Aviation Pioneer Pilot Dick Merrill Original Autograph handwritten letter + post
Aviation Pioneer Pilot Dick Merrill Original Autograph handwritten letter + post card both signed. Henry Tyndall “Dick” Merrill (February 1, 1894 October 31, 1982) was an early aviation pioneer. Eisenhower’s personal pilot during the 1952 presidential elections, set several speed records, and would go on to be Eastern Air Lines’ most experienced pilot with over 36,000 hours until his retirement in 1961. In total, Merrill flew over 45,000 hours as pilot in command, covering over eight million miles. At a time when record-breaking pilots were treated as celebrities, pioneer aviators like Dick Merrill gained a unique status. His most famous flight was a 1936 round-trip transatlantic flight that has gone down in the annals of flight as the Ping Pong Flight. The following year, Merrill also completed the first commercial trans-Atlantic flight. Born February 1, 1894 at Iuka, Mississippi, “Dick” Merrill was born into a family that prided itself as being descended from the famous frontier pioneer, Daniel Boone. Although his full name was Henry Tyndall, the name “Dick” was a childhood moniker that stuck with him for life. Brought up as a devout Catholic, he was a teetotaler in an age when the “hard-drinking” “fun-loving” aerial adventurer was seen as the norm. Considered very easy-going yet serious, his one foible, however, was that he was an inveterate gambler throughout his life.  Eddie Rickenbacker later called him the “best commercial pilot” in the United States. Unlike some of his peers, Merrill was a deliberate and careful pilot, so well regarded that many celebrities (his friend Walter Winchell and even General Eisenhower during his 1952 presidential campaign) specifically requested him as a personal pilot. Merrill always would chalk up his successful flights more to luck than skill. A later compatriot, Merton Meade, related an anecdote that summed up Merrill’s flying luck. ” “Dick often said he’d rather be lucky than good. When Eddie Rickenbacker owned Eastern he always insisted on Dick flying the airplane whenever he had to travel. Dick always told this story:’But Captain, you’ve got a hundred pilots on the line better than me.’I know, Merrill, but you’re the luckiest son of a bitch I’ve got, and I’d rather fly behind a lucky pilot than a good one any day! Typical self-effacing comment by Dick I doubt there ever WAS a better airline pilot than Dick Merrill. The “Ping Pong Flight”. He had planned his transatlantic flight for some time but was unable to finance it on his pay as an Eastern Air Lines (EAL) pilot. Things changed when he met millionaire singer Harry Richman, famed for Puttin’ on the Ritz. After taking in the singer’s show in Miami, Merrill “planted” the idea for a round-trip flight of the Atlantic. He brazenly declared that they take the plane to Europe then we’ll gas her up and fly her back. It’s never been done. Richman, who had recently gained his pilot’s license, had been able to secure a Vultee V-1A capable of making the flight. The aircraft, NC13770, had originally been built for Lieutenant Colonel George R. Since then it had served a number of pilots in various record setting flights; in 1935 Jimmy Doolittle used the aircraft to make a record 11-hour-59-minute transcontinental flight, and six weeks later Leland Andrews repeated the flight, then used it to set a long-distance speed record between Los Angeles and Mexico City. Merrill and Richman extensively modified the Vultee V-1A for the flight. Using Eastern Air Lines mechanics, Merrill had extra fuel tanks installed and a 1,000 hp (750 kW) Wright Cyclone with a two-blade constant-speed prop fitted. The most modern equipment was sought out including the Hooven Radio Direction Finder (licensed to Bendix). It was Richman’s idea to fill empty spaces in the wings and fuselage with 41,000 ping pong balls, which it was hoped would allow the aircraft to float if it was forced down in the ocean. After modifications were carried out, they took off for London on September 2, 1936. The two aviators were a “odd couple” with Richman flamboyant while Merrill was always the studied professional. In a later interview, Merill revealed a peculiar predilection to perfume. When flying, he usually had a vial of Surrender or Evening in Paris in his pocket, stealing an occasional sniff over the Atlantic. When they were 600 miles (970 km) off the coast of England, the pair ran into bad weather and eventually decided to put down in Llandilo (now spelled Llandeilo), Wales, about 175 miles (282 km) west of London. The flight took 18 hours and 36 minutes, the fastest Atlantic crossing to date. The next day Merrill and Richman completed their flight to London. While in England, Richman, ever the showman, christened the Vultee, the Lady Peace. On September 14, they began the return flight from Southport, England. During the flight, while bucking headwinds, Richman decided to dump 500 gallons of fuel, leaving them with insufficient fuel to make New York City.  