RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The first class to complete undergraduate pilot training at Randolph Air Force Base reunited here last week to tour the base, learn about current operations and see how their alma mater has changed in 40 years.
Every decade, a handful of UPT Class 68-F members from all over the country gather to learn about today's Air Force and share memories of a time when the Vietnam War prompted a demand for thousands of pilots a year.
"It was quite an honor to be one of the first to earn my wings at Randolph," said retired Maj. Bob Pucik, a C-130 pilot who retired from Little Rock AFB in Jacksonville, Ark. "I remember having so much fun with these guys and I'm really proud to be back here."
Although training began with 30 hours in a T-41 Mescalero at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas, much of their flight training was performed here.
Undergraduates spent about 90 hours in a T-37 Tweet and 120 hours in a T-38 Talon.
While roaming the halls of the 559th and 560th Flying Training Squadrons, the former students got an opportunity to learn about today's mission and explore the heritage.
Seeing the tribute to the T-37 in the 559th FTS's new "Tweet Hall" was a real treat, Mr. Pucik said.
"Things have changed so much since the 1960s and even since I was here 20 years ago," he said, "but there are several T-38s out on the flightline still in use from our training days."
But the changes, he said, are many.
"I couldn't believe all the changes to our aircraft," he laughed. "When we were flying the T-38, it was about as basic as you could get. Now there are tons of upgrades."
"All the base housing that lined the entryway to the base has been torn down," he said. "When we were in training, we lived in wooden (officer's quarters). The trees were even much smaller; but they've all matured now."
There are some things, however, that haven't changed that much.
"I can still see the passion for flying that all the pilots and students have," said Mr. Pucik. "The Taj Mahal, chapel and the officer's club still look the same.
"I especially remember the Auger Inn," he said with a grin. "This is where I met my wife, Judy. Captain Sanders and his wife set us up."
"My wife and his wife were friends," said Russ Sanders, now a retired colonel and former UPT instructor who still lives in the San Antonio area. "I'll never forget when they met; you could tell it was something special."
Mr. Pucik agreed.
"It seems there's something rock-solid about this base," Mr. Pucik said. "It's the same old Randolph, just updated."