On the 20th of November,
1961, the Class of 63-D arrived at Reese Air Force Base to begin 55 weeks in the
Undergraduate Pilot Training Program. The original class of 50 students
was composed of 43 officers of the United States Air Force and 7 representatives
from allied countries.
After three weeks of
pre-flight training, 63-D began their flying career with the
T-37 "dollar ride."
As the weeks passed, the Delta Devils soon increased their vocabulary to include
the more technical Air Force terms DNIF, abort, roger, weather day, and "pink."
Check rides and the accompanying proficiency, or lack thereof, took their toll.
One hundred and thirtv-two hours of flying and seven unlocked canopies passed
quickly. On 22 June 1962, forty "Who Dats" became "Skybound."
When 63-D made the
transition from primary to basic, they found the name of the game was the same,
but the aircraft was different. In the allotted 130 hours, thirty-seven
students progressed from their solo ride to become all-weather pilots.
Class 63-D was the
winner of two Commander's Trophies, survivors of two boner parties, six months
of T-37 primary training, six months of T-33 basic training and the "purge."
Thirty-one USAF officers, one Pakistan officer, two Iranian officers, and three
Afghanistan officers received the coveted silver wings.
The above history was
taken from the Graduation Program for Class 63-D.
My view of the History of 63-D
(All of this is from
memory it is my story and I'm sticking to it.)
The story of 63-D was a lot more complex and interesting than that mentioned
above. 63-D was commanded by a red headed dynamo named Capt Dick Fontaine (a
previous F-86 pilot who later in the 60's flew F-105 Thuds in Southeast Asia out
of Tahkli). He was determined to get us through the course and also to have the
best Class they had seen. I believe we did have one of the very best as we
excelled in competitions and had a pretty good graduation rate compared to other
classes going through - Being a brand new 2nd Lt, I was impressed by our class
leaders, Capt Don Biehn and Capt Steve Katz. They seem to be informed on
everything and represented us well with Capt Fontaine, the Academics Section and
of course the Flight Line. They also buffered us from a lot of the bull— that
naturally flowed downhill from everybody.
Let’s put our time in UPT in perspective. We entered UPT not long after the last
Aviation Cadets graduated from Reese. In fact my IP and several others were 2nd Lts who had just graduated not long before and they had been Aviation Cadets and
subjected to a lot of harassment as they went through the program. So we badly
needed indoctrination into the Air Force and needed to acquire the discipline
that we would need to be successful. Even though we were "officers and
gentlemen" by act of Congress, we had a lot to learn. And Reese was the right
place to get our minds right. Incidentally, I loved every minute of it.
The academics were well academics. Interesting to learn all about hypoxic
hypoxia, hypemic hypoxia and about 10 other kinds of hypoxia... all of which
would kill you if you abused them. Then the Chamber ride. Many wondered how they
would do, would they get sick, how would they react to the mask etc. I
personally hated the mask and the forced breathing and was just short of panic
in putting it on with the worst part listening to yourself breathe. But I got
past it. (It was the same in the T-37 the first ride just putting on that mask
brought back the memories of two early childhood surgeries and the application
of ether as the anesthetic.) Back up a bit, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyhow we all got through the chamber and the rest of the academics and moved on
to the flight line. First you had to get all those nifty patches sewed on all
you flight gear. The Dust Devil patch was neat with its green and white
checkerboard and the red dust devil. (Only later in the Spring would we learn
what dust was REALLY all about.) Who Dat. I thought this was pretty funny and a
bit hokey but I got used to it. I had the most interesting name tag in that it
not only went across the front of my flight suit but partially onto the sleeve
of my flight suit.
