Flying Midshipmen

Flying Midshipmen Logo - Transparent

Almost a year to the day after V-J Day, the Navy faced a shortage of Naval Aviators as the thousands of men who answered the call during World War II returned to civilian life. The Naval Aviation College Program sought to fill that void, offering young men payment for four years of college and flight training in exchange for a period of active service, during which time they initially held the rank of Aviation Midshipman before receiving a commission as Ensign, USN. The program lasted four years until phased out for purely economic reasons. Those who manned the cockpits as “Flying Midshipmen” (a colloquialism for the more proper term, Aviation Midshipmen), included not only astronaut Neil Armstrong, but also Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first African-American Naval Aviator. All of these aviators distinguished themselves in the Korean War, the early years of the Cold War and beyond.

 

Who Were the Flying Midshipmen?

These young men were the first post war generation of Naval Aviators, who earned their Navy wings in the late 1940s following the end of World War II hostilities. They were high school kids during the time when the final air battles were being fought in the Pacific leading to the surrender of Japan.

World War II was ending, and the U.S. Navy was looking toward a substantial depletion of Naval Aviator officer ranks as demobilization swelled to a flood tide. A post war Naval Aviation College Program (NACP) was inaugurated to recruit officer candidates into the Navy by offering them two years of college followed by naval flight training. During the period 1946 through 1950, just under 3,000 individuals, ages 17 to 24, were appointed Aviation Midshipmen, USN, while undergoing naval flight training. The training was arduous, and it is estimated that only 2,100 (70%) successfully completed and were awarded their wings and designation as Naval Aviators. Serving with the same rank and pay grade as Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, their commissioning as a Naval Officer would not occur for two years following their date of appointment as a Midshipman and only after successful completion of flight training, which took around 15 to 18 months.

Before receiving their commissions as ensigns, the newly winged First Class Midshipmen had to serve out the balance of their two-year Midshipman contract while assigned to their first fleet aviation squadron. They were paid $78.00 per month plus 50% flight pay; “bargain basement” aviators in comparison with their commissioned counterparts. Wearing Navy wings of gold on the left breast, a single narrow half-stripe on the cuff of their Navy uniforms, and a single anchor on their hatband, they were often looked upon with suspicion when reporting for squadron duty. Commanding Officers were uncomfortable entrusting high performance, operational aircraft to these newly minted aviators. In June 1950 when the Korean War broke out there was suddenly a great demand for aviators. Midshipmen, and those newly commissioned as Ensigns, in maritime and carrier aviation squadrons soon found themselves thrust into combat. A number of these were the first Midshipmen to fight and die in combat since the U.S.–Mexican War of 1846.

1949 - AvMidn 1/c - San Diego, CA

A typical First Class Aviation Midshipman with wings.

 

What is the Legacy of the Flying Midshipmen?

To their everlasting credit, graduates of the NACP (commonly referred to as the Holloway Plan after it’s principle author, Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr.) went on to participate in every major aviation event from the Berlin Airlift to the conflict in Vietnam. To attest to the uniqueness and quality of the individuals who went through flight training as Aviation Midshipmen, it is easy to point to a number of firsts. The program produced the first African-American and first Nisei Naval Aviators. Among the many who went on to long and distinguished careers in the Navy must be included the eighteen who attained flag rank, the aircraft carrier commanders, the MIG killers, the Navy Cross awardees, the test pilots, the Blue Angels, and those who fought, died, or were held as POWs in the Vietnam War.

Holloway

Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., USN, chief architect of the Naval Aviation College Program (NACP).

The list of distinguished former Aviation Midshipmen includes Astronauts Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the Moon, and James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame. To these must be added the names of the many who went on to careers outside of the service as congressional staff members, diplomats, airline and corporate, pilots, civilian test pilots, doctors, dentists, lawyers, clerics, architects, engineers, businessmen, and explorers, to name but a few.

