From The Air Corps To the Peace Corps
MAXWELL AFB, GUNTER ANNEX, Ala.-- Edward J. Komyati is a neatly dressed, silver-haired gentleman. A tie with a patriotic star pattern lies atop his freshly starched white shirt. Over the shirt and tie he wears a weathered brown leather flight jacket.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Komyati has worked for the U.S. government in military and civilian jobs since 1941, and intends to continue to do so after his second retirement. What one does not see from looking at Komyati are his stories. As a pilot, he has seen most of the world, known famous people, and witnessed the growth of the U.S. Army Air Corps into the U.S. Army Air Forces and eventually the U.S. Air Force.
"As a boy, I always wanted to learn how to fly," said Komyati. When he was growing up in Ohio, he attended the National Air Races in Cleveland, where he saw Amelia Earhart fly her red plywood Lockheed plane. The races are still held each summer in Reno, Nev.
"I joined the service when I became eligible for the Cadet Aviation Program in July 1941," Komyati said. "I was 20 and had never traveled outside of Ohio." This changed in January 1942. After induction at Fort Hays, in Columbus, Ohio, he took a two-day train ride to Chandler-Higley, Ariz. for basic Aviation Cadet training.
"Chandler-Higley grew into Williams Air Force Base, but in early 1942 it was just two runways in the desert," he explained. Komyati had no uniform. Instead, he was issued G.I. mechanics coveralls, which he lived in for three weeks.
"We lived in tents, learned to fire Enfield rifles, and marched the desert," said Komyati. "As a cadet, I was paid $75 a month." After three weeks of basic training Komyati headed to Cal-Areo at Oxnard, Calif., for primary training, then to Merced. At Merced, he learned to fly a basic trainer, the Vultee "Valiant," known officially as the BT-13. The same type aircraft currently stands inside the main gate at Maxwell Air Force Base - Gunter Annex. Upon graduation from pilot training from Victorville, his first assignment was with the Air Transport Command at Long Beach, Calif. Originally called the Air Corps Ferry Command, the ATC's job was to ferry planes around the United States and overseas.
While assigned to the ATC, Komyati got experience flying the C-47, P-38,B-17, B-24, and C-87. He met a lot of interesting characters ranging from Gene Autry to former Senator Barry Goldwater. Komyati also knew the "flight instructor to the stars," Joe De Bona. Komyati said De Bona taught actors Jimmy Stewart and Tyrone Power to fly.
Late in 1943, Komyati was sent to the Pacific theater to deliver planes. "Flying in the Pacific was pretty hairy," said Komyati "You had to stay south in order to be safe, so Christmas Island, Samoa, New Caledonia, Australia, and New Guinea were common places to fly into."
"After delivering planes in the Pacific, I took a C-47 to India and ended up being assigned to fly the Hump (an area encompassing China, Burma and India, known as the CBI)." "Although the CBI is one of the lesser known theaters of World War II, the losses there were as great as in Europe or the Pacific," said Komyati. Air transports of fuel and cargo were flown over the treacherous Himalayas. The troop carrier C-47s had 'kickers.' These aircrew members, lying down, kicked cargo with parachutes attached out of planes on air supply missions over Burma. Some had as little as a rope tied around their waist to prevent them from being pulled out of the aircraft.
"Weather forecasts in the CBI were unreliable in the 1940s," Komyati pointed out, "and planes had no radar." The weather was a double-edged sword because clear and cloudy weather were dangerous. "A pilot could duck into the clouds to avoid the Japanese, but those same clouds made flying more dangerous," said Komyati. One of his classmates was shot down while flying the Hump over Burma. According to the Hump Pilots Association, five men disappeared in their C-87 (a B-24 bomber converted into a cargo plane) while flying the Hump over Tibet. Years later, the same plane was found frozen in a glacier. More than 2,000 aircraft were lost in the CBI, the majority of which were transports.
After the war, Komyati went to Europe with the Air Transport Corps to support the Occupation. During his second tour in Europe, in the 1950's, he did some flying of Very Important People including German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and King Paul of Greece.
As a pilot Komyati flew aircraft like the BT-13 with it's single-bladed propellers to the jet engine F-100 "Super Sabre." "The only difference I could tell between a three-bladed and a four bladed propeller was that more blades meant more horsepower in the engine," said Komyati. Komyati said ,"the C-47 was a very forgiving aircraft to fly." It was one of the first with creature comforts built in for the crew because it was originally designed as a passenger plane for an airline. Like any airplane flying at low level you would get bumped around inside the C-47, but one of the nice features was the cowling vents on the engine allowed you to cool off the engine. This was important in case you lost an engine so that you could 'feather' (shut down one of the engines) and still fly the plane safely on the other engine.
"Before World War II you could always identify Army aircraft by the 13 red and white stripes on the tail. The Navy had different markings and when the war began the Air Corps did away with theirs," said Komyati, who also explained that in the Air Corps days the tail numbers of the aircraft identified the order that it came off the assembly line.
Komyati retired from the military after 23 years of active duty but rejoined the Air Force as a civil servant in 1966. After he hung up his military uniform, Komyati signed up to work as a civil servant for the Department of the Air Force.
"In 1971 I went to work at Headquarters Air Force Communications Service at Richards-Gebaur AFB, Mo., then in 1978 the headquarters moved to Scott AFB, Ill. As a civil servant I worked as a program manager, management analyst and a cost analyst. Until the last three or four years, AFCC was responsible for the acquisition of all the radars and other communications systems. Now, the major commands handle their own acquisitions and report them to the Air Force Communications Agency," said Komyati.
The Standard Systems Center was once a unit within AFCC. In 1992 Komyati transferred to Maxwell AFB-Gunter Annex, Ala. With a reorganization, SSC would become the Headquarters Standard Systems Group. In his SSG job as financial management cost analyst, Komyati is responsible for the review and verification of program funds to develop computer systems which support the day-to-day operations of the Air Force as well as the technology used in aircraft. As an aviation historian, Komyati writes about flying the Hump and other military aviation subjects.
Komyati once again retired: this time from the Air Force's Headquarters Standard Systems Group, July 4, 1997 with a total of 54 years military and civilian federal service; but he and his wife have applied for duty with the Peace Corps. In the interim, he plans to work with the Civil Air Patrol's foreign exchange Cadet Air Program. Of the cadets, Komyati remarked, "They are the future of our country, and a resource worth developing."
By Ingrid C. Ahlgren