Det 280 Flying Jayhawks

The History of the Flying Jayhawks


  • The Air Force ROTC program at the University of Kansas begins.  A year before the Air Force was established as a separate service.
  • War Department General Order No. 124, signed by native Kansan General Dwight D. Eisenhower on 22 Oct 1946, established seventy-seven "ROTC Senior Division Air Units." Lt Col Ken Rosebush arrived on campus that fall and worked to build the new unit from scratch.


  • The detachment commissioned its first class of fifteen 2nd Lieutenants.


  • The Air Force became an independent branch.


  • The detachment continued under a "joint-cooperation" agreement with the Army until the Air Force took formal control on 1 Jul 1949, with Col Lynn Moore as the detachment commander.


  • The initial cadre of three officers and three enlisted airmen expanded under Col. Moore's guidance to ten officers and eleven enlisted men.
  • The same year the Air Force ROTC program was transferred to the control of Air University. As the Air Force sought to commission enough officers to meet the emergency on the Korean peninsula, the detachment reached its largest size, enrolling 1,108 cadets during the fall semester of the 1952-53 academic year, and becoming the largest ROTC detachment on campus (It should be noted that two years of ROTC was still a university requirement during this time.)
  • Many of these cadets were active in varsity sports.
    • Cadet Gil Reich was named an All-American as a quarterback and defensive back on the football team. Several cadets starred on KU's 1952 national championship basketball team and went on to compete in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
    • The most famous member of this group was Cadet Dean Smith, who served one assignment in the Air Force before becoming a basketball coaching legend at the University of North Carolina.
  • During the 1950s, the detachment boasted a band and a rifle team, which finished second out of over 1,400 in the 1952 Hearst competition.
  • Field trips to Forbes Field in Topeka to fly the B-47 simulator and several appearances by the drill team in New Orleans Mardi Gras parades highlighted cadet activities.
  • The detachment also founded a chapter of the Arnold Air Society in 1950, and named it for Lt Gen Ennis Whitehead, a 1920 graduate who left school in 1917 to serve as a pilot on the front lines of World War I. During World War II, Whitehead commanded the Fifth Air Force in the Southwest Pacific and became one of Gen Douglas MacArthur's most trusted airmen.


  • The detachment was selected as one of 38th nationally to implement the Flight Instruction Program, which provided senior cadets selected for pilot training with 40+ hours of flight instruction provided by a contractor at the Lawrence Airport.
  • Throughout the decade, Air Force ROTC provided over 80% of the Air Force's officer corps, sustaining the service in the decade before the Air Force Academy graduated its first class.
  •  By the end of the 1950s, the detachment enrollment was down to 164 cadets, and the cadre was accordingly reduced to five officers and four enlisted personnel.


  • The active duty service commitment was extended to four years and the university ended the compulsory requirement for ROTC.
  • During the 1960s, the unit continued to provide critical leadership for the service. As the war in Vietnam continued, campus opinion turned against the military. Protests disrupted the annual pass-in-review, and faculty members sought to integrate the detachment cadre into existing academic departments, and threatened not to award graduation credit for ROTC coursework. Under detachment commander Col Rayburn Lancaster's steady leadership, the KU detachment successfully weathered this storm.
  • Several detachments, including those at Harvard and Princeton, were closed. The Air Force noted, "Most disestablishment actions are the result of non-viability or marginal viability, although action was hastened in some cases by apparently irreconcilable differences with regard to departmental status, award of academic credit, or faculty status of AFROTC instructors."


  • Women were permitted to enroll in the AFROTC programs, although they were still ineligible for flight training.


  • Cadet Karla Fulkerson, a physical therapy major from Wichita, became the Detachments First female commissionee.  


  • After women were permitted to enter pilot training, the Det. commissioned its first female pilot candidate, Cadet Victoria Wigglesworth of Ottawa



  • Maj Gen Joe Engle, a 1955 graduate of Det. 280, piloted the space shuttle Columbia on only the second space shuttle mission ever. The Chapman, KS native returned to space in 1985 on the Discovery before retiring and serving his home state in the Kansas Air National Guard.


  • Charles G. "Chuck" Boyd became the first KU graduate of any service to achieve four-star rank when he was promoted to General on 1 Dec 1992, while serving as commander of Air University. Boyd joined the Air Force in 1959 as an aviation cadet after earning his associate's degree. On 22 April 1966, while flying over Vietnam, his F-105 was shot down and he was held as a prisoner of war until repatriated in 1973. That year he enrolled at KU to complete his bachelor's degree, and earned a master's degree as well. While at KU, he was awarded the Air Force Cross for pressing home his attack on a surface-to-air missile site before being shot down. Boyd retired in 1995 as the deputy commander of European Command.

Past, Present and Future

  • Graduates of KU's Air Force ROTC program have gone on to successful careers in the Air Force, as well as in the private sector. Many have credited the organization; discipline and leadership they learned while cadets at Detachment 280 for preparing them for a lifetime of success. Several have made the supreme sacrifice, offering their lives to protect their families, their school and their country. For almost a century, Jayhawks have answered there nation's call and served with distinction around the globe and far into space. Det. 280 continues to prepare the finest leaders for the world's best Air Force.


current as of May 7, 2019

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