Nav Cadet Background

From 1917 to 1965 the primary program for flight training and rating officers as pilots and navigators for the US Army Air Corps, the US Army Air Force, and the US Air Force, was the “Aviation Cadet” program. Aviation Cadet (AVCAD) Training varied from months to almost a year in length over the years. Upon completion of the training the graduate AVCAD became a flight “rated” (navigator or pilot) and  a Second Lieutenant.

Two of the most noted Aviation Cadets  graduates were Charles A. Lindbergh, who flew solo across the north Atlantic Ocean in 1927 and General Curtis LeMay, Navigator/Bombardier/Pilot and later Chief of Staff of the USAF during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The last Aviation Cadet Class, 65-15,  all navigators, graduated in March 1965 at James Connally AFB, Waco, Texas. The last aviation cadet in the USAF was Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis who retired in November of 2002.

As best we know there were over 300,000 Aviation Cadets of all ratings. Two books that tell the story of the AVCADs are We Wanted Wings: A History of the Aviation Cadet Program by Dr. Bruce Ashcroft, HQ/AETC (deceased) and The Last of A Breed by former USAF pilot Errol D. Severe (Source: Aviation Cadet Website).

The greatest concentration of former aviation cadets today are found in the Air Force Navigators Observers Association (AFNOA). AFNOA’s charter promotes and records the history of Aviation Cadets as all of the classes of the last five years of the Aviation Cadet Program were 100% navigators.

The Aviation Cadet Program was in the least; demanding! One had to pass a battery of academic, physical and flight capabilities tests.. The daily routine was like this; up-early, physical training, 3-minute shower, into the uniform of the day, quick breakfast, constant oversight by upper classmen, training on all matters of flight, constant discipline, marching, a quick lunch, classes on all matters officer, tests, frequent training flights, rapid-fire dinner, inspections, demerits for dust on your shoes, walking off demerits on the tour ramp on Saturdays, little sleep, mission planning capped off by over water flights about the Gulf of Mexico, engine failures (real in-flight emergencies), and lastly no time for a girl friend. Let alone dates!

However along the way AVCADS did, like pups in a kennel, entertain themselves. One of the ways  we (I was one of them) found to have fun was to build our own mascot. It was encouraged to keep us busy!

The photos in this article were all taken by Aviation Cadet 63-10 member, now retired USAF Col. Walt Smialek. Smialek’s  photos are archived in the Air Force Navigators Observers Association Museum History Program: reference AFNOA, Aviation Cadet Museum.

B Squadron Aviation Cadets Build a Mascot

On James Connally AFB, Waco, Texas, Aviation Cadet Class 63-06 B Squadron built “Tony the Bengal Tiger” mascot, spring of 1962 in front of their cadet barracks . This is how it was done.

All of the AVCADs were trained under the 3565th Navigator Training Wing. As with all matters Aviation Cadets requested permission first. Training Officer Lt. Robert Peterson approved!

Next we made a sketch, a plan, and figured we could make a cement base and build into it, a statue of our life-sized beloved mascot “Tony the Bengal Tiger.” That took one sheet of paper. I think too we had to say “Bengal Tiger” as I am sure our Tony the Tiger looked allot like some breakfast cereal box Mascot we all know of! No, the JAG was not consulted. Remember this was 1962. Most folks were patriotic and there were few lawsuites.

Again with permission, one of the B Squadron cadets who had a car was allowed to drive off base and purchase with the cash donations we all had made, cement, sand, stones, trawl, chicken wire, steel-rebar, nails, some wood for forms, paints, shovel and a rake.  This  got us started.

We would work in our free time mostly on the week-ends. We made a concrete base with a cut-out in the middle of it, for the insertion of the mascot-statue. The rebar legs were driven into the ground for some support. Then the steel-rebar frame was fleshed out with chicken wire (Photo 1 ). [The four B Squadron cadets working early on Tony the Tiger are Roger A. Smitley at the heart, John A. Minkler on the ears, Ronald P. Barrett in the white T-shirt and Robert O. Waddell at the base in complete dark-green work fatigue uniform of 1962]

After a couple of weeks Tony the Tiger took on the form of a naked-concrete mascot flying our guideon pennant. Immediately the photo ops started.  Even the B-Squadron Cadet Command Staff posed with our bare tiger mascot.  The gold stripes on the leader cadets’ shoulder boards indicate they were  close to their graduation. [ L to R: Norm Kasel, Leslie Tshirhart and Bob Anderson. ]

Tony was close to becoming finished when one of the cadets came up with a pair of glass owl eyes. In they went. Why he had them I do not remember. Then Tony was allowed to dry out. After this his face was striped, big smile presented, flight suit painted on with full length zipper down the front, shiny flight boots placed on his lower paws, red scarf about his neck, name tag applied, B-squadron patch placed upon his breast and the big red “B” posted beside him. Make no mistake, this mascot was “Tony the Bengal Tiger of B Squadron.” We cadets loved our mascot, painted concrete and all.

[ The finishing touches can be seen here being applied by William Chute painting the red letter B with Robert S. Wentworth at the back, on the right Davis J. Parlette holding a butt can, Robert Nicholas standing on the barrack’s front steps taking a sun-line celestial observation (cel-shot) with his MA-2 sextant, while Francisco J. Garza in uniform and Roger K. Nesti in civies do their celestial computations on the steps.]

Tony the Bengal Tiger was  a colorful mascot and many of us had our pictures taken with him. On a base tour Miss Texas came and sat on Tony’s B, and had her picture taken there too. In a bathing suit! WOW! Cadet Smialek recorded this event with his 8mm movie camera, proving that some good was to be gotten by all of this effort. [Cadet Ronald P. Barrett with Tony the Bengal Tiger]

Mascots were also built for A, C, and D squadrons. In 2005 I returned to the now civilian remains of James Connally AFB. There was no record of the proud aviation cadets or their beloved mascots.

by Ron Barrett (class 63-06)