Walter J. Boyne (born 1929) is a retired United States Air Force colonel, combat veteran, aviation historian, and author of more than 50 books and over 1,000 magazine articles. A former director of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution he now serves as Chairman of the National Aeronautic Association.

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.

5 responses to “Bio

  1. Hi Walter,

    I grew up loving airplanes and aviation. I just found your “Surly Bonds” and this ability to talk to you. Question: I love B-47s and would like to know if any of your writings contain anything on flying it on a special long range mission and all the particulars of actually piloting the aircraft and such boring things (not to me by any means). I have never been inside a B-47 but have seen some sketches and when I was a kid I got to see the movie Strategic Air Command. That is all I ever saw of the B-47 front office. Today I am 67 and have been diagnosed with Altzheimer’s. I am moderate at this point. My old flight instructor died in a Piper 2 seater low wing. I saw the report and being as I was involved in identical situations with this instructor I can unofficially say exactly what happened that caused the crash and the death of the instructor and the pilot getting a bi-annual. My instructor normally would take an engine out emergency landing clear to within foot draging distance above the ground before applying power to continue on. I performed this maneuver many times with him so I know his habbits (we were also very good friends). On one occasion while I was flying I was performing one of these practice approaches toward a hedgerow. I had the airspeed nailed and just let the airplane float on down delaying the flap extension (c172) because I was a little short and would need to jump the hedgrow to make the field I had chosen. I determined at that point I would be able to make the maneuver work so continued on. My instructor did not bother me or talk and such. I just put the nose down and maintained the proper airspeed and did’nt let the proximity of the ground distract me. We reached a point where I couldn’t see beyond the tree row and I used my excess speed to get up and over the trees and come down on the other side. ALL THIS TIME my instructor friend sat cooly watching. I dumped flaps as we sailed over the trees and we darn near landed before I could get the power back in. This instructor was cool and let you alone…….which, I think was his undoing at the crash site. AT ANY TIME during my landing approach if I had sucked that wheel back into my gut because of my proximity to the ground we would have stalled…..period. I believe my instructor was being himself except the person he was checkriding had the sucking instinct and killed them both. I don’t think he had time to react and this guy sucked that wheel back and the nose pitched down and they went in. Some folks who pull the wheel back just cannot let loose of it if they are close to the ground. I taught myself early on that airspeed must be maintained and the ground is just one of the parameters involved in the maneuver. I think fear of the ground has figured into many accidents of this nature. The pilot I knew. He was the tower person at Hutchinson Municipal Airport in Hutchinson, KS and my instructor ran a small FBO there. The FAA Control Tower Operator had some hours and was just getting a bi-annual. I used to have a Revell model of the B-47 (early). I have never figured out why Gen. LeMay did not want tandem seating in the B-52. There were good things to be said for the tandem setup. You can duplex intercoms. I once crewed a Huey and we all still used intercoms. Those helos were quite something to fly around in. I was in the KS medivac outfit up in Topeka at Forbes in the eighties. Because I was the family aeroplane nut, my parents would take me down Oliver and let me view the long lines of B-47s lined up on the east side of the street with their tails to the fence. You could almost reach out and touch them. The only thing I remember being there at that time was the line huts where outdoor maint. was done and a brick tower on the apron. At that time there were no buildings on the west side of Oliver south of the main Boeing offices. That was all open country back in those days. Rock Road was a country gravel road!!! My family would drive me down Rock to watch approaches. BOY, those were the days weren’t they. You were probably one of the pilots flying that day I was there. Every time we would go to ICT I would have to stop at McConnel and view the B-47s. I eventually made it into the Air Force as an enlisted type running (operator) SAGE radars (heightfinders). A whole ‘nother story for another time. I was in only 4 years. There are times when I wonder what it would have been like had I stayed in. I just figured I could do better money wise on “the outside” or “in the world. I got married while I was still in the AF so wanted to avoid a 12 month tour of northern Alaska minus family which meant I had to try my hand at civilian life. In some ways mission accomplished. In other ways, what a waste. I had it made and I didn’t know it. I also didn’t have much patience with the way the AF was treating enlisted types at that time. When we are young we do rash things at times without realizing it. I loved the job and I did it above requirements and even got a few attaboys. One time a few of your guys tried to sneak in under our radar and I painted every last one of them on my radar and no one got through. I used a new radar mapping device (1965) that used the side lobes of jamming to point to the jamming aircraft basically using the aircraft jammer against itself for detection. Kind of a passive detector. We emitted no radiation to get this information. This raid ran all through the night and into the nest morning and I worked a double shift plus without leaving Operations because I had been practicing and no one else had so no one else was familiar enough to use the new tool. It got me a letter of commendation from my base commander. It also woke up SAC and they sent a Colonel, Major and a 1st Lt. to see what I was up to. At radar sites we seldom ever saw anything above the rank of Major (base commander). I was always afraid of Officers so I was not overjoyed at the prospect of visiting high ranking officials. However, they quickly got right on the subject and wanted a demo of what I had done during the mission. Well I then found out how nice these guys were and actually enjoyed the visit and the question and answer period. It was a highlight of my career at the time. I don’t remember any of the Officer’s names though. Didn’t think to write down names for later. I have so enjoyed your on aviation matters and Wings etc. I am a real aviation nut and really appreciate the things you have done. You have helped with my aviation knowledge and I thank you for caring enough to keep us informed. What I have just said carries a lot of meaning. Thanks so much for your endeavors.
    Norman A. Shafer
    115 South Exchange,
    St. John, KS 67576
    p.s. 17May44, AF 07Nov62 to 04Nov66 normal 4 year tour. Enlisted right out of high school. Aced the final exam at radar school at Keesler AFB and spent the rest of my 4 years at Klamath Air Force Station, Requa (Klamath), California (just 20 miles south of Crescent City on the coast at the mouth of the Klamath River and Pacific ocean. Darn, the duty was really good there for EMs. All of our officers were all top drawer to a person. I think my old ops officer is on the internet if you look up 777th Radar Sq. Requa. We were data linked to a blockhouse in Corvallis, OR which was sector hq. 25th Air Division was at McCord up in Seattle. I wound up working as a CATIA designer and tool designer up there at Boeing Paine Field. I never made it back to college for a degree. I became a contractor (as a designer on airframes as well as tooling) which involved some travel and moving around.

