Eagle Profile

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.

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1982 Lithograph
1986 Lithograph
1993 Lithograph
1997 Lithograph
2000 Lithograph
2002 Lithograph

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On 2 Oct 1969, CWO Novosel maneuvered his helicopter into a heavily fortified enemy training area to evacuate 29 wounded Vietnamese soldiers pinned down by a large enemy force. He performed 15 extremely hazardous extractions and was wounded on the last attempt. At the age of 48, he became the oldest member of the Army to receive the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.

"Dust Off" was the universal call sign for aeromedical evacuation in Vietnam. These units, primarily flying the Army's UH-1 Iroquois "Huey " helicopter, were on-call 24 hours per day. Though unarmed and well marked with the international Red Cross insignia, the Dust Off birds constantly operated under enemy fire. Throughout the Vietnam War, these airborne ambulances moved almost 900,000 Allied and US sick and wounded. Symbolizing the ambulance helicopter role, the unit patch on Novosel's aircraft portrayed a kangaroo ferrying out the wounded in its pouch.

On 2 October 1969, Chief Warrant Officer Novosel was launched to the Mekong delta near the enemy-controlled border with Cambodia. In the air, he received word that wounded South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVN) were pinned down about 30 minutes flight time away. In the area he was met by intense fire and turned away six times before he finally reached the ARVN troops. He completed 15 extractions. On the last, just as a wounded soldier was pulled aboard, an enemy soldier unleashed his AK-47 rifle directly at Novosel. Wounded by shrapnel and plexiglass, Novosel momentarily lost control, but recovered and flew to safety. He had saved 29 soldiers!

While flying over the Mekong River delta near the Cambodian border on 2 October 1969, Chief Warrant Officer Novosel was diverted to rescue South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers pinned down by enemy fire. At the combat scene, he was met by intense fire and turned away six times before finally reaching the ARVN troops. As a wounded soldier was pulled to safety, an enemy soldier unleashed fire directly at Novosel. Wounded by shrapnel and plexiglas, he fought for control, recovered, and continued. Completing 15 extractions, he saved 29 soldiers!

The war in Southeast Asia was the first conflict in history that the helicopter played a major role. When allied forces engaged the elusive enemy, "dustoff" helicopters flew into the heart of the battle to medevac direly wounded soldiers to field hospitals. During 1969 and 1970, operations for the 82nd Medical Detachment at Binh Thuy were intense as the enemy stepped up operations in the Mekong River delta. Battle damaged and downed helicopters were common.

On 2 October 1969, Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Novosel received word of wounded South Vietnamese soldiers pinned down by a large enemy force. Flying without air cover, he encountered ground fire so intense it forced him away six times. Courageously, he completed 15 hazardous extractions. On the last, just as a wounded soldier was pulled into the aircraft, the enemy unleashed a hail of fire directly at Novosel. Wounded, he momentarily lost control of the aircraft, but recovered and flew to safety. In all, he had saved 29 men!