We’ve all heard Brian’s story about the speed check - but what about Walter?
Brian’s incredible story (we have all read) revolves around his struggle not to cue the mic. He had to learn to respect his RSO, as it was the RSO’s duty to manage all communications while in the air.
Without Walter, the Ultimate Ground Speed Check story would have never been told.
Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: “Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?” There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request. “Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground.”
If you asked Walter about that day, he would probably thank Brian for driving him to work. Because that’s what Navigators/RSOs/WSOs do. They’re far too busy doing important stuff to worry about the small things. Like driving.
Walter L. Watson, Jr., Colonel, USAF (Retired), was born in Columbia, South Carolina. He is the oldest of four children of the late Walter L. Watson, Sr. and Mildred Platt Watson. He attended public schools in Richland School District One and graduated from C. A. Johnson High School and Howard University in Washington, DC. At Howard, he earned a Mechanical Engineering degree and commission as an Air Force Officer via the ROTC program. Colonel Watson is the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor (SASI) of the C. A. Johnson Preparatory ROTC unit (SC-065).
He entered the Air Force as an avionics maintenance officer. However, in 1973, he was selected for aviation training. This began a journey on a very diverse and distinguished flying career in the Air Force. He became a flight instructor, flight examiner, and flight commander in tactical fighter and strategic reconnaissance squadrons that flew F-4C/D/E, F-111D, and SR-71 aircraft. Colonel Watson’s distinctive and unique aviation accomplishment is that he was the first and only African American to qualify as a crew member in the SR-71, a super secret aircraft that set altitude and speed records that still stand today. The SR-71 routinely cruised at altitudes in excess of 80,000 feet at speeds over Mach 3 (2,100 mph).
After his flying career, he continued to impact the Air Force in officer production and training. As Commander and Professor of Aerospace Studies at North Carolina A&T State University, his leadership helped his unit to achieve the following production milestones: 1) 20% of all African American Second Lieutenant pilots, 2) 50% of all African American Second Lieutenant navigators, and 3) 25% of African American female commissionees in 1993.
These accomplishments led to assignments to a number of leadership positions at HQ Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFROTC at Maxwell AFB, AL). As the Chief of the AFROTC Scholarship branch, he supervised all scholarships for over 5,000 students across the nation with a budget exceeding $22 million annually.
While at Maxwell AFB, Colonel Watson was a key decision-maker for Air Force relations with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCO). He created scholarships aimed specially for HBCUs Science Instuctor (SASI). In 1999 Colonel Watson developed a student award program for the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. The Tuskegee Airmen Inc award recognizes superior student performance for AFJROTC cadets and impacts 744 AFJROTC unitsand 104,000 students aroung the globe. In 1998 Colonel Watson was selected Teacher of the Year for C. A. Johnson Preparatory Academy. Additionally he was twice designated by Headquarters Air Force JROTC as an Outstanding Instructor (1998-1999 and 2001-2002). The Columbia Housing Authority selected him for the Wall of Fame induction in April of 2003 because of his distinguished military service and sustained contributions to his community. In August 2003, the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. awarded him their highest award, the Noel F. Parrish Award. This award recognizes outstanding endeavors to enhance access to knowledge, skills, and opportunities.
In addition to his Howard University engineering degree, Colonel Watson holds a Masters degree from Chapman College of Orange, CA, in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management. He is married to Joice P. Middleton Watson. They have a daughter, Major (Select) Alexandria R. Watson, son, Walter III, and a grandson, Isaiah S. Watson.
Colonel Watson has received numerous awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Humanitarian Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, and the Legion of Merit Medal.