Welcome to Aviation Cadet Class 61-09
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.
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, Harlingens 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
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 Harlingens first basic observer
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
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
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
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
Special ceremonies and an
Open House was held on March 19, 1960 to mark the
graduation of Harlingens ten thousandth navigator.
Lt. General James E. Briggs, Commander ATC, was guest
speaker, and over 25,000 people visited the base on this
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
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
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
Thanks for your interest.