Marching to the flight line, inspections in the parking lot, a bit of harassment
about shiny boots and finally inside to meet our flight. D Flight. Led by Capt
Lloyd Lewis and his big cigar and backed up with some really outstanding pilots
and instructors. Capt John Shaw was the Asst Flight Commander and had a really
great sense of humor; Capt Faulkner, somewhat quiet but a cool guy; Capt
Rasmussen, a little pudgy, not much hair, good sense of humor and wore his hat
kind of funny in that the bill was squared off; Capt Coleman, steady and a
good IP, Capt Jackson with a strong accent and talked real fast...his lecture on
flying instruments was classic and who could forget the RCH's and BCH's. Amazing. Then we had a lot of go get ‘em Lts; Wally Frazer (later flew Thuds);
Lt Grorud very steady and a good troop; Clarence Hough, my IP (along with Doug
Wood and John Zielke); Lt Maroney; Lt Wolfe; Lt Art Draut; Lt Harry Kumlin and
Lt Jack Bracebridge whose wife was a Playboy Bunny - Wow. Anyhow a really super
group of IP's from whence to learn all about flying.
So we all got our dollar ride and most of us got it before Christmas as I
recall. After the dollar rides they evaluated us to see who they could get
through solo fast. This generally had a lot to do with previous flying that
helped to ease the transition. I do not recall who was first to solo but believe
it was Don Biehn. He was very experienced and got off to a fast start. I do
remember I was the first at our table. As we progressed through this it became
apparent to us that not all of us were going to make it through. Medical
problems, air sickness, lack of affinity for flying etc all took their toll. Some really sharp guys did not make it.. I recall Mike York a really funny guy
with good flying skills but medical/air sickness problems, Mike Armstrong and
Coping with the cold weather at Lubbock took a bit of adjustment. They issued us
those slick, thick winter flight suits which really didn't work very well. Too
hot in the flight shack, okay on the ramp, too hot in the Tweet. So most of us
compromised and put on some heavy "long Johns", used some heavier gloves, pulled
a sock cap over our ears and ventured forth. When it wasn't snowing and blowing,
the weather up in the panhandle of Texas was clear and crisp with the wind
generally blowing down runway 17/35. So we worked onward toward solo. They used
an auxiliary field called ABNORMAL for our solo. They had a mobile control unit
out there manned by an IP to work the traffic. After a few days of practice out
there the day to solo came. To avoid any nerves on my part, Lt Hough did not
tell me I was going to solo. We just went out there, shot a landing or two and
full stopped and taxied back. He got out and off I went. I loved it although
just a bit nervous. It was so quiet in the cockpit after all the instructing and
comments from Lt Hough. (He never let a thing go by that was not done correctly
without adding some comment ending usually with "let's do it again"). I used
this example all my flying career. Do it until you get it right and it
Of course after "solo", we then split up and he flew Doug and Zielke while I
practiced "contact" on my own. I always studied those little plastic models they
had of air maneuvers in the flight room and then would practice them in the air. This worked well except for the Clover Leaf. Lt Hough would debrief me after
each of my solo's on what I did and practiced. Since I had never been
demonstrated a Clover Leaf this seemed to be my goal to perfect it before I flew
again with Lt Hough. I had done so many clover leafs that I was pretty sure I
was an expert. So we got scheduled after a couple of weeks of my solo practice
and all went pretty well at first. Lazy 8’s, Chandelles, Loops, Immelmanns, etc. Then I did the Clover Leaf. Incorrectly, but symetrical just the same. As I
pulled in to about 5 Gs, I noticed Lt Hough's head slump a bit. As I busily kept
5 Gs on for the pull, roll, pull out he wasn't saying much on about the third
leaf he pushed the stick forward and screamed "Holy crap Whittenberger what in
the hell are you doing?" My clover leafs were so tight I had blacked him out -
symmetrical yes....but very tight. Way too tight. He then showed me how to do
one and we had a good laugh as we flew back to the pattern.
So the class moved on through Primary - Academics in the morning, Flight Line in
the afternoon or vice versa. Next came instruments and Capt Jackson's infamous
instrument lecture that had us all rolling in the aisles, John Zielke was an
absolute ace on instruments as was Don Biehn. There may have been others. John
would get 5-5-50 above all his maneuvers on the instrument grade slips. Doug and
I asked what that was for and Hough said we would pass when we could do it too. I don't recall how Doug did but I didn't get a lot of those.
It meant: the complete maneuver within 5 degrees of heading, within 5 knots, and
within 50 feet. Zielke could really "hawk dem instruments".
