After graduating in 1936 from Naval Aviation in Pensacola as an ensign, Capt. Al Boyd’s first assignment aboard the Battleship Tennessee was as a catapult pilot flying a pontoon spotter plane. Twenty –five years later, as a captain commanding a Navy base out west, he flew an F-4 “Phantom II” jet fighter-bomber faster than Mach-2 –1,700 miles per hour.
On Friday the ancient aviator will celebrate another milestone. He will be 100 years old. A birthday party is planned for him at Sterling House, an assisted living facility, in Punta Gorda where he and his wife, Betty, live.
“When you received your wings and were sent to sea there were two possibilities – a battleship or a carrier,” he recalled.
Since the Navy had only one carrier, the USS Langley, the chance of flying from the Langley’s 542-foot-long deck was slim. In Boyd’s case he was stationed aboard the Tennessee. He was catapulted in a “Kingfisher,” two-seat spotter plane, into the air from the stern of the battleship. His primary job was to report how the ship’s main guns were bearing on the enemy. In addition, these planes were used to search for downed pilots.
Two years later Boyd was transferred to the USS Ranger (CV-4).
“It was the first ship built originally as an aircraft carrier,” he said.
At 769 feet in length, with a speed of 29 knots and a crew of 1,788 sailors the USS Ranger was a far cry from the Langley. The first carrier was more than 200 feet shorter in length with a top speed of 15 knots and a crew of 631 officers and men.
“When the war broke out I was sent to the Bahamas to work with the British on submarine patrol,” he said. “I was flying a Grumman F-4-F ‘Wildcat’ fighter on patrol.”
A while later Boyd began training pilots to fly Navy planes at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. Much of his time during the Second World War was spent training potential pilots for battle.
By war’s end he was serving aboard the carrier USS Ranger in the Pacific. The carrier was primarily a training ship for newly commissioned carrier pilots. It operated in off the coast of California late in the war.
With the coming of the Korean War Cmdr. Boyd was operations officer of an F-4-F fighter squadron aboard a carrier sailing off North Korea. He can’t remember the name of the ship.
Before the war was over, he was transferred to the Naval War College in Newport, RI. A couple of years later Boyd served on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff in Tokyo. Then he spent a couple of years in the Pentagon working for the Chief of Naval Operations.
After that he became commander of the Naval Weapons Facility at Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, N.M. It was there he flew the “Phantom II” at twice the speed of sound.
“When you reach the speed of sound there’s a ripple or vibration when your plane reaches that mark. It’s smooth flying from there to Mach-2 and beyond,” he said.
A small picture on his bedroom wall shows a pilot sitting in a jet on the tarmac with his canopy open. It reads: “Fast Man: Capt. A.L. Boyd, commanding officer of Naval Weapons Facility, just after a Mach-2 plus flight in a MacDonald ‘Phantom II.’”
Another plaque on his wall proclaims: “Know yea present on 29 July 1960 Capt. A.L. Boyd was the 7th pilot to fly the ‘Phantom II’.”
There is also a large picture of an F-6-F “Hellcat”on the deck of an unnamed carrier, presumably during World War II. On the side of the plane in yellow is stenciled: “Cmdr. A. L. Boyd.”
A commanding picture atop the montage on the wall shows him in a dress uniform with four gold bars on his shoulders. It’s his official retirement picture taken in 1965 when he retired. At the time he was the commander of Lake Mead Naval Base near Nellis Air Force Bases not far from Las Vegas, N.V.
After retiring from the service the Boyds spent five years living in the Norfolk, Va. area before moving to Punta Gorda Isles in 1972. He and Betty have been married 67 years.
Their big day Friday is when Al reaches the century mark.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, December 10, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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