    • Norm, This is a fascinating reply and I will have to email you later on this, as I am on vacation right now, and am using a borrowedf computer. Thank you so much for writing,
      and I will get bnack to you next week!


  2. Hello Col Boyne

    Greetings from Western Australia.

    I emailed you back in 2008 about research I was doing for a book to be titled TRIMOTORS – An Illustrated History of Three-engined Aircraft. The project is ongoing !

    I enquired specifically about some photos of the LWF Owl and Emsco types, attributed to your collection, that had appeared in Airpower and Wings, and you informed that your collection had gone to the NASM.

    I have just been given some scans by Gerald Balzer, of a Martin NBS-1 that was converted at McCook Field into a trimotor, and I am having major problems getting any useful information about that aircraft. The only information I have been able to unearth is an article by Peter Bowers in Skyways (#3, July 1978) about Mc Cook Field. This gives me some minor detail about the aircraft but no history of the rationale behind the conversion, testing outcomes, and its fate.

    I note that a couple of articles were published in Airpower (July & Aug 1975) entitled The Treasures of McCook Field. The articles don’t mention this aircraft but I wondered if you could point me to some possible sources of information about that bird?

    Best regards

    Ray Watkins

    • Hello Ray,

      The Martin NBS-1″ you refer to was a one-off convesion at McCook Field of one of the original Martin GMB-M, AS 39059, McCook Field designation P 104. It has another 400 horsepower Liberty engine installed in the nose, with the cockpit in an impossible rear position, probably for weight and balance purposes.

      The great advantage of testing at McCook Field is that things could be done quickly with a minimum of paperwork. The great disadvantage was that things could also be stopped quickly, with little paperwork. Many airplanes were tested, found wanting by the test pilots after one or two flights, and then were either modified or scrapped. Sustained testing that might have resutled in an excellent aircraft was simply not done.

      I suspect that after one or two flights, the three engine version was deemed impractical or even dangerous, and agandoned. It might have been converted back to the normal twin engine configuration, although I doubt it.

      sorry not to be more hepful, but there is very little history vailable on the aircraft.

      Good luck with your project.


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