Furious that Richman had panicked, Merrill was forced to put down on a soft bog at Musgrave Harbour in the Dominion of Newfoundland. After minor repairs and refueling, a week later they landed in New York. The usually easy-going relationship between the two pilots had been strained but they ended up as friends again. Cover flown by Dick Merrill on the Anglo-American Goodwill Coronation Flight, May 814, 1937. In 1937 Merrill was hired by Hearst Publishing to repeat the flight (co-piloted by 27-year-old Jack Lambie) in a Lockheed Model 10E Electra dubbed Daily Express. The flight from New York to London May 814, 1937, known as The “Anglo-American Goodwill Coronation Flight”, was also recognized as the first commercial transatlantic round trip flight. Hearst wanted to scoop other American newspapers by acquiring photos of the May 10, 1937 coronation of King George VI after the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII. Merrill carried photos (not newsreels, as often claimed) of the Hindenburg disaster, which occurred shortly before the flight. Hearst papers on both sides of the Atlantic published the first pictures of each event, and Merrill earned the Harmon Trophy for 1937 for his achievement. Footage from this flight was used to make the 1937 Monogram movie, Atlantic Flight. Dick had not taken the filming seriously but gladly accepted the windfall. Ever the inveterate gambler, Merrill blew his entire salary at Santa Anita the weekend after shooting wrapped. Merrill made two more transatlantic flights, the last of these, on May 14, 1937, set the new record at 24 hours, 25 seconds. Now famous, Merrill thoroughly enjoyed his celebrity and loved the nightlife and hobnobbed with both the famous and infamous. Although earning a good salary, he habitually was broke due to gambling. He had become a fixture at the parties of the rich and famous, and it was at one of these that he met Toby Wing, a chorus girl who became a movie star, appearing in 52 features and shorts. The two married in Tijuana in 1938, but her parents objected to this sort of marriage, so they were married a second time at the home of Sidney Shannon, an early Eastern Air Lines investor. His marriage finally turned around his financial woes and he became devoted to his new wife. Merrill was 22 years Wing’s senior, and shortly after their marriage she met Bob Hope who joked, Toby it’s nice to see you and I’m glad to see you brought your father along. According to Wing, Merrill never forgave Hope for the insult. After a Broadway run, Toby retired from show business the next year, and the couple moved to Miami, where Merrill flew the Eastern Air Lines Miami to New York runs with occasional flights to South America. Merrill was too old to be commissioned during World War II, and instead signed on as a civilian pilot and flew the China-Burma-India (CBI) “Hump” in DC-3/C-47 Skytrains and C-46 Commandos. “Flying the Hump” (over the Himalaya Mountains) to transport desperately needed supplies to troops in China from bases in India and Burma, was extremely dangerous. CBI crews faced severe adverse conditions at “the top of the world” coupled with unpredictable weather, lack of radio aids/direction finders and Japanese fighter opposition. On the ground, engineering and maintenance nightmares resulted due to a shortage of trained air and ground personnel and poorly equipped airfields that were often wiped out by monsoon rains. In 1948, at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) off the Florida coast, Merrill’s calm and skillful management of an in-flight emergency was evident when a propeller on an EAL Constellation tore through the fuselage and killed a steward instantly. Merrill was credited with saving the lives of 69 people on board. In 1953, he piloted an Eastern Airlines Super Constellation in an aviation promotional movie called Flying with Arthur Godfrey, with Godfrey as narrator. He would officially retire from Eastern Air Lines on October 3, 1961 after flying a Douglas DC-8 from New York to Miami. At retirement, he reputedly had flown the longest cumulative distance of any pilot in commercial aviation history, and ranked as the second most senior pilot with the airline after 36,650 hours flown over a period of 33 years. Merrill continued flying for pleasure into his 80s, setting several additional records. In 1966 he flew his actor friend Arthur Godfrey in an around-the-world flight, set a speed record delivering a Lockheed L-1011 from California to Miami at an average 710 mph (1,140 km/h) ground speed in 1978, and flew the