A Few Esteemed Colleagues

armstrong
Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong
The first man to set foot on the Moon.

brown
Ensign Jesse L. Brown
First African-American Naval Aviator. Killed in action in Korea, December 1950.

jenkins
Captain Harry T. Jenkins
Squadron commander held prisoner of war in Vietnam for 7 years and 3 months.

kinnear
Admiral G.E.R. “Gus” Kinnear
Four-star admiral. Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic Fleet.

speer
Rear Admiral Paul H. Speer
Shot down a MiG-17 over North Vietnam. Awarded the Navy Cross.

tissot
Rear Admiral E. Eugene “Gene” Tissot
Commanded the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

 

Flying Midshipmen Association

FMA Patch - Transparent

Believing a correction was justified to the inequity of not having active duty midshipmen time count for pay and retirement purposes, a few former Aviation Midshipmen formed the Flying Midshipmen Association in the Summer of 1969. They hired lawyers, drafted legislation, and lobbied Congress. The inequity was ultimately corrected when Public Law 93-545 was enacted in December 1974. However, the provision was not grandfathered and no retroactive pay or retirement benefit was allowed.

Following legislative success, the Flying Midshipmen Association grew over the years to over 1,500 members and became essentially a fraternal organization with annual reunions and biannual newsletter, The Aviation Midshipmen LOG. A long-standing purpose of the Flying Midshipmen Association remains to this day: “To preserve the history and legacy of Aviation Midshipmen, promote Naval Aviation and the United States Navy, and support the education of America’s teenagers in aviation, encouraging them to seek careers in aviation.”

In 2010, the Flying Midshipmen Association Board of Directors addressed an agonizing decision. Due to the age and infirmity of most of its members, the Board elected to retire the association in an orderly fashion while it remained achievable. On May 8, 2011, a date coincident with the 100th anniversary of the birth date of Naval Aviation, the Flying Midshipmen Association was officially “decommissioned” in a ceremony held in the atrium of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.

Medallion - Transparent - Side 1Medallions - Transparent - Side 2

Images of both sides of the commemorative medallion provided each attendee at the Flying Midshipmen Association “decommissioning” ceremony on May 8th, 2011, at the National Naval Aviation Museum.

The following statement from Admiral James L. Holloway, III, was presented at the decommissioning ceremony of the Flying Midshipmen Association. In the year 1946, Admiral Holloway’s father, Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr. (then Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel), authored the “Holloway Plan,” establishing the Naval Aviation Midshipman College/Flight Training Program.

May 8, 2011

On more than one occasion, my late father . . . confided in me that in his entire naval career . . . the single accomplishment that gave him the greatest satisfaction was the creation of the Aviation Midshipman Program. It was during his unprecedented six year tour . . . as Chief of Naval Personnel that he witnessed the fruition of the “Holloway Plan” when his Holloway midshipmen went to the fleet en masse, to flesh out the “Renaissance of Naval Aviation” that in 1953 enabled the U. S. Forces in Korea to maintain air superiority against the North Koreans and armies of the People’s Republic of China . . . In the Korean War. . . . It was “Holloway’s Heroes” – as they were referred to by the Admiral – who largely manned the Navy’s first squadrons of jets and ADs to fill the decks of the carriers deployed to the brutal war in Korea. . . . My father lived to see the success of his Aviation Midshipmen as they filled a critical role in Naval Aviation which would insure that our Navy would maintain the world’s finest in the post-Cold War balance of power.

For this, I too am personally grateful and I add my appreciation as former Chief of Naval Operations to you for your invaluable contribution individually and as a group to America’s world stature.

– Admiral James L. Holloway, III, USN (Ret.)

 

Photo Gallery

 

Additional Information

Full History: The Aviation Midshipmen Story

– compiled and edited by Captain Roy Mantz, USN (Ret.) (7-48)

The year was 1946, World War II had ended, and demobilization was in full sway. The Navy was standing down its veteran officers and aviators. Concerned with the potential shortfall, the Secretary of the Navy tasked Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., to chair an influential, ten-member board, charged with revitalizing acquisition, education, and retention of officers in the postwar United States Navy.

