USAF Pilot Training Classes

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Class History


At the end of WWII, the US looked forward to bringing the troops home and enjoying a world in peace. Military forces were allowed to dwindle down to almost nothing. But in 1950, events in Asia caused a rude awakening.

Both the Allied forces and the USSR laid claim to the Korean peninsula, a former Japanese possession. Under a negotiated compromise, the peninsula was split into northern and southern halves at the 38th parallel. North Korea was headed by a Communist government installed by the USSR, and South Korea was a republic with an elected government. The US backed the government of South Korea, but our foreign policy at the time put the Korean peninsula outside of the designated area of Communist containment. In retrospect, it was an invitation for Communist expansion.

On June 25, 1950, the North Koreans invaded South Korea. The South Koreans were caught by surprise and called for help from the US. The nearest troops available were part of the occupation army in Japan, and were quite unprepared for tough combat duty. The North Koreans pushed the US/Republic of Korea (ROK) forces back to the Pusan perimeter. After that, there was the well known Inchon landing and the entry of China into the war on the side of the North Koreans.

By the summer of 1951, it was apparent that the US was in for a long, tough war. Also, it was apparent that providing close air support to the ground troops was essential to the success of the ground war. This meant control of the skies over the battlefields. But the Air Force had been allowed to degrade to a shadow of its former self, and was not capable of providing this support without a crash program of pilot training and aircraft production. The USAF had to quickly contract for the re-manufacture of old North American Advanced Trainers (old name AT-6; new name T-6G) for use as primary trainers, since all the previous WWII trainers had been sold or junked.

The lure of aviation and the desire to avoid the trenches were just some of the reasons the men of 52-G & 52-H entered pilot training. Many had to enlist in the Air Force as buck privates to avoid being drafted, even though already accepted for pilot training. The volunteers came faster than bases could be reopened and many spent 13 weeks of USAF basic military training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio or Sampson AFB at Geneva, NY.


The training facilities were expanded by contracting with private companies, such as airlines, which were capable of providing flight training. Young men, age 20 to 26, with at least 2 years of college, were recruited for the Aviation Cadet program. They were sent to primary training bases run by the contract companies for six months of primary training, to be followed by six months of advanced training at Air Force facilities.

Primary training for 52-G started in September 1951 at nine bases -- Bainbridge AB, GA; Bartow AB, FL; Columbus AFB, MS; Goodfellow AFB, TX; Greenville AFB, MS: Hondo AB, TX; Kinston AB, NC; Malden AB, MO; Marana AB, AZ; and Spence AB, GA.  A new pilot training class was started every six weeks and was given a consecutive alphabetical designation; for example 52-G was the seventh class to begin training in 1951.  In December 1951, 52-H started at these same bases including one more that had just opened at Kinston AB, NC.

Most of the students were aviation cadets, although a few were student officers.  Most student officers had just received their commissions through AFROTC at college. An aviation cadet was almost a "nobody". He got corporal pay and had no particular rank. Most of us wouldn't take anything for the experience but would never want to go through the hazing, discipline, hard work and heart breaks again. All the cadets agonized when someone washed out. Maybe that was the bond that has kept us together over the years. The Aviation Cadet program goes way back to WWI but came to an end in 1960 when the USAF decided all pilot trainees should have a college degree and already have their commission through either Officer Training School, the Air Force Academy or one of the USAF ROTC college units. 

The advance training bases operated by the Air Force were for single engine fighter aircraft (Bryan AFB, TX; Craig AFB, AL; Laredo AFB, TX;  Pinecastle AFB, FL;  Webb AFB, TX; and Williams AFB, AZ), or for multi-engine bomber or transport aircraft (Reese AFB, TX and Vance AFB, OK).

On 25 October 1952, about 1,000 pilots were graduated in Class 52-G, and on 19 December 1952, 1,100 in 52-H , including many students from our NATO allies -- France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway.  At graduation, student officers were awarded their wings while cadets were commissioned as second lieutenants and also got their wings.  After graduation came a few weeks of welcome leave, and then on to some form of combat or operational crew training. Many saw service in the Korean War, which ended in a cease fire on July 27, 1953.  Eventually, all went their separate ways -- to different occupations and locations, and had no way to keep in touch with each other. 


In 1989, Jack Gilliland began to contact class members to organize a reunion, to be held in 1992. Names were added to the roster, pretty much by word of mouth, but Randy Presley put everything together on his computer, so that by 1990 it was possible to book the first meeting at Destin, Florida. There were over 200 attendees.

Members of Class 52-H were invited to attend the 2000 reunion, and in 2002, at the 50th anniversary of graduation, the by-laws were amended to make Class 52-H equal members of the Association.

The first president, elected at Destin, was founder Jack Gilliland. Subsequent reunions and the presidents elected for two-year terms were:

Scottsdale, AZ 1992 Jim Dorsey
San Antonio, TX 1996 Bob Brown
Shreveport, LA 1998 Emmet Hatch
Albuquerque NM 2000 Jim Dorsey
San Diego, CA 2002 Patrick Hazel
Covington, KY 2004 Mike Spaight
Seattle, WA 2006 Phil Alden
Arlington, VA 2008 Phil Alden
Colorado Springs, CO 2010 Patrick Hazel

Other officers, from the beginning were:
Randy Presley, Corresponding Secretary
Cyrus "Chuck" Miller , Treasurer