Walter Boyne grew up the son of a poor family in East Saint Louis, Illinois during the time of the Great Depression. He attended Holy Angels grade school where he first discovered an interest in writing. His love of flying was encouraged by dime novels of the day such as Robert J. Hogan’s G-8 and His Battle Aces that depicted “America’s World War I Flying Spy” engaged in air-to-air combat. He decided at this young age that he would become a pilot for the United States Air Force and focused his efforts to achieve that goal. Boyne earned a number of scholarships that enabled him to attend Washington University in St. Louis.
In May 1951, after two years at the university, Boyne entered the Aviation Cadet program where he learned a profound respect for the enlisted grades of the military. Boyne started flight school in November 1951 and became the first of his class to solo. On December 19, 1952 he was awarded his wings as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
While stationed at Castle Air Force Base in central California, Boyne flew the B-50 Superfortress as a member of the 330th Bomb Squadron of the 93rd Bomb Wing. Although Boyne had relatively few hours in bombers, he received orders in May 1954 to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas for training in the B-47 Stratojet which he flew for several years. In 1957, he returned to college and graduated with honors from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in business administration. Boyne continued his education and earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh, also with honors.
Boyne returned to active flying as a nuclear test pilot with the 4925th Nuclear Test Group at Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, New Mexico. While at Kirtland, he became an aircraft commander in the B-47 and B-52 Stratofortress. In 1962, he participated in Operation Dominic, flying one mission which dropped a 5.4 megaton thermonuclear weapon. Boyne served during the Vietnam War as commander of the 635th Services Squadron at U-Tapao Royal Thai Air Base where he flew 120 combat hours as a C-47 instructor pilot. Colonel Boyne retired from the Air Force on June 1, 1974 with more than 5,000 hours in various aircraft.
Boyne began his writing career in 1962 while still in the Air Force. Tired of the repetitive aviation articles of the time, he chose to write about lesser-known people and airplanes starting with an article on the Curtiss P-36. Boyne’s article was accepted by the Royal Air Force Flying Review, a British magazine which paid him $29 — a moment of special pride for the new author. The P-36 aircraft now resides in the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. He went on to write for virtually every U.S. aviation magazine, becoming a contributing editor to many of them.
In 1974, after retiring from the Air Force, Boyne joined the National Air and Space Museum as curator of air transport. Prior to the opening of the museum in 1976, he was assigned responsibility for introducing all aircraft into their exhibits. Including hanging them from the Museum’s overhead steel beams. Boyne was responsible for transforming the museum’s dilapidated Silver Hill facility into the world’s premier restoration facility. He also organized the effort to rename the facility in honor of Paul E. Garber, a curator of the National Air Museum—the predecessor to the National Air and Space Museum. Boyne was named acting director of the museum in 1982, and director on February 10, 1983. Boyne performed a number of notable actions during his tenure as museum director including:
- Founded the best-selling aviation magazine Air & Space
- Orchestrated flights of an IMAX camera on the Space Shuttle
- Supervised the production of the IMAX movies The Dream is Alive and On the Wing
- Worked with FAA Administrator Donald Engen to provide the land upon which the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center was built
- Arranged for the Space Shuttle Enterprise to be flown and stored at the museum in 1985
- Pioneered the museum’s video disc program and patented the “Digitizer” automated storage and retrieval system
His first novel, The Wild Blue, (with Steven Thompson) was published in 1986 and became a best seller on the New York Times’ fiction list. He resigned as director of the museum in 1986 to concentrate on his writing career. In 1991, his book Weapons of Desert Storm became a best seller on the New York Times’ non-fiction list.
In 1998, Boyne co-founded the cable television channel, Wingspan—the Air and Space Channel, that was purchased by the Discovery Channel a year later. His first wife, the former Jeanne Quigley died in 2007. Their 55 year marriage produced four children, Molly, Katie, Bill and Peggy, five grandchildren, J.D., Grace, Walter, Charlotte and Charles. Boyne remarried on January 10, 2008 to Terezia Takacs.
Boyne is currently Chairman of the Board of the National Aeronautic Association, the oldest national aviation organization in the United States.
For a list of Awards and Honors bestowed upon Col. Boyne, click here.