Realizing that the Naval Academy could not provide the numbers of officers required, the board devised a trailblazing plan to use the nation’s colleges to train regular naval officers to meet the Navy’s future needs. The plan, soon commonly known as the “Holloway Plan,” was unanimously approved by Congress and signed into law in August 1946. The plan devised two main tracks: the standard four-year course for line officers and the more familiar seven-year Naval Aviation College Program (NACP) for Naval Aviators.

NACP was devised to entice new enlistees into the Navy by offering two years of college followed by naval flight training. If successful in training, the newly acquired officer candidates would be assured their coveted Navy wings of gold, a commission in the U. S. Navy, a promise of two additional years in which to complete their college education, and the grand opportunity to enjoy a 20 to 30 year career as an officer in the regular Navy.

From inception, NACP was a success in attaining its goal. Those already in the training pipeline in 1946 were afforded the opportunity to transfer to the Holloway Plan with the enticement of becoming regular Navy. Enrollees in the Navy V-5 college program were converted to the new program while the majority of new trainees were enlisted right out of high school. During the period 1946 through 1950, just under 3,000 individuals, ages 17 to 24, were appointed Aviation Midshipmen, USN, for two years while undergoing naval flight training. The training was arduous and it is estimated that only 2,100 (70%) successfully completed and were awarded their wings and designation as Naval Aviators. Graduates of NACP went on to participate in every major aviation event from the Berlin Airlift to the conflict in Vietnam. In fact, NACP was so successful that one reason for early termination of the program was the inability of the Navy to honor promises made as inducements to join.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the program was the two years that these future aviators served as Aviation Midshipmen. Serving with the same rank and pay grade as Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, commissioning as an officer in the Navy would not occur for two years and only after successful completion of flight training. Early converts to the program experienced slight variations in time spent as an Aviation Midshipmen. Nevertheless, completion of training and designation as a Naval Aviator took between 15 to 18 months for most. Thus, newly winged First Class Midshipmen were serving the balance of their appointment while assigned to their first fleet aviation squadron. And this is where they first experienced identity problems and administrative inequities like few others.

Aviation Midshipmen were paid $78.00 per month plus 50% flight pay; “bargain basement” aviators in comparison with their commissioned counterparts. The pay scale was barely enough to subsist, let alone buy essentials like uniforms. Midshipmen were not allowed to marry, but few could afford it anyway. Midshipmen were often looked upon with suspicion upon reporting for squadron duty. Commanding Officers were uncomfortable entrusting high performance, operational aircraft to these novice aviators. Some Midshipmen reported that Operations Duty Officers refused to sign flight clearances believing them not qualified. Occasionally, Midshipmen even suffered the indignity of being accused by the unknowing of impersonating officers. But perhaps the most egregious inequity was that the two years as Midshipmen on active duty in a flying capacity was not allowed in computing time in service for pay, longevity, and retirement purposes.

The outlook changed somewhat in June 1950 when the Korean War broke out. Suddenly there was a great demand for aviators. Midshipmen, and those newly commissioned as Ensigns, in maritime and carrier aviation squadrons soon found themselves thrust into combat. A number of these were the first Midshipmen to fight and die in combat since the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846.

Believing a correction was justified to the inequity of not having active duty midshipmen time count for pay and retirement purposes, a few former Aviation Midshipmen formed the Flying Midshipmen Association in 1969. They hired lawyers, drafted legislation, and lobbied Congress. The inequity was ultimately corrected when Public Law 93-545 was enacted in December 1974. However the provision was not grandfathered and no retroactive pay was allowed. The law did provide for Reserve retirement credit and longevity pay for those still on active duty at the time. Most former Midshipmen were retired by then and the few remaining had acquired over 26 years of service. Thus few benefited from the change in the law.

Following legislative success, the Flying Midshipmen Association grew over the years to over 1,500 members and became essentially a fraternal organization with annual reunions and biannual newsletter, The Aviation Midshipmen LOG. Its purpose to this day is to preserve the history and legacy of Aviation Midshipmen, promote Naval Aviation and the United States Navy, and support the education of America’s teenagers in aviation, encouraging them to seek careers in aviation.