Concorde on one occasion. In 1970, he was awarded the FAI Gold Air Medal. After retirement from active flying, Merrill managed the Shannon Air Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia during the late 1970s and early 1980s. After moving west, Merrill died at Lake Elsinore, California, October 31, 1982 at the age of 88. Toby Wing Merrill was still beside him at his passing. He is buried at Christ Church Kingston Parish Cemetery, Mathews, Virginia. Wing would spend the remainder of her life actively promoting her husband’s rightful place in the annals of aviation history. Both Jack Lambie, Harry Richman and Dick Merrill are mentioned in the Internet Movie Database. Richman was specifically sought out by Dick since he owned one of the few planes in civilian hands that could make a transatlantic flight (and even then he had to get Eddie Rickenbacher involved to swap the tanks and radio gear). Richman ended up accidentally dumping fuel on the return leg and was responsible for the plane going down in a Nova Scotia bog… Dick— normally even tempered— had to be pulled off Richman. I have photos of him obviously P. D at Harry afterward at a celebratory dinner. Dick’s second co-pilot, Jack Lambie was a pro— I think he was a military brat born in the Philippines and ended up his career at EAL as a training executive. He even starred in a movie (1937’s ATLANTIC FLIGHT— a cheapie for Monogram with Jack Lambie) along with a early’50’s promo film produced by Arthur Godfrey in a Constellation. He married to actress Toby Wing in 1938 (despite a 22 year age difference , they remained together the rest of his life). Dick never flew in WW1 but I’d think he’d rate being described as a pioneer aviator of some kind. Harry Richman, Dick Merrill & John L. “Vultee Lady Peace” in the background. Associated press photo dated August 20, 1936. Collection of Dave Quigley, 7-22-05. August 1936 flight from New York to London flown by famous entertainer, Harry Richman, and early pioneer, Dick Merill. John Lewis Quigley, metorogist, shown going over navigation and weather charts prior to flight. “Harry Richman wrote songs like” Puttin On the Ritz and was one of the highest paid entertainers in the 1930. Richman led an adventurous life offstage. His most famous feat was flying the Atlantic in 1936 with a plane stuffed with table tennis balls. He reasoned the plane would stay afloat if downed at sea. He and pilot Dick Merill made the flight to London but were forced down in Newfoundland on the return trip. The trip cost me 340,000 dollars but it was worth it. This photo shows Harry Richman, Dick Merrill and my dad John L. Quigley getting ready for the flight to England. A couple of years ago I spoke to a person who was a pilot for American Export Air Lines and he told me that prior to the war they were like Air America, doing a lot of special flights for the government. A fully restored Sikorsky flying boat is in the aerospace museum at Badley field in CT. That had been an American Export aircraft. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939, where he spent six months as air attache in Brazil. In 1940 he was on a special assignment with the British and Australians in the Pacific. After the start of the war he was with the first group of US aircraft assigned to England and spent a year in North Africa with the 12th troop transport wing. From the AeroFiles website. Harry Richman, a well-known entertainer, and an aviation enthusiast and part-time pilot, sponsored the first round-trip flight between New York and London. He chose Henry T “Dick” Merrill, chief pilot of Eastern Airlines, to captain his V1-A [NC16099]. Extra fuel tanks and a 1000hp Wright Cyclone with a constant-speed, two-blade prop were installed, and some 41,000 Ping-Pong balls were stowed in the hollow recesses of wings and fuselage – if forced to ditch, the airplane would certainly float! With war looming in Europe, Richman christened the Vultee Lady Peace. Corrected version of story. By Jack Backstreet, 10-19-05. The info from Aero Files says that Richman CHOSE Dick… Not exactly the way it went down. Dick knew that Harry, a millionaire entertainer/amateur pilot, was the practically the only civilian that owned a plane capable of making the transatlantic flight and flew down to Miami to spring the idea on Richman. Harry Richman was a gregarious blowhard and Dick instinctively knew that he’d be up for a challenge. The Vultee required extensive modifications in order to make the trip swapped fuel tanks, electronics, etc. , that Dick wrangled his boss, Eddie Rickenbacker to finance. The ping pong balls were Harry’s idea.. Photo & caption courtesy of Roy Nagl, 1-3-05. A Tribute from Merton Meade, 2-6-06. I was digging around the Internet and came across your website regarding my late friend