Enlisted Aircrew of the Oregon Air Guard: Strangers to the ground

Oregon Air Guardsmen stand by the Oregon Air National Guard Convair C-131 transport in the 1970's.  Left to right are Major Bill Beveridge Co-Pilot, Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Grady, Pilot, and Senior Master Sergeant Ken Powers, Flight Engineer. (Photography courtesy of Gene Thomas)

Oregon Air Guardsmen stand by the Oregon Air National Guard Convair C-131 transport in the 1970's. Left to right are Major Bill Beveridge Co-Pilot, Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Grady, Pilot, and Senior Master Sergeant Ken Powers, Flight Engineer. (Photography courtesy of Gene Thomas)

Enlisted Aircrew Badges; rare, but envied and an honor to wear. (photograph courtesy of Gene Thomas, 142nd Fighter Wing History Office)

Enlisted Aircrew Badges; rare, but envied and an honor to wear. (photograph courtesy of Gene Thomas, 142nd Fighter Wing History Office)

PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ore. -- When it was established in 1947, the U.S. Air Force established the enlisted aircrew badge (wings) and at the same time the Oregon Air National Guard (OreANG) assigned their first group of enlisted aircrew (1946-1951). All had earned the aircrew badge during World War II.

The second and last group of Oregon Air National Guard enlisted aircrew were post-Korean War airmen (1952-1988) who all earned badges while on flying status as members in Oregon's aircraft maintenance squadron. Aircraft flown by this group were: C-47, C-54, C-131, U-3, C-45, B-26, B-25 and T-6.

There were three badges issued to enlisted aircrews, which included the basic badge, senior badge and the master badge. Four Airmen earned the master badge. Those Airmen were Chief Master Sgt. Labelle, Senior Master Sgt. Powers, Senior Master Sgt. Dahm, and Master Sgt. McKinnon. Requirements were time in service and number of flying hours, plus staying current in the aircraft.

The enlisted aircrews were also called "flight engineers" and were part of the flight deck with a position near the pilots. They were very knowledgeable on all the aircraft and engine systems including procedures for emergency situations.

Senior Master Sgt. Ken Powers acquired 9,533 flying hours from 1951 through 1988 and he lead the force of the enlisted aircrews for flying hours accrued. Also assigned as enlisted aircrew were Chief Master Sgt. Armond LaBelle with 2,200 hours, Senior Master Sgt. Randy Evens with 2,000 hours, Senior Master Sgt. Ray Dahm with 2,500, Master Sgt. David McKinnon with 3500 hours, Tech. Sgt. Dave Morton 309 hours and Master Sgt. Dennis Johnson who had many hours but his hours could not be found at the time of this writing.

The requirement for enlisted aircrew for the Oregon Air National Guard started in 1946 and continued until 1988, when the C-131 departed for retirement. Later, the Oregon Air National Guard received another aircraft which required a flight engineer, the Lockheed C-130A Hercules.

The enlisted aircrew flew many mercy missions; some of the support aircraft were equipped with 60 cycle commercial power which could operate iron lung tank respirator for polio patients and other medical equipment at a time when most local commercial aircraft did not have that feature. Their support missions also included transportation of the Governor of Oregon, state representatives and senators, the adjutant general, other general officers and dignitaries.

The support aircraft mission assigned to the Oregon Air National Guard was a very successful program for every year these aircraft were assigned due to the expertise of the enlisted aircrew. Their extra efforts while flying over 20,000 flying hours made the program a constant compliment to the state of Oregon, the Oregon Military Department and the National Guard Bureau. Only one support aircraft was lost in more than 20,000 flying hours by the Oregon Air National Guard, and that was due to poor weather.