To attest to the uniqueness and quality of the individuals who went through flight training as Aviation Midshipmen, it is easy to point to a number of firsts. The program produced the first African-American and first Nisei Naval Aviators. Among the many who went on to long and distinguished careers in the Navy must be included the eighteen who attained flag rank, the aircraft carrier commanders, the MiG killers, the Navy Cross awardees, the test pilots, the Blue Angels, and those who fought, died, or were held as POWs in the Vietnam War.

The list of distinguished former Aviation Midshipmen includes Astronauts Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the moon, and James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame. To these must be added the names of the many who went on to distinguished careers outside of the service as congressional staff members, diplomats, airline and corporate pilots, doctors, dentists, lawyers, clerics, architects, businessmen, and explorers, to name but a few.

For a number of years it was clear that something had to be done to perpetuate the name and principal purpose of this unique and distinguished group. In 2006 the solution was found in the establishment of a partnership with the USS Midway Museum for what is now known as the Flying Midshipmen Youth Aviation Training Program.

The program is now in place aboard Midway University to annually train young aviation enthusiasts in the fundamentals of aviation that will permit them to pass the FAA Private Pilot knowledge test. The program is supported through contributions to the Flying Midshipmen Endowment Fund, administered by the San Diego Foundation, and matched by Midway with funds raised in support of their educational programs. The association now has assurance that the Aviation Midshipmen legacy will be preserved in perpetuity.

As the year 2010 wound down, the number remaining in the organization dwindled to less than 650. Aware of the loss in membership numbers due to advanced age and health concerns, the Flying Midshipmen Association Board of Directors addressed an agonizing decision. The Board elected to retire the association in an orderly fashion while it remained achievable. On May 8, 2011, a date coincident with the 100th anniversary of the birth date of Naval Aviation, the Flying Midshipmen Association was officially “decommissioned” in a ceremony held in the atrium of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.

Videos

  • The 2009 Annual Reunion in Pensacola, Florida, including an appearance by Neil Armstrong.

  • “A Carrier Pilot in the ‘Forgotten War’” by Richard F. Kaufman, Ph.D. (17-48), Part 1.

  • “A Carrier Pilot in the ‘Forgotten War’” by Richard F. Kaufman, Ph.D. (17-48), Part 2.

  • The Flying Midshipmen Youth Aviation Training Program aboard the USS Midway Museum.

Once a Jock . . . Always a Jock!!

Once a Jock . . . Always a Jock!! contains “three hundred stories written by the first postwar generation of Naval Aviators who began their training in late 1945 as teenagers fresh out of high school.” Compiled and edited by Captain Roy T. Mantz, USN (Ret.), and Earl Rogers, Once a Jock . . . Always a Jock!! is available on Amazon (* Note: the National Naval Aviation Museum and Naval Aviation Museum Foundation do not maintain third-party websites, and a link to a third-party website is not intended to be an endorsement of the website or its content).

ONCE-A-JOCK-Book-Cover

A Special Message from President George H.W. Bush

* A message from President George H.W. Bush to the Flying Midshipmen Association, March 12, 2001

I am happy to have the opportunity to pay my respects to all who will gather in St. Augustine, Florida, later this week for a reunion of the Flying Midshipmen Association.

As veterans of the United States Armed Forces, you are heroes in the truest sense of the word, and your courage and sacrifices reflect the great spirit of which General MacArthur spoke at West Point: that of duty, honor, and country. These are words that mean something dear and special to me. They have guided my life as they have guided yours, I look back on my days in uniform as among the very greatest in my life, as I am sure you do. I was lucky to have served, and you must feel the same way.

As a former fellow Navy man myself, and as a former Commander-in-Chief, I salute each of you for taking up the torch of freedom and answering our country’s call to duty. I also join you in remembering your fellow Naval aviators who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. All Americans owe them a lasting debt of gratitude.

Have a wonderful and memorable gathering.

– George H. W. Bush

Resources and References

Education

National Flight Academy Flight Adventure Deck FAD Summer Camp Field Trips Distance Learning History Up Close Emil Buehler Library Online Exhibits & Collections Virtual Tour
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