Dick Merrill

Dick Merrill was a legendary pilot who flew  everything from air mail biplanes in the 1920's to wide body jetliners in the 1970's.  Most of his career was spent with Eastern Air Lines, where he was Chief Pilot.  He was a man who loved to fly, and did so at every opportunity. I'm uncertain how many total hours he had - I don't think anybody knows - but it could well have been over 50,000.  He may have flown more than any individual ever.

Dick Merrill

I have an EAL promo film from about 1953 made with Arthur Godfrey and Dick Merrill, extolling the virtues of the Super Connie.  It's a great movie - in color.  It's available for viewing on YouTube.  You can see it here.

The star of the film (for me) is N6202C - flying from IDL to MIA, including a segment flying on only Number 4 engine.  I made my first flight in that airplane in 1957 (see here: 
http://www.rbogash.com/n6202c.html  )

After reaching cruise altitude, Arthur offers Dick a Chesterfield!  Arthur smoked heavily (and got lung cancer); Dick didn't smoke - or drink.  But, he did like to gamble.  That got me interested in Dick, so I bought a copy of his biography
Wings of Man on the internet.  It was in excellent condition and very reasonably priced.  When I got it, I found it was also stuffed with newspaper clippings and was autographed by both Dick and the author, Jack King.  Such a deal!

Anyway,  after being on my to-do list for a year or two,  I finally got around to reading it.  Really rather extraordinary.  I don't know how these guys did it - most didn't.  They got themselves killed.  Flying around at nite, in thunderstorms, with no nav aids whatsoever, no radios, and most of all, no instruments. No electrical system.   IFR without a gyro horizon!!!  Navigating and finding airstrips in the dark and bad wx.  I can only shake my head.  Dick did all that - for years.  He also made both the first round trip trans-Atlantic flight, and the first commercial trans-Atlantic flights.  One story I really enjoyed was his arriving at EWR (Newark) in a DC-3 after an all-nite red-eye, and being asked to help search for Ellsworth, the explorer, by his wife, lost for 2 months at the South Pole.  He immediately flew back to Kansas City, jumped into a high performance Northrop Gamma that he had never laid eyes on before, and flew it to Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America -  straight through in 4 days!  Took off and arrived  at both ends in a blizzard.  (They eventually found Ellsworth with the Gamma.)  He flew Eisenhower and he flew Roosevelt.

And, he had a regular menagerie he flew around with, including a lion he raised from a cub. After being a confirmed, and much sought after bachelor for decades, he married a 22 year old Hollywood movie star (Toby Wing) when he was  44 amid predictions it would be a short lived marriage.  They were wrong - they were married for 44 years.

When he retired from line flying with EAL in 1961 because of the age 60 rule (he was 67 at the time ! ),  he had 44,111 hrs flying time - and then he flew another 21 years!!!  He had a Luscombe and an Aero Commander.  He continued flying in the simulator, and as a training pilot, a 3 engine ferry pilot, and delivered many of Eastern's new airplanes from the factory, including DC-8s, DC-9s, 720s, 727s, and L-1011s.  Anything that was non-rev was legal for someone over 60.  He broke a transcon speed record flying a Tristar from Calif to MIA.  He was flying Left Seat as PIC (Pilot In Command) - and he was 78!  He also flew on Eastern's last Electra flight 31 Oct 1977.  This time he was supernumery crew in the jump seat - he was 83.  EAL had established a tradition of having him fly the first and last flights of each type they owned.  He flew the last flight of the Eastern DC-3 that's hanging now in the Smithsonian.  He called the Electra his favorite airplane of all the many he had flown.

Dick was an extremely personable guy, and had a phenomenal memory when it came to people's names.    Bob Neal was an EAL pilot flying Martin 404s.  He arrived at a NYC hotel with the crew for a layover, when he bumped into Dick.  Dick immediately introduced Bob by name to everyone in the lobby, noting they had last met in Kunming, China.  Dick had been flying C-46s over the Hump at the time.  As Neal noted, that had been the only time they had ever met, they had never flown together, and it had been over 5 years before!  (Dick flew the Hump as a civilian - he was too old to get into the military!)

I can validate that story with one of my own.  I rediscovered one of my high school chums via the internet - funny how often that has happened to me  I remembered him because he was the son of a Rabbi.   After 45 years with no contact, we're good pals once again and exchange frequent emails.  It turns out he went on to be a USAF B-52 pilot for quite a few years, and then flew for Eastern and finally for US Air.  He's flown Connies, Electras,  727s, DC-9s, and A-300s, so he's OK in my book.  Anyhow, in one of our email exchanges, he mentioned meeting Dick Merrill while hustling through the airport at ATL one day, and Dick  remembering him by name, having only met him for a few moments some time before. 

Dick ended his career managing an aviation museum in Virginia.

Thought you'd enjoy that story.  If you haven't read the book, you ought to track down a copy on Amazon.  It's a good read.

Henry Tyndall "Dick" Merrill ( 1 Feb 1894 - 31 Oct 1982.)



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