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Walter Boyne was born in East Saint Louis, Illinois and grew up the son of a poor family during the time of the Great Depression. He attended Holy Angels grade school where he first discovered an interest in writing. His love of flying was encouraged by dime novels of the day such as Robert J. Hogan's G-8 and His Battle Aces that depicted "America's World War I Flying Spy" engaged in air-to-air combat. He decided at this young age that he would become a pilot for the Air Force and focused his efforts to achieve that goal. Boyne earned a number of scholarships that enabled him to attend Washington University in St. Louis.
4925th Test Group. Boyne is in the back row, fourth from the left
In May 1951, after two years at the university, Boyne entered the U.S. Air Force's Aviation Cadet program, where he learned a profound respect for the enlisted grades of the military. Boyne started flight school in November 1951 and became the first of his class to solo. On December 19, 1952 he was awarded his wings as an Air Force Pilot and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
Boyne began his writing career in 1962 while still in the Air Force. Tired of the repetitive aviation articles of the time, he chose to write about lesser-known people and airplanes starting with an article on the Curtiss P-36. Boyne's article was accepted by a magazine in Britain which paid him $29 -- a moment of special pride for the new author. The P-36 aircraft now resides in the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio. A very prolific writer, Boyne was the author of over fifty books and over one thousand magazine articles.
(1979) The Jet Age: Forty Years of Jet Aviation
(1980) Messerschmitt Me 262: Arrow to the Future
(1980) Flying, an introduction to flight, airplanes, and aviation careers
(1981) Boeing B-52: A Documentary History
(1982) The Aircraft Treasures of Silver Hill
(1983) Vertical Flight: The Age of the Helicopter
(1984) De Havilland DH-4: From Flaming Coffin to Living Legend
(1985) Phantom in Combat
(1986) The Leading Edge
(1987) Classics: U.S. Aircraft of World War II
(1987) The Smithsonian Illustrated History of Flight
(1988) The Smithsonian Book of Flight for Young People
(1988) The Power Behind The Wheel
(1991) Weapons of Desert Storm (New York Time's Best Seller List)
(1991) Gulf War
(1992) Classic Aircraft
(1992) Art in Flight: The Sculpture of John Safer
(1993) Silver Wings
(1994) Clash of Wings: World War II in the Air
(1995) Clash of Titans: World War II at Sea
(1995) Fly Past, Fly Present
(1997) Beyond the Wild Blue, A History of the USAF, 1947-1997
(1998) Beyond the Horizons:The Story of Lockheed
(1999) Brassey's Air Combat Reader (editor)
(2001) Aces in Command: Fighter Pilots as Combat Leaders
(2001) German Military Aircraft
(2001) The Best of Wings
(2001) Aviation 100, Volume I
(2001) Classic Aircraft, 2001
(2002) Aviation 100, Volume II
(2002) The Two O'Clock War
(2003) Aviation 100, Volume III
(2003) Encyclopedia of Air Warfare
(2003) The Influence of Air Power on History
(2003) Chronicle of Flight: A Year-By-Year History of Aviation
(2003) Rising Tide
(2003) Operation Iraqi Freedom, What Went Right, What Went Wrong and Why
(2003) The Alpha Bravo Delta Guide to the U.S. Air Force
(2003) The Alpha Bravo Delta Guide to the U.S. Navy
(2003) The Alpha Bravo Delta Guide to the U.S. Army
(2003) The Alpha Bravo Delta Guide to the U.S. Marines
(2003) The Yom Kippur War: And the Airlift Strike That Saved Israel
(2004) Today's Best Military Writing
(2007) Soaring to Glory: the Story of the Air Force Memorial
(2011) How the Helicopter Changed Modern Warfare
(2018) The 25 Most Influential Aircraft of All Time
(2003) Dawn Over Kitty Hawk: The Novel of the Wright Brothers
(2006) Roaring Thunder: A Novel of the Jet Age
(2006) Supersonic Thunder: A Novel of the Jet Age
(2009) Hypersonic Thunder: A Novel of the Jet Age
National Air and Space Museum career
In 1974, after retiring from the Air Force, Boyne joined the National Air and Space Museum as curator of air transport. Prior to the opening of the museum in 1976, he was assigned responsibility for introducing all aircraft into their exhibits. Boyne was also responsible for transforming the museum's dilapidated Silver Hill facility into the world's premier restoration facility. He also organized the effort to rename the facility in honor of Paul E. Garber, a curator of the National Air Museum—the predecessor to the National Air and Space Museum.
Boyne was named acting director of the museum in 1982, and director on February 10, 1983. Boyne performed a number of notable actions during his tenure as museum director including:
Arranged for the Enterprise to be flown and stored at the museum in 1985
Pioneered the museum's video disc program and patented the "Digitizer" automated storage and retrieval system
He resigned as director of the museum in 1986.
In 1998, Boyne co-founded the cable television channel, Wingspan—the Air and Space Channel, that was purchased by the Discovery Channel a year later. Boyne lived in Ashburn, Virginia. His first wife, the former Jeanne Quigley died in 2007. They have four children, Molly, Katie, Bill and Peggy, five grandchildren, J.D., Grace, Walter, Charlotte and Charles. Boyne remarried on January 10, 2008 to Terezia Takacs.
Boyne previously served as Chairman of the Board of the National Aeronautic Association, the oldest aviation organization in the United States, stepping down in 2014.
^'Department of the Interior And Related Appropriations For 1984,' Hearings Before A Subcommittee Of The Committee On Appropriations House Of Representatives, Ninety-Eight Congress First Session, Part 8, United States Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1983, Smithsonian Institution, March 16, 1983. Witnesses-Walter J. Boyne. Biography of Walter J. Boyne, pg. 13