Ocean Beach 07

Colven Earl Caudell Jr

July 17, 1933 ~ February 27, 2022 (age 88)


Earl Caudell flew west on February 27th, 2022. It was another dawn flight for him, and he will not be back. He was at home surrounded by his family and his last words were, “we’re all going flying, right?” Colven Earl Caudell Jr., Air Force pilot, Aerial photographer, Instructor pilot, and Best Father Ever was born on July 17th, 1933, in Montgomery AL.

A voracious reader and precocious purveyor of mischief, Earl found himself enrolled in the Gulf Coast Military Academy for 4th and 5th grade. It was a fortunate turn because he said, “Soldier things” agreed with him. So much so that on January 20, 1949, at 15 years old, he enlisted in the 45th Infantry division, Oklahoma National Guard, making him a member of the VUMS: Veterans of Underage Military Service.

Earning his Associate Degree from St Louis University he Joined the US Air Force on June 30, 1953. He attended Lackland AFB Texas for basic training and Harlingen AFB Texas where he graduated as a Second Lieutenant rated USAF Navigator.

Earl so impressed Brigadier General Robert Stillman, First Commandant of Cadets at the newly founded USAF Academy, that he was hand-selected to be one of the original 68 ATO’s (Air Training Officers). The ATOs were the original “upper-classmen” charged with instilling military customs and courtesies to the first classes of USAFA Cadets.

Following his USAFA assignment, Earl graduated pilot training at Laredo Texas AFB. He would go on to fly many aircraft in his military career: T-28, T-29, T-33, T-34, T-39, B-47, C-123 (Vietnam War), C-124, 0-2, and B-52H during the Cuban missile crisis. He Completed 575 combat hours and 699 combat missions in Vietnam with the 311th Air Commando Squadron at Da Nang, South Vietnam. During his first tour of duty, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal, the Air Medal with 17 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Combat Medal.

He would continue to work in the Indochina area for another 2 years “assigned” out of Hawaii to the Joint Special Operations Office working with Military Assistance Command Special Studies and Operations Group.  Earl was intimately involved in the return of our Viet Nam POWs. He Graduated from Armed Forces Staff College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and the Department of Defense Computer Institute and retired from the USAF in 1973 as a Lt. Colonel.

After his military career, Earl moved to Gulf Breeze FL and started Caudell Associates Real Estate Inc. with his wife Sara. He continued in aviation by working for an airplane parts company out of Louisiana and in 1982 he purchased a surplus Cessna L-19 Bird-Dog airplane from the US Government.  Second only to his wife Sara, that taildragger was his true love. He would always say he magically turned 25 years old when he hopped into the cockpit. He based his L-19 out of Coastal and Milton airports and could be found holding court telling mostly-true aviation stories to his dear friends on summer afternoons.

Earl never stopped learning. On his 50th birthday he flew his son up the Mississippi River and photographed the delta from south to north - Thus was born his love of aerial photography.  

He would continue his career in Aerial Photography and Real Estate for 35 years. His photography was regularly published nationally and in 1997 he received the first ever “Master of Aerial Photography” Certificate, awarded by the Professional Aerial Photography Assoc. He earned his FAA Flight Instructor Certificate to teach his daughter and son how to fly in a fabric and wood Piper Colt. Hollywood came to town, and he flew his bird dog down the deck of the USS Lexington for the movie "Day of the fall of Saigon" with his wife Sara waving from the back seat.

On March 13, 2012, Earl’s lifetime of flying and achievement was recognized by the US Federal Aviation Administration when he was awarded the distinguished and rare (fewer than 2000) Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” award for more than 50 years of safe and exceptional aviation.

Those who knew Earl would say he was always quick with a tale or a hilarious story. He dazzled his grandkids with a joke for any subject. For the rest of us, his bright-eyed humor enriched all our lives. 

He sold his airplane when he was 80 years old. At that time, he had introduced and taught many including his children and grandchildren how to fly. His friends summed him up best:

“From Bird-dogs to B-52s, one of the most remarkable pilots we’ve ever known. An excellent husband, father, grandfather and friend, your undying love and dedication knew no end. Your decorations were numerous and well deserved, a testament to a patriot who gladly served.” He will be incredibly missed.

He is survived by his children Colven E. Caudell III (Trey), James Mark Caudell (JM), Susan Carol Powell (Souki), and Currin Bryant Caudell, and 5 grandchildren: Will Bigler, Cole Powell, Alani Powell, Tori Caudell and Colven Caudell IV. Earl is preceded in death by his beloved wife Sara Lynn Caudell.  He will be buried alongside her at the USAF Academy with full military honors on June 16th, 2022 @ 1300hrs.

Professional arrangements by:
Gary Panoch Funeral Home
6140 N. Federal Highway
Boca Raton, FL 33487


In leu of flowers please make a donation to the United States Air Force Academy Foundation Find.  Please Click Here and scroll down to select “Other Giving Opportunities.” Scroll to select “AFA Foundation Fund.”

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Colven, please visit our floral store.


Military Honors
June 16, 2022

1:00 PM
USAF Academy
Guaranteed delivery before the Military Honors begins

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