Then formation, a lot of fun, a few out and backs to keep flying when the
weather was bad, and navigation. A lot of it was a blur but a happy time for
most of us. We were working our way toward the T-Bird and ultimately our wings. I do recall flying out and back to Albuquerque and shooting a VOR approach into
a heavy undercast. Sticking out of the undercast were the peaks of the mountains
at Albuquerque. Hough had me look outside and then told me to get on the gauges
and get it right. I never forgot that. No more sloppy instruments for me.
As we progressed through Primary, we got to know each other, got to know and
respect our IP's and just enjoyed the course although it was a lot of work. We
had a little Class to Class competition in sports that kept us going and as I
recall we did very well in softball, volleyball, soccer (thanks to our foreign
friends) and basketball. We had a few beer blasts on a weather day after the
IP's finally ran out of topics to lecture us on. I do recall one of our blasts,
held over at the BOQ where we actually saw from the 2n story balcony the
oncoming weather and seven funnel clouds sticking out the bottom. A good
rationale to have another beer.
Finally, Primary was nearly over. We did a skit for the IP's and bought them
some beer with our boner money. The skit was nearly disastrous for me as I did
an impression of Capt Lloyd Lewis. Most thought it funny, the IP's were howling,
but Lewis had no sense of humor. I had one check ride left and guess who gave it
to me. The Navigation Check was a no brainer and everybody aced it but me. He
gave me the minimum grade just to get even. Lesson learned.
As some of you may recall I had another event that week as we were taking PT
over at the pool and screwing around. I tried a complicated dive and landed on
the side of my head, forcing the water into my ear and destroying my eardrum. Nearly the end of my career right then and there. Dr. Joe Tricky was the flight
surgeon and took one look and said this is bad. He then poured alcohol into my
ear to sterilized it. It was something like taking a hot poker and sticking it
into my head. However, this turned out to be a good thing. It killed the
infection and then the controversy started. With no eardrum I was disqualified. Further, although I had finished all my checkrides I did not have the required
132 hours, only 128+15. Dr. Tricky went to bat for me and insisted it was just
temporary and Lt Hough took my case to Capt Ted Guy and then to Lt Col DeMay
White our Squadron CO. My record was good, Dr. Trickey said I could continue and
he would monitor my case so Lt Col White said for me to press on with my
classmates. Whew. A really close call. Dr. Tricky continued to "monitor my case"
until after we had our wings. Only then did he release me for treatment at San
Antonio. Dr. Tricky and Lt Col White had saved my career.
Sadly, I learned a few years later, that Dr. Tricky had been killed in a rocket
attack at DaNang. I have never forgotten him or stopped thanking him for saving
On to Basic Flight Training.
Skybound was the Call Sign and so we became Skybound instead of Who Dat. My call
sign was Skybound 38. Capt Moss was the Flight CO, Capt Prestjohn (everybody
wanted to take a check ride with him) was the Asst CO. Capt Langford was a
pretty cool guy and one of the schedulers. Capt Krick, who was about as square
as his flattop and a SAC refugee didn't seem to have much of a sense of humor;
Capt McKinney was a good Joe and had a sense of humor; Capt Veach and ex F-86
pilot had a funny story about landing on a sand dune in Libya at night; Lt
Huckabee who I believe went on down to Check Section later;; and the young guys:
Larry Huggins (my IP) and a good guy; "Tiny" Mize; Lt Jones; and Lt Hannibal. You all know who you had.
My IP at first was Capt Pete Terry. In the mold of the hard ass IP's but really
a good guy. I soloed first and off I went in the big old
T-Bird (T-33). What a
difference from the Tweet. Only one engine, longer takeoff rolls, fuel to
manage, tip tanks, plenum chambers, some of the birds had covers over where the
machine guns used to be. A real big boy trainer.
It was a hoot flying with Pete Terry. He was an ardent smoker... so it was gear
up, flaps up, and light up. The first time I tried to abort with smoke in the
cockpit but he quickly informed me to shut up and fly. Smoke was normal. Only
get concerned if it was oil smoke or electrical smoke. Later when we were both
Colonels we served together at Ramstein, Germany.
There was a bit of a shuffle in the flight and I ended up with Don Druin for a
short bit but he too went on to something else (I also later served with him at
Ramstein AB). Finally, I got an IP for the rest of the course. Larry Huggins. A
really fine pilot and fine IP, Larry went on to be a 2 Star General and I also
served with him at Ramstein AB when he was a BG.
