Ode to Col. Walter Boyne, a man who embodied the joy of Flight

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Ode to Col. Walter Boyne, a man who embodied the joy of Flight

USAF bomber pilot

Director of National Air & Space Museum

Writer, Historian

Man who got great joy from flying

Walt Boyne is dead; he was a friend of aviation and through great fortune, a friend of mine. My connection with this retired bomber pilot was the National Air & Space Museum where he first was a curator, then as acting director, and finally as director of the NASM from 1983 to 1986. During his tenure he re-energized the museum, founded the institution’s popular magazine Air & Space, transformed the neglected Silver Hill storage complex into a world-class restoration facility, and was a key advocate for the land the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center now occupies.


Walt understood the unique role of NASM; it is not just a cold collection of relics, but a temple to aviation. The consecrated building exists to introduce flight to those who have not yet “slipped the surly bonds of earth” [1] and to allow those who have flown to revel in this shrine.

Walt exuded that spirit in introducing NASM to visitors, in his more than 50 books and over 1,000 magazine articles. Reading one of the many articles about this accomplished man, a story explained from whence his inspiration came:

The classic melody “Ode to Joy” from the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony welled up in the mind of young Walter J. Boyne as he completed his first solo flight in 1952.

“You can’t imagine my elation,” Boyne remembers. “On the base to final of my first solo flight I was humming Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy.’ I couldn’t contain myself!”

That was the man I knew and now miss.

There are several excellent chronicles of Walt’s accomplishments:


Walter Boyne — bomber pilot, historian, novelist and Air and Space Museum director — dies at 90


Boyne, Walter James

Aviation Writer

Enshrined 2007 1929-2020

An Interview With Col. Walter J. Boyne, USAF (Ret.)

Boyne’s career in flight, in print, and with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has been an ode to joy


The National Aviation Hall of Fame Reflects on the Passing of Colonel Walter J. Boyne , 2007 Enshrinee



Col. Boyne flew more than 5,000 hours while in the USAF.




[1] John Gillespie Magee Jr. “High Flight”

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