Captain Henry T. I was fortunate to have shared an office with The Captain when the two of us managed the Shannon Air Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Dick was the titular head of the Museum, but in reality he was our most important display. He was an absolute gentleman and just coming to work every day was a pleasure just because I knew I was going to spend the time with Dick. My job was assistant curator and chief pilot… I flew all the aeroplanes in the Shannon collection, including the only Vultee V-1A left in the world, NC 16099, Serial Number 25. We renamed the aeroplane Lady Peace II. Dick often flew with me to various antique aeroplane fly-ins around the country. I recall one particular trip I made with the Vultee to the Antique Airplane Association fly-in at Blakesburg, Iowa. In the right seat on that trip was the late General Benjamin S. Kelsey, P-38 test pilot and safety-pilot when General Doolittle made the first instrument take off and landing. Ben lived in nearby Culpepper, Virginia at the time and often stopped by the museum for a visit… Usually flying his Cessna 180. At the time of his death, Ben was building a Pitts Special. Since at the time the Shannon Air Museum had the only airworthy Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing, and it was painted in Pitcairn livery, we agreed to make the flight. I flew the Mailwing to Newark in comapny with a Cessna 150 being flown by the late Lou Davis of Airline Pilot Magazine. We left Newark and flew to Philadelphia and then on to Washington. From there it was on to Richmond, South Boston…. Finally landing at Miami for an enormous reception. Captain Merrill met us at many of the stops along the way. Bringing the Mailwing back from Florida, the #8 inlet valve broke, punched a hole in the piston, and I landed the thing on Interstate 95 about 19 miles south of Savannah. No amount of planning can ever overshadow pure dumb luck! That was my 11th forced landing…. I’m now waiting for #17! Regarding luck, Dick often said he’d rather be lucky than good. When Eddie Rickenbacker owned Eastern he always insisted on Dick flying the aeroplane whenever he had to travel. Dick always told this story: But Captain, you’ve got a hundred pilots on the line better than me. ” “I know, Merrill, but you’re the luckiest son of a bitch I’ve got, and I’d rather fly behind a lucky pilot than a good one any day! Typical self-effacing comment by Dick… I doubt there ever WAS a better airline pilot than Dick Merrill. I worked a wee bit with Jack King when he was writing THE WINGS OF MAN; Jack was often at the museum talking to Dick and getting material for the book. Wonderful man, Jack King. I recall the day in 1978 I was to be initiated into the Anciente and Secret Order of Quiet Birdmen. I was sitting at my desk in the museum and something landed in front of me. I picked it up to discover it was a pair of QB wings. I looked around at the Captain. When Tom Selby pins you tonight Tom was one of my early flight instructors and my primary QB sponsor… Dick was also one of my sponsors, have him put these wings on you. That was Dick in a nutshell… Always doing something nice for someone. I still wear those QB wings proudly. As you know, of course, Dick went west in’82. I had left the museum the year before to go back to my first love, primary flight instructing. I’ll always remember that 3.5 year period when I worked with this wonderful man… And will always be saddened by his loss. If only I could have known him during the’20’s and’30’s. I hope I haven’t bored you with this impromptu tribute to one of my own personal heros. Lady Peace Landing Site – Wales. Here are 2 photographs of the field in which the Lady Peace took off from (left to right); the hedge in the centre distance was dug up overnight to give the LP a longer t/o run. The missing section of hedge is apparent in the picture. Photo & legend from Steve Jones. FORCED LANDING IN WALES. Saw your address via a web link to the above. I’m researching the incident in which Dick Merrill and Harry Richman force-landed in a field in my neck of the woods (South Wales) in 1936. I’m writing a book about such events which happened in the county (Carmarthenshire) and hope to include a chapter on 3rd Sept 1936 incident. Any ideas on where I could get a copy of some pictures related to the forced-landing, HTM or HR. Editor’s Note: Because I don’t have any more information regarding this incident on my own website, I did make a search of the net. Sadly, I was not able to find any more details, including any photographs, which might help Steve in his quest. I hope someone may find his request on this page and make contact with him, through me. My best guess is that Steve will be his own best source as he researches the event in the newspaper archives. Hopefully