Lifelong pilot promoted to brigadier general

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Tue., Jul. 12, 2011
Edward 'Jay' Waitte wears his Air Force Reserve uniform with pride. In the background is the Connecticut militia flag. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
Edward 'Jay' Waitte wears his Air Force Reserve uniform with pride. In the background is the Connecticut militia flag. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

Edward “Jay” Waitte of Griswold has been flying for more than four decades, and enjoying every minute of it. So his recent promotion to the rank of brigadier general, a year after his retirement from the Connecticut Air National Guard, is like the icing on the cake.

It’s a long way from the moment he first stepped into the cockpit of a plane at the Air Force Academy and had to re-orient himself to the controls. They were designed for right-handed flyers, and Waitte’s a southpaw.

“Even though we’d done a lot of other training to prepare for it,” Waitte said, he felt “pretty apprehensive.” Luckily for him, flying “just came naturally.”

That was around 1970. Since then Waitte, who owns Waitte’s Insurance Agency in Norwich, has logged more than 5,000 hours of flying time, a milestone few fighter pilots achieve.

“It’s not for everybody,” he said of flying fighter planes. “For every 100 people who try to become fighter pilots, only one makes it to the end [of training].”

Waitte grew up surrounded by military veterans. His father and two uncles served in World War II; one uncle survived the Bataan Death March. Between the family stories and plenty of war movies, he aspired to the military life from a young age. The film “Dawn Patrol” was a particular favorite, Waitte said; he was impressed at how the fighter pilots “watched each other’s back.”

Waitte graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1972. On that one eventful day, he received his commission at 6 a.m., graduated at 11 a.m. and was married to his wife, Katie, at 7 that evening. The couple recently marked their 39th wedding anniversary.

The Academy’s Class of ’72 was the first class of that era not to be sent directly to Southeast Asia, where the Vietnam War was beginning to wind down. Instead, he went to F-4 school, learning to fly “the hottest plane at that time.”

“The Cold War was still going on hot and heavy with the Warsaw Pact and everything,” he said. Waitte was stationed first in England, but his assignments later took him to Germany, Iran, Turkey, Panama and Bosnia. “I’ve been deployed all over,” he said.

In 1979, Waitte transferred from active duty in the Air Force to the Connecticut Air National Guard, stationed at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. The transfer allowed him to maintain his passion for flying while staying close to family and to the family’s insurance business, which his father founded in the 1940s. “I could fly a mission in the morning and come back to the office in the afternoon,” he said.

Not that he wasn’t called to active service since then. His tenure with the Guard included two tours in Bosnia during the height of ethnic violence in the 1990s, enforcing NATO rules of engagement on the ground, and two tours flying out of Kuwait into Iran, enforcing the southern no-fly zone.

He was in the air on Sept. 11, 2001, and recalls being radioed that the nation was under attack. “We landed by the time the second [World Trade Center] tower was hit,” he said.

But not all his missions were into harm’s way. Waitte did many “fly-bys” at Memorial Day or other patriotic parades and ceremonies, flying small aircraft low in salute to service members.

Waitte retired from the Guard as a full colonel in 2002 and went into the inactive ready reserve, which meant that he still could be called back, if necessary. He served as A-10 squadron commander and director of repair operations for the statewide Guard. When he reached age 60 – the reserve’s official retirement age – last August, he retired from the reserve.

The call about his promotion “came out of the blue,” Waitte said. He was called up to Bradley Airport, where a small ceremony was held and he received his silver general’s star and citation.

Both his office and his home are full of memorabilia from his military career, and from that of his son, Ethan. Both Ethan and his wife, Donna, are Air Force Academy grads.


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