Famous Alaskan pilot flies west — General Aviation News
The famous pilot from Alaska, Merrill Winn, died on January 8, 2023. He was 92 years old.
Merrill was born on April 4, 1930, to Noel and Ada Winn and a prominent flying family in Alaska. He inherited his love of aviation and had a long flying career, according to his obituary.
He flew 1930s round engines, World War II trainers, Air Force bombers and transports, and later airliners as a pilot for Pan Am and Wien Air Alaska. According to his family, he ushered in the jet era in the 49th state and later flew wide-body planes around the world.
Merrill covered all aviation. Flying is something he’s wanted to do ever since he sat in his classroom and watched planes land at Weeks Field in Fairbanks. He barely waited until the end of school to run to the airport. By the time he was 16, he even had the opportunity to fly borrowed planes during his lunch break. Merrill’s days flying for a living couldn’t come soon enough, his family says.
And it came quickly. During a layover on a flight to Vienna to attend the University of Washington when he was in his early 20s, Merrill was asked if he would like to fly from Seattle on Pan Am. He jumped at the chance even though he knew he could be drafted into the army now that he was out of school. He soon found himself flying the DC-4 on trips to Hawaii. He thought it couldn’t be better. However, this would not last long.
While at Pan Am, Merrill was drafted into the Army for the Korean War. He wanted to fly, so he joined the Air Force. Because he was two weeks away from receiving his diploma, he was not eligible for flight training, even though he flew large transport aircraft commercially. He eventually found his way into the cockpit and through basic Air Force training, ending up as the commander of a C-119 Flying Boxcar involved in top-secret Russian photography intelligence work. The task turned out to be painful – to catch balls from the air and from the water on a hook from the back of the planes. These years in the army turned out to be some of the most difficult flights in his career.
After leaving the service, Merrill offered to either return to Pan Am or work for the airline his father had founded. He decided to stay in Alaska and fly to Vienna. The flight to Vienna continued the adventure as he occasionally landed the DC-4 on icy islands shy of the North Pole instead of the tropical islands of Hawaii.
He never once regretted his decision to return to Vienna. He enjoyed flying DC-3s, C-46s, Lockheed Constellations and Fokker F-27s from Fairbanks and later Boeing 737s and 727s from Anchorage and Seattle in the 1980s until the airline was liquidated by a corporate raider.
While in Vienna, he and his brother saw an opportunity to use the B-25 to fight forest fires, and shortly thereafter helicopters were deployed. They formed a company called Merric with Doug Millard and Stan Halverson and found success before it merged with Era Helicopters.
Merrill finished his airline career chartering a Lockheed L-1011.
After reaching the mandatory airline retirement age, he went to work for his friend Lowell Thomas, Jr., offering sightseeing flights over Denali, and as a test pilot for the Soloy Corporation in Olympia, Washington. Merrill later flew C-46 cargo out of Fairbanks for Evert’s Air Cargo as a “retirement job.”
His weekend hobby usually involved some sort of flying. He took his family fishing trips from Anchorage, and over the years acquired several World War II aircraft and returned them to active flight, including two B-25s, a T-6, a P-38, a Stearman and a Grumman Wing.
Merrill also volunteered as an instructor pilot with the Memorial Air Force, flying his B-29 “FiFi” at air shows around the country for seven years and conducting check flights for other pilots on all types of warbirds as a designated FAA examiner.
Merrill also became involved in the flying community in the Seattle area, where he and his wife, Barbara, had lived since the mid-1980s. He managed to complete his career with many thousands of hours of accident-free flight.
Meryl and ex-wife Kathy had three children, Kimberly, Kurt and Kent, who lived in Fairbanks and Anchorage. He later married Barbara and helped raise her two children, Eric Guina and Suzanne Guina Sagiao. They married in Seattle and lived together for 40 years.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, brother Richard and wife Sally, as well as five children and six grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is planned for this spring in Seattle.
https://generalaviationnews.com/2023/01/11/famed-alaska-aviator-flies-west/ Famous Alaskan pilot flies west — General Aviation News