he will alert us to the availability of his book when it is completed. Here’s a photograph belonging to Terry Williams. Terry is in the photograph, on his mother’s knee in the front row (blonde hair) – the lady just left of centre with the dark coloured hat. The photograph was taken by a local photographer, a Mr. I’m currently trying to tracking down other photographs in his collection, held at an archives in mid Wales. Max Schmeling & Joe Lewis. I thought you’d like to know that Dick Merrill flew Max Schmeling from his training camp to Newark in June 1938, right before Schmeling’s famous fight with Joe Louis. I’m writing a book about the Louis-Schmeling fights and came across your helpful website while looking for more information on Merrill. I gather that he never wrote his memoirs. If you search for Henry T. Merrill using the Google search engine, (1-2-05), you will find about 9 links. Several of the most helpful are the following. Bwrdd Neges – Messageboard. I was alerted to this very helpful website by Greg Powers. He wrote the following description of the page. On this Messageboard, not quite half way down the page. You will find a contribution by Terry Williams. It includes a nice big group photo of all the villagers w/ Merrill, Richman & Quigley in front of the plane, and another farewell at the planes door. Also you will find some very interesting personal remembrances of relatives of people who were there, and at least one account. It is a Wales webpage. You can access the webpage by clicking on the title above. If time permits, I think you will enjoy getting to know more about the town by clicking on the “HOME” label on the upper left hand corner of the page. First Pilot To Make A Commercial Round-trip Flight. Over The Atlantic, 1937. This page on the First Flight Society website offers a resumé of his exploits, with special emphasis on his trans-atlantic flights. It also displays his portrait in full color. You can access the page by clicking on the title above. If time permits, I recommend that you visit the homepage of the society and enjoy the stories of some of the many other notable pioneer aviators who are featured. THE INTERNATIONAL HARMON TROPHY. This page on the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website lists the recipients of the Harmon Trophy in tabular form. The name of Henry T. Merrill will be seen as being the winner of the trophy in 1937. There is also a photograph of the Trophy which can be enlarged for easier viewing. This page on the Signature House website describes a document which is being offered for sale as of January 2, 2005. It is found in the “Aviators and Explorers” section and is located a little more than halfway down the page. You may want to use the FIND function on “Merrill” to locate it most easily. The description is introduced by the following extract. MERRILL Chief pilot of Eastern Airlines chosen to captain the first round trip flight between New York and London. Stowed aboard were some 41,000 Ping-Pong balls in the hollow recesses of wings and fuselage, so if forced to ditch, the airplane would certainly float! With war looming in Europe, the plane was christened the Vultee Lady Peace. This page on the Internet Movie Database offers a very nice “mini biography” of Dick Merrill. You can find details of the film in which he starred, Atlantic Flight (1937), by clicking on. You can find a similar mini biography of his wife, Toby Wing, which is accessable by a link located a bit lower down the page. These days, it’s a little hard to imagine the celebrity status once given to pilots, but for the generation prior to WW2, pioneer aviators were revered like astronauts were in the 1960’s. While not as famous as Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart, Henry Tyndall “Dick” Merrill ranked as a world-famous pilot by the 1930s – most notable for the 1936 so-called Trans-Atlantic “Ping Pong” ball flight in millionaire singer Harry Richman’s heavily modified Vultee, christened’Lady Peace’ (which crashed on it’s return journey due to Richman accidentally dumping the fuel) and completing the first commercial trans-Atlantic flight (co-piloted by 27-year old Jack Lambie) in history, flying a Lockheed Model 10E Electra, appropriately named the “Daily Express” that was specially commissioned to shuttle back newsreel footage of the May 10, 1937 coronation of King George VI which resulted in a one-shot movie contract with low-budget Monogram Pictures for Atlantic Flight (1937). Eddie Rickenbacker with Merrill heavily promoted as its star pilot. Unlike some of his peers, Merrill was no hot shot. He was a deliberate and careful pilot, so well regarded that many celebrities (his friend Walter Winchell and even General Eisenhower during his 1952 presidential campaign) specifically