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Blast from the Past - 1960’s instructor pilot returns, donates historical artifacts
Former Instructor Pilot Earnest A. Boehler, Jr., presents a historical memento to 47th Flying Training Wing Vice Commander Dan Laro Clark Aug. 10. The former aviation cadet, tanker pilot and Laughlin instructor returned to the base to donate historical material, which ranged from class books to patches. The materials provide a visual, and sometime humorous, account of how things have changed and remained the same over the years since he was here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mr. Kent Cummins)
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Blast from the Past - 1960's instructor pilot returns, donates historical artifacts

Posted 8/15/2007   Updated 8/16/2007 Email story   Print story

    


by Todd Schroeder
47th Flying Training Wing Historian


8/15/2007 - Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas -- A visitor from the past recently brought a little piece of history to Laughlin.

Mr. Earnest A. Boehler, Jr., an aviation cadet, former tanker pilot and Laughlin instructor returned to the base Aug. 10 to donate historical material, which ranged from class books to patches. The materials provide a visual, and sometime humorous, account of how things have changed and remained the same over the years since he was here.

Mr. Boehler said the boxes he brought to Laughlin from his Bethany, Okla., home were "just too valuable to throw away."

He said he's also donated some memorabilia from his pilot days to a museum in Houston.

During his stay here, he relayed his experiences about his training, time as an instructor and his operational assignments, and how his post-Air Force career relates to the wing's current mission of training the world's best pilots.

Mr. Boehler's road to Laughlin began with the Air Force's aviation cadet program. The Air Force used the program from its creation Sept. 26, 1947.

Most aviation cadets had completed at least two years of college, but only needed a high school diploma and sufficient scores on a qualifying test. The Air Force Academy didn't graduate its first class until 1959, AFROTC enrollment was low during the early 1950s and the Officer Candidate School didn't open until 1959.

Mr. Boehler, who entered the cadet program in March 1954 after he left Texas A&M, said until an aviation cadet earned his wings, "they marched everywhere, ate square meals, were forbidden to mingle with officers or enlisted and couldn't be married."

"In fact, most bases had separate facilities just for the cadets," he added.

Mr. Boehler's path to earning pilot wings was much different than for today's students who train at Laughlin.

He arrived at Lackland AFB to undergo indoctrination and three months later departed with more 200 other cadets for Spence AFB, Ga., for primary flight training. After completing primary training, students bound for single-engine fighters departed for Williams AFB, Ariz., while those going to multi-engine aircraft traveled to Reese AFB, Texas.

When Mr. Boehler earned his wings and commission in June 1955, "nineteen of my classmates and I were told we would remain at 'Willy' as instructor pilots, but within a couple of months, we learned we would be going to Laughlin AFB," he said.

After marrying his wife, June, the couple then traveled to Craig AFB, Ala., where he completed Basic Instructor School.

During his recent visit to Laughlin, Mr. Boehler said today's pilot training process is much more streamlined.

"I'm impressed with the modern technology Laughlin uses today," he said. "We used grease pencils for log books and grade reports."

During his first assignment to Laughlin from 1955 to 1956, then Lieutenant Boehler was a T-33 instructor with the 3645th Pilot Training Squadron.

Although the squadron had multiple flights, each instructor was viewed as a sub-flight.
"For example, within G-flight, Lt. Robert E. Vick headed Gorgeous flight while I headed Gangster flight," said Mr. Boehler. "Each instructor oversaw and flew with two to four dedicated students."

Captain Boehler returned to Laughlin in 1966 as a T-37 instructor.

He said he noticed many changes, the largest being the student's attitudes and relationship with the instructors and assigned airspace.

"There was a big difference between an aviation cadet's perception of the instructor and those of an officer student's, mainly because the latter already had their commission while a cadet tended to show more reverence to an instructor," he said. "And, unlike my first tour at Laughlin where you took off on a training sortie and flew 'wherever,' the second time here most training sorties took place within a dedicated block of airspace."

Mr. Boehler said during his first assignment, while on a controlled approach, he and his student were involved in a mid-air collision after another student flew in front of them. While Lt Boehler and his student ejected, unfortunately the other two were killed.
Flight safety has come a long way since his time, said Mr. Boehler.

Of the 31 Laughlin streets named after individuals, 16 are for individuals killed during training flights in the mid-1950s.

"People tend to forget that many of the warning, notes and cautions in our checklists are the results of someone's mistakes, and in the business of flying airplanes, those mistakes are often times fatal," said Col. Dan Laro Clark, 47th Flying Training Wing vice commander, who met with Mr. Boehler during his visit.

After departing Laughlin in the late 1960s, Mr. Boehler would continue making a mark on the mission here with his post-Air Force career as a test pilot with Mitsubishi Aircraft International.

Mr. Boehler performed flight testing and certification on the MU-300. Beech Aircraft bought the MU-300 design and marketed it to the Air Force as the T-1A Jayhawk.

Mr. Boehler got to see his test pilot link to present day Laughlin first-hand when Capt. John Duke, 86th Flying Training Squadron, gave him a tour of the squadron that trains future airlift and tanker pilots in the T-1.

Mr. Boehler has had many positive impacts on Laughlin and the Air Force, and his recent contribution of items will continue to be a visible reminder of those who have helped clear the path for today's aviators.



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