James-Connally/Harlingen Navigators Website
You successfully navigated the world wide web to find the James Connally Navigator’s/Observers Home Page. This web site covers people who trained at James Connally AFB or Harlingen AFB, Texas or who were instructor navigators at Connally or Harlingen.
The term navigator includes, navigators, observers, electronic warfare and weapons systems career fields. Today the Air Force has renamed the Navigator career field to Combat System Officer.
Search our site to learn about the James Connally and Harlingen Air Force Base History and navigate to the other pages to see our reunion schedule , peruse our photo gallery, see navigator history , deceased listing or contact our reunion planners and webmaster. To submit a Bio (placed in a book for people to review at the reunion) click on this link and fill out a bio form.
James Connally AFB History
James Connally Air Force Base, located seven miles northeast of Waco, Texas, was initially a basic pilot-training school. It opened as Waco Army Air Field on May 5, 1942, and became headquarters for the Army Air Forces Central Instructors’ School in February 1945.
The base was inactive from late 1945 to 1948, until it was reactivated as a basic pilot-training school. On June 10, 1949, the name was changed to Connally Air Force Base in memory of Col. James T. Connally, a local pilot killed in Japan in 1945. By 1951 the name had been changed to James Connally Air Force Base.
Pilot training was discontinued in early 1952. Training for all-weather fighter radar observers, and upgrade training for navigators and bombardiers, began in 1951. The Instrument Pilot Instructors School was subsequently moved to the base and trained instructor pilots from many allied nations.
The base also trained already-rated pilots as bombardiers and navigators to provide triple-rated crews for the rapidly growing fleet of B-47s. That program was discontinued in 1962.Undergraduate Nav Training (UNT) was conducted at Connally from the 1950′s until May 1966. (Source: TSHA Online)
Col. James T. Connally History
He flew the air mail as an Army pilot in 1934. In 1941, he accompanied the first B-17s sold to the British. In 1942, he transferred to Clark Field in the Philippines with the 19th Bombardment Group where he won the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission that destroyed a Japanese tanker ship and rescued 23 stranded US pilots.
He attended the School of Applied Tactics in Orlando, Florida, in 1944 and returned to the Pacific in December 1944. Col Connally was killed on May 29, 1945, while flying as an observer in the lead plane of a flight of 500 B-29s attacking Yokohama. His plane exploded after being hit by anti-aircraft fire. (2)
Harlingen Army Airfield opened in July 1941 and was used by the United States Army Air Forces (AAF) as a training base during World War II. It was initially assigned to the AAF Gulf Coast Training Center as a flexible gunnery school. Training was conducted in both air-to-air & air-to-surface gunnery. The air-to-air training used a variety of aircraft, including AT-6 Texans, BT-13 Valiants, P-63 Kingcobras, B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators. For ground-based training, a number of facilities were available, including the moving target ranges and a number of gunnery simulators.
On 8 January 1943, the War Department constituted and activated the 79th Flying Training Wing (FTW) at Harlingen and assigned it to the AAF Eastern Central Training Command. In 1944, Harlingen began training B-29 Superfortress gunners. They received practically the same training as those for other aircraft, but at the end of the year a few of them began to receive training in B-24s modified by the addition of central fire control turrets to make them more like B-29s. Among the training devices used in this instruction was the manipulation trainer—12 towers arranged to resemble a formation of planes. The towers ranged in height from 10 to 40 feet, each equipped with 2 nose, 2 tail, 2 ring sighting, and 4 blister positions. As students in these positions faced simulated attacks from PT-13 and PT-17 aircraft, they “fired” camera guns at the attacking fighters.
The 79th FTW conducted flexible gunnery training until 1 October 1945. Redesigned as a basic training center 1 November 1945 and conducted basic training until inactivated 1 February 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. The 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 the U. S. Air Force under General Order Number 12 who the base was named Harlingen Air Force Base and placed it under the operational control of the Air Training Command (ATC). Harlingen AFB’s focus was Undergraduate Navigator Training (UNT), primarily with Convair T-29 aircraft, until being closed in 1962. Undergraduate Navigator Training at Harlingen AFB ended on 6 June 1962 with the graduation of Class 62-22N. Thereafter, all new navigators were to be trained at Mather AFB, California and James Connally AFB, Texas.
Harlingen, as an Undergraduate Navigator Training Wing, had as the primary mission 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. A total of 13,355 graduated from Navigator Training at Harlingen.
Thanks to Bill Day (Harlingen 61-09) for the above history of Harlingen.