requested to fly with him. Merrill’s calm skills were evident during a flight in 1948 when the prop on an EAL Constellation tore through the fuselage at 10,000 feet off the Florida coast and killed a steward instantly. Dick was credited with saving the lives of 69 people on board. Outwardly humble and unassuming, Dick throughly enjoyed his celebrity and although a non-smoking tea-toadler, he loved the nightlife and hobnobbed with both the famous and infamous. If he had a vice, it was gambling, he habitually spent his high Depression-era income practically as fast as he earned it— he was habitually broke and it took marriage to settle his financial irresponsibility. He married vivacious 22-year old actress Toby Wing in 1938- twice actually; her mother objected to their original marriage in Tijuana and the couple “officially” married later that June at the home of Sidney Shannon (an early EAL backer and close personal friend) in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She left Hollywood and retired from acting in late 1938 after a brief Broadway run in the Cole Porter musical flop, “You Never Know, ” that starred Clifton Webb, Libby Holman and Lupe Velez. Despite their 20+ year age difference, they enjoyed a remarkable 44-year marriage. The couple settled in Miami with Dick assigned the Eastern Airlines Miami to New York runs with occasional flights to South America. Too old for a commission, Dick signed on as a civilian MTD pilot and flew the China-Burma “Hump” in DC3’s and C-46 Commandos during the war conducting critical supply lights and survey missions. 3, 1961 after flying a DC8 from New York to Miami, reputedly with the most air miles of any pilot in commercial aviation history, and ranked as the second most senior pilot with the airline. Dick continued to fly into his 80’s whenever the opportunity arose, accompanying friend Arthur Godfrey on an around the world flight in 1966, set a speed record at age 78, delivering a Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star from California to Miami at an average 710 MPH ground speed, and once flew an SST Concorde. Virtually no civilian pilot in the history of aviation piloted such a vast range of aircraft. After Dick’s death in October, 1982, Toby spent the remainder of her life actively promoting her husband’s rightful place in the annals of aviation history. Among Henry Tyndall Dick Merrills achievements, the most surprising may be that he survived to become an aviation legend. A born gambler with a passion for dice, cards and horse racing, Merrill survived despite odds that often seemed stacked against him. He learned to fly in a war-surplus Curtiss JN-4 Jenny and then, with only minimal wind-in-the-wires experience, began barnstorming around the South and Midwest. After Merrill became a captain at Eastern Air Lines, his boss, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, labeled him the luckiest pilot in his Great Silver Fleet when he saved the passengers and crew of a twin-engine airliner with an exhausted fuel tank by crash-landing in tree tops that cushioned its descent. He also wound up in a Canadian bog at the end of the first of his two trailblazing transatlantic flights in the mid-1930s. During World War II, he flew the Hump over the Himalayas to supply Chinas Allied defenders. Back in civilian life, traveling in the jump seat of a Lockheed Constellation bound overwater for Miami in 1948, he helped save the 48 souls on board after a runaway propeller tore through the planes midsection, killing a purser Dick helped the regular crew nurse the crippled aircraft back to a military airfield in Bunnell, Fla. Over a flying career that spanned the history of modern aviation, Merrill logged more documented hours in the air than any other airline pilot. His well-publicized exploits would make him a giant even at a time when an awed public considered all airline pilots larger than life. He charmed and soothed fearful passengers ranging from presidents and royalty to Damon Runyontype mobsters, and established speed records in aircraft ranging from the twin-prop Douglas DC-2 to the Lockheed L-1011 widebody jetliner. Frequently in the news, he enjoyed the celebrity of a latter-day rock star, hobnobbing with the rich and famous and marrying a glamorous actress half his age. After serving a stint as Easterns chief check pilot, Merrill reluctantly retired as a captain in command on October 3, 1961, yielding to new federal age restrictions. Yet in the mid-1960s, when my job as aviation writer for the Miami Herald allowed me to get to know Dick, he had a lot of flying left in him. Despite his mandated retirement from carrying revenue passengers, he continued as Easterns captain emeritus, piloting VIP trips and making friends for the airline as he had for over 30 years. Born