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Every Veteran Pilot Should Get a Ride in a Stearman Now and Then

Bill McCowen Flew 697 Missions Over Two Loud Wars and One Cold One

Screen shot from amazing video by Crispy Warriors

Lieutenant Colonel William “Bill” McCowen served his country as a pilot in the United States Air Force (USAF) for close to two decades, amassing a staggering total of 697 combat missions between service in Korea and Vietnam. Recently a number of WWII veterans gathered at the Pensacola Aviation Center. The vets enjoyed flights in Boeing Stearman open-cockpit biplane trainer aircraft and, as pilots the world over invariably do when they gather, rehash their experiences and tell some lies. The event was put on by a group of volunteers, flight line personnel, and pilots and coordinated by Roy Kinsey and his family. One of the veterans who took flight that day was Bill McCowen. The video (uploaded by Crispy Warriors) features McCowen and many more of the veterans in attendance at the event.

McCowen’s story is compelling. He survived a 1952 B-29 mishap in Okinawa that saw him thrown through the plexiglass nose panels of the bomber and coming to rest more than 200 feet from the wrecked Superfortress…but with only relatively minor injuries!  When McCowen was flying missions during the Vietnam War he refused treatment for his toenails in order to remain able to fly. Had he chosen treatment he would have been grounded. He flew Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress bombers for Strategic Air Command (SAC). His Chrome Dome B-52 crew was designated SAC crew of the month for December 1963 and was tasked with attacking Moscow had the Cold War suddenly heated up. Bill later commanded the 4408th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida. He even got some stick time in Fairchild C-123 Provider airlifters. But when he was approached during 1969 about a potential assignment that might or might not have meant additional combat in Africa, he decided to retire from the Air Force.

Official US Air Force Photograph

McCowen retired to Bluewater Bay near Destin on the Florida panhandle.  He, his three sons, and the rest of his family built over 500 homes around Destin and Fort Walton Beach and owned several businesses in the area. Bill has been active in charity work, bible study, and prison outreach programs. Married to his wife Beverly for more than 64 years, Bill even started up an international electronics company and manufacturing group. He flew the Commemorative Air Force B-29 Fifi in 1998. Once again demonstrating he just keeps going, today he’s even a part of a consortium looking at alternative energy sources. Enjoy Bill’s flight and the interview with him. Thanks to Bill’s family and his website for the biographical information.

BONUS VIDEO: An interview with Air Force Ironman Bill McCowen courtesy of Crispy Warriors.

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.