Arnold trained as a pursuit pilot but did not reach the front in time to see combat in World War I. He traveled the American countryside as a military barnstormer, one of the many pilots after the war who helped excite the public about aviation.
Arnold became a member of the Army’s special Provisional Air Brigade, led by Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, and participated in Mitchell’s battleship bombing trials in 1921. In 1924, Lowell Smith and Leslie Arnold completed the first flight around the world in the Douglas World Cruiser Chicago. Originally an alternate pilot for the World Flight, Arnold joined Smith on the Chicago when Sgt. Arthur Turner became ill just four days before the start of the journey.