on February 1, 1894, Merrill grew up in Mississippi, where his ability to pitch a baseball with either arm earned him the unlikely nickname Dick, after ambidextrous storybook sports hero Dick Merriwell. He was talented enough to play minor league ball, once winning both games of a doubleheader by pitching right-handed in one, left-handed in the other. But his attention was drawn skyward after watching aviatrix Katherine Stinson stunting in 1914. Upon the outbreak of World War I, he joined the Navy with dreams of dogfighting German Fokkers. But his lessons with French instructors left him frustrated, complaining, I didnt learn a thing. His interest in aviation never waned, even after he joined the railroad, as his father had done. Despite limited experience, Merrill soon ventured into barnstorming. His youthful good looks, blue eyes and natural charm helped spare him from starvation in that unforgiving line of work. As crowds demanded ever-more-dangerous stunts, Dicks charm enabled him to win a relatively safe job offering plane rides for the famed Gates Flying Circus. His skill and commitment to safetyincluding being a teetotaler amid legions of heavy drinkersmade him an attractive candidate. However, his first job flying nights between Atlanta and New Orleans in a weatherworn biplane provided no guarantee of longevity. The ambitious Pitcairn had hired an engineer to design the Pitcairn Mailwing specifically to serve a government postal route. Still, flying at night over mountains was a treacherous undertaking. One night, with an almost empty fuel tank, he had to roll the aircraft inverted to bail out in his bulky winter flight suit. Lying injured in a field far below, he heard men searching the woods, wondering aloud where they could find the pilots body. Heres the body, he called out. His early winnings helped the young bachelor drive a flashy 1928 Packard roadster through Pitcairns home base of Richmond. He frequently traveled with a lion cub named Princess Doreen in an era when pilots embellished their derring-do reputation with exotic pets and fancy cars. As the Depression deepened, the holding company was forced to sell out to General Motors in 1933. WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who had urged GM officials to acquire Eastern, was named the airlines president and general manager in December 1934; he would assume control of the airline four years later. Meeting Merrill for the first time, Rickenbacker recognized that he had acquired more than a pilot. Dick clearly was a public relations asset, whose quiet confidence helped retain customers for Eastern despite Rickenbackers own growing reputation of indifference to passenger service. Captain Eddie rewarded Merrill by letting him command Easterns 1934 inaugural flight of its new DC-2 between New York and Miami, which he flew in record time. Because Dick hit it off with newspapermen in strategic cities, Rickenbacker asked him to inaugurate each new aircraft in following years, uncharacteristically yielding the spotlight in return for the publicity bonanza his record flights generated. When the airline received its first Lockheed Super Constellation on May 17, 1947, for instance, Merrill delivered it from Burbank to Miami in a record six hours, 54 minutes and 57 seconds. Rickenbacker demonstrated his support in 1936 when he granted the young captain time off to undertake a dream flight across the Atlantic. Merrill had persuaded two different backers to finance the first Atlantic solo trip before Charles Lindbergh became an international idol in May 1927. However, one would-be backer, a New Orleans riverboat gambler, was forced to pull out after losing everything in a night of shooting dice; the other, Edward R. Bradley, who bred Kentucky Derbywinning race horses, withdrew his offer after newspapers accused him of sending Merrill on a suicide mission. Dick, who had lined up a long-range Bellanca to make the flight, would insist years later that I could have beat Lindbergh if the newspapers hadnt scared the colonel and caused him to back out. Determined to try for a new record, Merrill found a financial angel and copilot in showman Harry Richman, who had struck it rich with his Puttin on the Ritz musical reviews. Harry, lets take that airplane and fly her to Europe, Merrill urged. Then well gas her up and fly her right back. Its never been done. Richman, never one to shy away from the spotlight, quickly agreed, although he had only recently earned his pilots license. Richmans Vultee, with Merrill in the left seat, wallowed into the air from Long Islands Floyd Bennett Field on September 2, 1936, bound for London. Gorged with extra fuel, the airplane they named Lady Peace barely made it aloft despite a borrowed 1,000-hp Wright Cyclone engine. Aviations odd couple had begun