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Welcome to Aviation Cadet Class 61-09
Class History

Harlingen Air Force Base

The course most advantageous to the Air Force has been plotted, and the log closed at Harlingen Air Force Base. The last class of Aviation Cadets to experience Undergraduate Navigator Training at Harlingen departed June 21, 1962.
Neither the oldest nor the largest navigator training base, Harlingen nonetheless has awarded more than 13,000 gleaming, hard earned navigator wings during the last ten years. In the summer of 1960, at the peak of its training load, the base provided daily instruction to 1800 Aviation Cadets and 300 Student Officers.
Harlingen began its training history as an Aerial Gunnery School during World War II. It was inactivated on February 1, 1946 and turned over to the city of Harlingen later that year.
During the next five years, many lots and buildings were sold to individuals and to business organizations. By 1951, some two hundred civilian families were living on the base; six manufacturing concerns, Trans Texas Airways, and Air News Incorporated were operating from Harlingen. Also, several crop dusting operators were using the airstrip.
Naturally, re-reacquisition of the property for Air Force use was complicated by those factors. But the need for navigators was vital in 1952 and most of the property was gained through mutual agreement on a fair purchase price. Harlingen Air Force Base was activation on April 1, 1952 by Air Training Command General Order Number 12.
Assigned immediately to the flying Training Air Force, Harlingen’s primary mission was basic observer training. There were two phases, Phase I for Aviation Cadets, and Phase II for Student Officers. The major unit on the base was the 3610th Observer Wing, commanded by Colonel James F. Olive Jr.

Harlingen's first navigator graduation
The first entrants, the 48 Aviation Cadets of Class 53-01C, began training on June 27, 1952. Early classes were hampered by initial shortages of equipment, experienced instructors, and support facilities. Heroic efforts by all concerned overcame these difficulties in a relatively short time, and great improvements in training and in student moral were soon noticeable.
During 1952, student loads increased from 144 on July 1, 747 on December 30. On January 22, 1953, the 35 persevering members of Class 53-01C became Harlingen’s first basic observer graduates.
The student load continued to increase, reaching 1314 by June 30, 1953. This expansion would have been even faster except for such limiting factors as a lack of suitable housing, training aircraft, and radar equipment. As new barracks were built and equipment was received, the number of students in training climbed to 1585 on March 31, 1954.

Traffic jams were common at height of student load
The growth continued throughout 1954, and the quality of instruction also soared higher; this, together with new barracks, classrooms, and recreational facilities, fostered ever higher student moral.
During 1955 and 1956, there were some reductions in the programmed number of graduates. The course was lengthened, four flight missions were added, and the first extended over water navigational training flights went to Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. A change in student mix occurred, with more AFROTC graduates and fewer Aviation Cadets. The first foreign students (from Ecuador) were entered in the spring of 1956.
Unhappily, the first fatal aircraft accident since reactivating occurred on March 20, 1956. Captain C.J. Bryant and 1/Lt. D.S. Carillo, the only occupants of a Harlingen T-29B which was destroyed near Dobbins AFB, Georgia, died in the crash.
On September 15, 1956, the title of the major course was changed to Primary Basic Navigator (PBN) and the wing redesignated 3610th Navigator Training Wing. Five days later, Class 56-13C became the first to graduate as navigators rather than as aircraft observers.

Ceremonies on March 19, 1960 when Harlingen graduated its 10,000th navigator
There were many changes in 1957 and 1958. The programmed student load increased very rapidly; Harlingen assumed a greater share of navigator training as Ellington AFB was closed; electronics training was shifted to the advanced courses at Mather, James Connally, and Keesler Air Force Bases. And Colonel N. L. Calish replaced Colonel Olive as Wing Commander.
In late October and early November, the base broke routine to lend a hand during a civil emergency. Flood relief assistance, in the form of drivers, vehicles, personnel, and supplies, was provided along the lower Rio Grande Valley.
Colonel Callish was promoted to Brigadier General in June 1959, and moved to Mather AFB. Colonel James W. Newsome took command of the 3610th Navigator Training Wing on July 15, 1959. Meantime, training continued to be improved and standardized, and the number of students continued to increase until the peak was reached in the summer of 1960.
Special ceremonies and an Open House was held on March 19, 1960 to mark the graduation of Harlingen’s ten thousandth navigator. Lt. General James E. Briggs, Commander ATC, was guest speaker, and over 25,000 people visited the base on this one day.

Wearing the "Green Tux" for the first two weeks
Also in 1960, Harlingen began pre-flight training for all Cadet Navigators when Lackland AFB phased out of the pre-flight training. And late in the year, PBN was replaced by UNT (Undergraduate Navigator Training).
On March 30, 1961, the Department of Defense would consolidate at James Connally AFB. Harlingen was scheduled to close at the end of the fiscal year, 1962.
When A3C Harold E. Williams signed in on February 7, 1962, he became the last member of all Aviation Cadet Class to enter UNT at Harlingen. Until graduation on June 21, Cadet Williams and his 33 classmates have but one goal in sight, their navigator wings.
Thanks to Bill Day for the above history of Harlingen.

October 17, 2004
Harlingen AFB Navigator Class 61-09 is an active Harlingen AFB alumni group.  We are the former aviation cadets and student officers of Harlingen 61-09 who graduate on May 22, 1961.  It is noteworthy that James Connelly AFB also graduated a class Navigator class 61-09  the came day.   There have been two major reunions of class 61-09 and the next reunion will be in 2006.  From time to time there are regional gatherings of classmates, such as the 2003 gathering in Ocala, Florida.  
After graduation the majority of 61-09 went from Harlingen to SAC via Mather of Kessler.  The largest group went to MATS (C-124s).  Most served in Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam war, many flying from Thailand, Taiwan, and Okinawa flying B-52s, KC-135s, and C-130s.  About half of class 61-09 went to pilot training.  No classmate made General Officer rank.  There were no Viet Nam casualties or POWs in our class that we are aware of now.  Due to the post Viet Nam military cutbacks, our class was hit by the major officer RIF in the 1970s.  A handful of classmates finished their 20 in the enlisted ranks.  (There are some interesting stories there.)  A number of classmates retired from the Air Force Reserves and the Air Guard.  We have posted some information regarding deceased classmates.  There are several more 'suspected deceased' classmates whose probable death still need to be confirmed.     
The majority of class graduates were career Air Force.  Of those who left active duty after their initial commitment, the careers are widely varied and interesting.  All of us were deeply impacted by those early years at Harlingen, especially the former cadets.  A current biographical sketch of our classmates who reveal little different in education or career attainment between the former cadets and student officers.  We have a number of well educated men in this class from both backgrounds.  A handful are still making a living in the cockpit of aircraft, however age is rapidly reducing those numbers.   We welcome your comments in the class Guest Book listed on the home page of this website.   
Thanks for your interest.