Noel Merrill Wien: Born to Fly

Noel Merrill Wien: Born to Fly


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Born into a family of aviators, Merrill Wien was destined to become a pilot. His father, Noel Wien, was one of the first pilots to fly in Alaska and his life was full of firsts, including making the first round-trip flight between Asia and North America in 1929. His mother played a big role in the founding and development of Wien Alaska Airlines, the second-oldest scheduled airline in the United States and territories.

One of the most versatile and experienced pilots of his time, Merrill has flown just about every aircraft imaginable from DC-3s to Lockheed 1011s to historic military planes like the cargo C-46 and B-29 bomber to the Hiller UH-12E chopper. Although fundamentally modest by nature, family and friends encouraged Merrill to share his remarkable stories given his accomplishments and experiences with so many famous people and events. His tone is engagingly informal as he recounts crossing paths with such luminaries as Joe Crosson, Howard Hughes, Lowell Thomas Sr. and Lowell Thomas Jr., Sam White, Don Sheldon, Brad Washburn, Wally Schirra, and Bill Anders. He re-creates for readers his firsthand experiences flying top-secret missions for the Air Force, viewing the devastation of the Good Friday Earthquake in Anchorage, and the challenges of starting his own helicopter company, to name just a few. His fascinating narrative is complemented by photographs from his personal archives. Includes a list of all the different aircraft Wien has been endorsed to fly at the back of the book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943328406
Publisher: West Margin Press
Publication date: 04/19/2016
Pages: 210
Sales rank: 785,123
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Merrill Wien's life of aviation began shortly after his birth in 1930 when the infant Wien flew with his parents in a laundry basket aboard his father’s new Stinson. Son of pioneer bush pilot Noel Wien, Merrill soloed at sixteen years old, and got his commercial aviation license at nineteen, and his instrument rating at twenty years old.

He flew DC-3s for the family airline Wien Alaska Airlines until 1951 when he flew DC-4s for Pan American Airlines to Hawaii or Alaska and back. He joined the US Air Force in 1952, and he flew a C-119 Troop Carrier. Merrill flew top secret missions in Asia recovering parachutes with cameras in midair that had drifted over Russia tethered to balloons. After the Air Force, Wien returned to the family airline, and flew everything from bush planes to the four-prop engine Constellation, and Boeing 737 jets.

With his brother, Richard, and two friends, they started Merric Inc. which was an early Alaskan helicopter company flying the new Hiller UH-12E choppers. Later, Merrill flew the Lockheed L-1101 jumbo jet worldwide for a charter airline.

In retirement, he became a Confederate Air Force pilot, flying historic military planes including the cargo C-46, and the B-24, B-25 and B-29 bombers. Merrill is one of the most accomplished and experienced pilots of his time. He received the Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” award for fifty years of accident-free flying, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Alaska Aviation Legends for logging more than 33,000 hours in some 150 aircraft including helicopters. He is recognized for mentoring hundreds of young men and women and helping them pursue their own aviation dreams.

Major General William “Bill” Anders was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 8, the first manned voyage to orbit the moon. Anders shot the now famous photograph, Earthrise, the first picture taken of the earth from the moon.

Over a long and accomplished career Anders has received many awards, including the Distinguished Service Medals from the Air Force, NASA, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the Air Force Commendation Medal; the National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal for Exploration; and the American Astronautical Society's Flight Achievement Award.

Anders serves on the advisory committee to Seattle’s nonprofit Museum of Flight, one of the largest independent air and space museums in the world. The museum's collection includes more than 150 historically significant air and spacecraft, and more than 140,000 students are served annually by the Museum's on-site and outreach educational programs.

Read an Excerpt

Not too long after I became an aircraft commander, a request came into the squadron from Wing headquarters to supply a pilot and co-pilot to ferry a brand new C-119G model from McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, to Japan. I volunteered for the trip. My co-pilot was from the 745th squadron at Charleston and he was a recent graduate from pilot training. We headed to Sewart Air Force Base near Nashville, Tennessee, where we were given some training in the G model, which was about the same as we had been flying except it had different propellers—Aero Product instead of Hamilton Standards. Then we proceeded to McClellan Air Force Base where we met up with our navigator and radio operator.

Our navigator turned out to be a captain in his forties who also had a commercial license. When we first met on the ramp by the C-119 that we were going to ferry, he appeared somewhat stunned. All he said was, “I’m not going.” He immediately turned around and headed back into the hangar. He told his boss that he wasn’t going to Japan with those kids out there. His boss told him that he was, indeed, going. He was not happy.

