I recently noticed something I’d never seen during all the years I’ve driven over the bridge on Old Leicester Highway, locally known as the Craggy Bridge. At the head of each end of the bridge is a dedication plaque in honor of Major General Albert Boyd, dated Aug 1968. Me being the history buff I am, I was totally clueless as to who this man was. I remember hearing nothing about this dedication. And I’m very familiar with this bridge; I drove over it every day of the school year back in the late 60’s, on the way to my high school, Clyde A. Erwin. But in this day and age of the internet, it was no problem to find out exactly who this man was.
I found many references to him and his career on the internet, though there was no mention of his early childhood in these internet posts. He was born November 22, 1906, in Rankin, Tennessee, a small town approximately 75 miles from my location here in Woodfin, a township in the suburbs of Asheville, NC. But the one thing that caught my attention was that he graduated high school in Asheville, NC, in 1924. As to how, or why, he and his family got here, I haven’t a clue and in research I’ve yet to find anything. And as to which high school he graduated from, I have no idea. This was in an era before the local high schools had consolidated.
Seeing that the Craggy Bridge is in the township of Woodfin, I couldn’t help but think that he could have graduated from Woodfin High School, which was dedicated in 1924, the year he graduated. Why else would the bridge been dedicated to him unless he had links to the town, having graduated from the high school which would signify the he actually lived here? That is the same school my mother graduated from in 1950. Eventually, Woodfin School became a local elementary school after the building of Clyde A. Erwin High School in 1955 and I went to elementary school at Woodfin before moving on to Erwin.
The Craggy Bridge standing over the French Broad River on its downstream run to Tennessee.
The route I traveled so many times over the years.
But after graduating high school, Albert Boyd went on to attend Biltmore Junior College, which is now the University at Asheville, not two miles from my home. After becoming an aviation cadet in October 1927, he completed his flight training and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Reserve on Feb. 28, 1929. He then received his regular commission as a second lieutenant of Air Corps on May 2, 1929. Then began his storied career in the Army Air Corp, later to become the United States Air Force. He held many posts during his 30-year career, starting out as a flight instructor and later moving on to many maintenance positions.
But in July he was appointed deputy commander of the Eighth Air Force Service Command. Then he was named acting chief of the Flight Test Division there in October 1945, followed by becoming chief of the division the following January, assuming additional duty as an experimental test pilot. From 1947 to 1957, Boyd flew and approved every aircraft type acquired by the USAF. When he retired, he was praised as the “Father of Modern Flight Testing,” “World’s Number One Test Pilot,” “Dean of American Test Pilots” and “Father of USAF Test Pilots,” among whom included Chuck Yeager, the man he chose to be the test pilot of the Bell X-1, which Yeager used to become the first pilot confirmed to have exceeded the speed of sound in October 1947.
Yeager said about Boyd, in his autobiography, that Boyd was a strict disciplinarian who would enforce (often with a very loud voice) USAF uniform regulations. Yeager remarked that “You might be his star pilot, but Lord help you if you came before him in his office with an un-shined belt buckle”. But he was highly respected by his subordinates. Boyd himself piloted a plane at 623.73 mph in June 1947 which was then confirmed as the official air speed record before being eclipsed by Yeager’s Mach 1.07, 814.4915 mph, four months later.
The original facade of the old Woodfin High School, saved on a wall of Woodfin Elementary.
I find it interesting to think I’d never heard of this man after all my years of historical research and reading. I did find that he died in 1976, some 8-years after the dedication of the bridge to him. I do wonder if he was there at the dedication? And I do wonder if he possibly was a good ol’ Woodfin boy, way back in the day before I was born and became a resident here. But from here on out, I will think of General Boyd every time I drive across the bridge, which is often since my son goes to Erwin Middle School, which is the school that was my high school, such as I went to elementary school in the same building my mother graduated high school from. And so it is that history does repeat itself in the strangest of ways.