So the course went. Contact, Instruments, Formation, Navigation. The pressure of
academics eased a bit as we went on and the flying was great A lot less
regimented, the good weather of summer, and fall in the panhandle and we were
maturing as pilots or nearly pilots. I don't recall any attrition in T-Birds in
our class. There had been a case a class or two ahead of us but not in our class
except for Bob Morey who had to drop back a class because of Mono. We enjoyed
sports, our families a bit more., a few more beer busts etc.
Some in our class also enjoyed a few extra-curricular activities in flying such
as examining close up some of the towns around there, flying a bit more
formation that was in the syllabus. That one ended up a bit scary as some 12-15
birds were all trying to rejoin out in the area. Not particularly smart. The
IP's caught on when they saw a lot of 333.3 dialed in the radios. Fortunately it
ended safely and no one got in any real trouble.
Graduation Day with none other than Major Chuck Yeager, the first to break the
speed of sound, as our guest speaker. I recall my father really enjoyed talking
with him afterwards.
One of our final acts was to pick assignments. We all gathered in one of the
academic classrooms and they had listed all the assignments. Unfortunately, any
F-100s assigned to our class had been given to Webb as they were flying the T-38
and it just seemed natural that they would be more fit for F-100s than a bunch
of T-Bird drivers. This turned out to be a disaster for the AF as many could not
make it through the F-100 course, some even SIE'd (self initiated elimination);
some were killed. But for our class only F-102s were offered and more IP slots. Of course there was a good assortment of B-52s, C-118s, T-29s, C-124s, C-130s,
C-135 etc. Based on our class standing and desires we all stood up and picked
our next assignment. It was an exciting day and one we all remember I am sure as
it set the course for our careers.
I recall our class was pretty close. We had a good group of bachelors, an
interesting mix of foreign students, several married students who produced many
family additions while we were there. The wives fully supported our efforts and
were just great. They had a hard road to hoe while we were going through the
training, and endured our long hours. Some became so expert at knowing our
emergency procedures they could recite them backwards.
It was an intense time, a fun time, a rewarding time and a challenge we all
managed to meet. One of the great events in my life and certainly one of the
most memorable because it tested us and stretched our abilities to the utmost. So it was 63-D, 16 November 1961 to 7 December, 1962.
Steven J. Whittenberger
Colonel, USAF (ret.)
USAF UPT CLASS 63-D HISTORY
James F. Beatty
November 1961, 41 USAF officers, 5 officers from Afghanistan, and 2 aviation
cadets from Iran arrived at Reese AFB TX to officially become USAF
Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) Class 63-D. Fifty five weeks later on 7
December 1962, 32 USAF officers (31 of the original class), 3 Afghanistan
officers (original class), 2 Iranian aviation cadets (original class) and a
Pakistan officer received their silver wings from Colonel Charles “Chuck”
Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier.
path to silver wings--3 weeks of pre-flight training, 6 months of primary
flying (130 hours in the T-37), 6 months of basic flying (130 hours in the
T-33)—was accomplished without an accident or loss of life; these
accomplishments and the 75% graduation rate attest to the professionalism,
flying skill, and occasional cunning of the class.
was active away from the flightline. Two Commander’s Trophies (sports) two
boner parties (minor flying infractions can be fun), several “just because”
parties which included family and friends, and frequent stag bar hangar flying
gatherings bonded the class.
63-D tradition of friendship and flying has been renewed at a reunion every 5
years since 1987 (25th) in Dayton OH, 1992 and 1997 in Las Vegas,
2002 in Scottsdale AZ and 2007 in New Orleans. Friendships are renewed, flying
stories (frequently based on fact) and family memories are shared. Abundant
food and fun are always on the agenda. Each reunion recognizes class member
who have flown west since graduation; these 6 pilots shared our adventure for
a brief time, but they will always be part of 63-D
been quite a flight since the cold Caprock winter of 1961, but for the members
of UPT Class 63-D, good times and friendships remain young.
James F. Beatty
Colonel, USAF (ret.)
If any of you have any additions, please let me