The trip involved five legs across the Pacific islands and by the time we reached Guam, the navigator was starting to relax and seemed to have much more confidence in us. During out last leg to Japan, however, I put this confidence to the test.

Just after we passed Tinian and Saipan, we received a radio message asking if we could stop at Iwo Jima to pick up an emergency appendicitis case. I told the radio operator to tell them we would stop. Our navigator said, “What? Don’t you know that there is a typhoon there?” I said I did know about the typhoon but Iwo Jima was on the fringes of it and it was only blowing about 50 knots. He was not happy.
After breaking out of the overcast at Iwo Jima, I noticed that the waves were quite big. I lined up on final and let the airplane crab into the wind. I did not have the slightest concern about the crosswind because the C-119 can handle a lot of it and I had experienced more wind than this before. I thought I would wait until crossing the threshold to straighten it out. I lowered the left wing and pushed hard on the rudder to align with the runway just before touchdown.

Well, now is the time to talk a little about the pilot seat in a C-119. The seat was mounted on two sets of rails, with a lever on the seat that was used to move it back and to the left when getting in and out. A long pin through both sets of rails locked the seat in position. When I got into the seat at Guam, I let the pin fall into place with the help of a spring and I wiggled my seat to make sure it was locked, as I always did. But this was a new airplane so everything was a little tight and the pin did not go all the way down with spring power to securely lock the seat. I should have pushed down on the locking pin to make sure it was all the way down but I had never had to do that before.

So as we came in for a landing with the crosswind on Iwo Jima, I pushed hard on the rudder pedal to straighten the aircraft for touchdown. The resulting force on the seat popped out the locking pin and my seat shot back and to the left, yanking the controls from my hands at a critical moment. I immediately realized that drastic action was required. I unbuckled my seat belt, slid off the seat onto the floor, and mashed the right rudder with my foot. The nose swung back around and lined up with the runway just as we touched down. I could not initiate a go-around because I could not reach the throttles. Fortunately, I could see out the left side because the C-119 had additional windows just above the floor level to improve the view looking down. I could also reach the nose wheel steering lever which was now above my head. As I was lying on the cockpit floor with my headset askew and covering one of my eyes, I heard the tower say, “Nice landing.” My co-pilot looked down at me and said, “What are you doing down there?”

After we stopped, I scrambled back up on the seat and pulled it in place while thanking my co pilot for all the help he did not give me. As I turned around to look at the navigator I was thinking he surely would be impressed at my ability to spring into action and complete the landing in a strong crosswind while sitting on the floor looking through one eye without the benefit of a windshield. Instead I found the navigator shaking his head with his head in his hands. Instead of being impressed with my skills, I guess he thought that the airplane landed itself while I laid on the floor. I had a hard time getting him back in the airplane. We completed the rest of the trip without further stress on the navigator. After our takeoff from Iwo Jima on the ramp into the wind, I do remember him saying, “Nice takeoff.” I think he was simply expressing his relief that maybe he was going to live through this trip after all.

We were supposed to bring a tired C-119 back to the States but after we landed at Ashiya, Japan, the navigator tore out of the airplane and returned to say that the return trip was cancelled. I had a pretty good idea why but I did not question it. I was the aircraft commander but the navigator’s rank made him the mission commander. Since it was to be a tired C-119, I figured maybe the good Lord was looking after me. We instead rode back to the States on a Navy NATS C-118 flight.

Table of Contents

1. The Early Years
2. Young Pilot
3. Paid to Fly
4. In the Army Now
5. Aircraft Commander
6. Special Assignments
7. A Civilian Again
8. Alaskan Adventures
9. Branching Out
10. A New Bush Plane
11. Ice Island Flying
12. From the Turboprop to the Jet Age
13. Turbulence for Wien Air Alaska
14. Life After Wien Air Alaska
15. For the Love of Flying
Further Reading
Aircraft Flown by Noel Merrill Wien

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“I first had the pleasure of flying with Merrill in ’56. He is the greatest pilot I have ever shared a cockpit with. I learned a great deal from Merrill about professionalism as a pilot. Not just in how he flew, but in how he treated everyone in his crew. Merrill’s story is a must read by anyone interested in aviation and Alaska.”—Jorgy Jorgensen


"I’ll offer a hearty recommendation for folks to read Merrill’s book. It’s well written, and the gentleman has done some stuff! Great stories. I particularly enjoyed his description of his first flight during Air Force flight school."

Customer Reviews