Known as the “Dean of the Dustoff Pilots”, Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Novosel, at age 48, earned the United States’ highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, by rescuing 29 soldiers during the Vietnam War. Born and raised in Etna, Pennsylvania, Novosel became an aviation cadet in the Army Air Force. After earning his pilot wings and commission in 1942, he instructed in the North American AT-6 Texan at Laredo Army Air Field, Texas, while also training for a classified mission. By Dec 1944, he had logged over 800 hours in the Consolidated B-24 Liberator supporting aerial gunner training. He then went to Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and flew the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
Following crew training in New Mexico, in July 1945, Novosel left for Tinian in the Pacific and flew four combat missions with the 58th Bombardment Wing. After the end of World War II, he flew two missions, dropping food to allied prisoners of war in Japan. During the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri, Novosel flew a B-29 in a 462-ship fly over. He then took command of the 99th Bombardment Squadron (VH) and remained in the Pacific until the fall of 1947. Posted to Eglin AFB, Florida, he was a B-29 flight pilot until 1949, when he left active duty and joined the Air Force Reserve. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War but, instead of flying, was sent to Air Command and Staff School (ACSC) at Maxwell AFB.
As the war in Southeast Asia escalated, Novosel volunteered to return to active duty, but the Air Force deemed him too old. Undeterred, Lieutenant Colonel Novosel relinquished his rank and joined the Army as a chief warrant officer. He learned to fly helicopters, returned to combat, and served two tours in South Vietnam flying 2,543 missions in the Bell UH-1 Huey. As a “dustoff” pilot, he airlifted nearly 5,600 medical evacuees to safety, receiving the aforementioned Medal of Honor. Following his service in Vietnam, he served three years at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as chief test pilot for the Army’s Golden Knight parachute team, while also jumping with the team.
Later, at Fort Rucker, Alabama, Novosel lectured in the Warrant Officer Career College and then became Senior Tactical Officer in the Warrant Officer Candidate Program. In 1985, he was the last WW II pilot actively flying, accumulating 12,400 flying hours throughout his storied career, of which 2,038 were in combat. In his retirement ceremony that year, he was recognized with the rare privilege of the main street at Fort Rucker being renamed Novosel Avenue, a distinctive honor for a still-living hero. After retirement, he wrote his autobiography, Dustoff, The Memoir of an Army Aviator, and remained active in the military community as an honored guest for military lectures and ceremonies. CWO Novosel was selected as an inaugural Eagle of ACSC’s Gathering of Eagles in 1982 and subsequently honored in 1986, 1993, 1997, 2000, and 2002, respectively.