long been a strong source of aerospace medicine personnel and many of them were members of the Aerospace Medical Association. In November 1960, the association’s executive council permitted a group of American Air Force flight surgeons to form a constituent organization called the Society of U.S. Air Force Flight Surgeons. The organization continues to the present day and serves as a forum for men and women in the career field to socialize and discuss key issues. In the mid-1970s, the U.S. Navy formed a similar constituent organization.
   Over nearly a century, the Aerospace Medical Association has served as a venue for its members to share research and establish social relationships. Collaboration on key issues has greatly improved aviation safety. Through the decades, the organization has expanded to include researchers, physiologists, nurses, and many other aerospace medicine professionals. Another major trend has been increasing international participation, which has enlarged the scope of its mission. As we fly toward the future, the need for AsMA’s services remains as strong as ever. Let’s continue building our organization together so that the next edition of our history is even more robust.

   A column on “This Month in Aerospace Medicine History” is published each month in the Association's journal. Recent columns (from 2009 onwards) are available through IngentaConnect, while columns from 2003 to 2008 can be found in the AsMA News Archives.

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  2. Benford RJ. Doctors in the sky: the story of the Aero Medical Association. Springfield (IL): Charles C. Thomas, Publisher; 1955.
  3. Hallion RP. The 1999 Louis H. Bauer Lecture: aerospace medicine nears the millenium [sic]: adaptation, anticipation, and advancement. Aviat Space Environ Med. 1999; 70(11):1117–1124.
  4. Marbarger JP. A snapshot to the early history of the space medicine branch. Aviat Space Environ Med. 1992; 63(11):1038–1039.
  5. Peyton G. Fifty years of aerospace medicine: its evolution since the founding of the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine in January 1918. AFSC Historical Publications Series No. 67-180. Wright-Patterson AFB (OH): School of Aerospace Medicine; 1968.
  6. Poos EE. The birth of the Aero-Medical Association, from the Aerospace Medical Association Archives in the Wright State University Library Special Collections, Box 32C, File 1. Dayton (OH): Wright State University; n.d.
  7. Proceedings of first Annual Meeting of the Aero Medical Association of the United States. J Aviat Med. 1930; 1(1):51–59.
  8. Website of the Society of U.S. Air Force Flight Surgeons. [Accessed 21 June 2017.] Available from http://www.sousaffs.org/history.php.
  9. Website of the Society of United States Naval Flight Surgeons. [Accessed 21 June 2017.] Available from http://www.susnfs.org/History/history.htm.
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