the first transatlantic roundtrip by airplane. Merrill and Richman had filled the planes cavities with thousands of ping-pong balls to help it remain afloat if they had to ditch at sea. They were soon grateful for that precaution, as storms forced them to fly just above the waves. When they finally touched down in Wales, they found they had made the crossing in 18 hours and 36 minutes, the fastest time to date. They flew into Londons Croydon Airport the next day to receive a heros welcome. The victory lap back to New York was jeopardized when the inexperienced Richman, panicking during a storm, jettisoned 500 gallons of fuel and forced the pair to land in a Newfoundland bog. Rickenbacker had to mount an Eastern Air Lines rescue mission to get the Vultee airborne for the flight home to New York. After a nonstop crossing to the east, Merrill barely makes it back crossing the Atlantic a second time, after his co-pilot Harry Richman jettisons 500 gallons of fuel during a storm. “Lady Peace” came to grief on a bog at Musgrave Harbor, Newfoundland. Merrill made aviation history again the following year with the first commercial transatlantic flight. This time he selected a professional to share the cockpit, 27-year-old EAL copilot Jack Lambie. Together they would help publisher William Randolph Hearst scoop his newspaper rivals by flying photos of King George VIs May 10, 1937, coronation back to the States. Merrill would come to regret the trust he had placed in Smith. Preparing for departure from Floyd Bennett Field on May 9, Merrill was being interviewed by reporters when he was interrupted by news that Germanys airship Hindenburg had gone down in flames while attempting to land at Lakehurst, N. Killing 35 passengers and crew members. Merrill was instructed to delay the takeoff so he could to carry film of the disaster to London, where Hearst owned a newspaper. Dick agreed, in part because the revised assignment would give him the first commercial flight in each direction. As soon as the film arrived, the aircraft dubbed the Daily Express took off and soon flew into an all-too-familiar North Atlantic storm. The well-teamed EAL pros negotiated the storm and droned on across the miles. They were aided by the Lockheeds new autopilotequipment the tightfisted Rickenbacker refused to install on his airliners. EAL pilots liked to jokediscreetly, of coursethat their boss saw no need for equipment not standard on a WWI Spad. Because the Electras radio equipment was still rudimentary, the pilots couldnt contact the Croydon Airport tower as they crossed the English seacoast. They landed at an RAF field to obtain directions, then took off again for the 20-minute flight to London and another spirited welcome. Two days later, Merrill and Lambie took off on the return flight with the promised coronation photos for Hearsts New York editors. Completing that flight would win the pilots congratulations from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a Harmon Trophy for Merrill. If the daring roundtrip added to Merrills fame, it did little for his fortune. His trust in Ben Smith proved to be naive. Smith had persuaded the pilots to make a post-flight tour and movie, promising to reward Merrill by giving him the Electra. Overshadowed by Merrills transatlantic flights was his 1935 odyssey from Kansas City to Chiles southern tip in a single-engine Northrop Gamma to help locate explorer Lincoln Ellsworth and his expedition party. The explorers were stranded after crashing on a polar sea icepack. Ellsworths wife pleaded with Dick to fly the Gamma down across the Andes to an airport where rescuers could use it to search for the missing party. He agreed to make the treacherous flight with the Gamma, provided by TWA. Returning to his regular schedule with Eastern, he was pleased to learn later that the party had been rescuedhis only reward for the adventure. I flew 10,700 miles alone through some of the most miserable weather in the world and went through four seasons in four days, Dick summed up. I got expenses down and backnot a two-dollar bill extra. Merrill interrupted his flying exploits in 1938 to wed showgirl and actress Martha Virginia Toby Wing in a surprising match announced first by broadcaster Walter Winchell, one of Dicks many celebrity pals. Toby, at 22, was two decades younger than the captain. On meeting the new Mrs. Merrill at a party, comedian Bob Hope said he was pleased to see her, adding, and Im glad to see you brought your father along. According to Toby, her husband was not amused. To the skeptics surprise, the couple would spend their life together, enjoying socializing at nightclubs and racetracks at both ends of Easterns New YorkMiami route. But it wasnt all fun and games. Despite Merrills skill with cards and dice, he could lose as big as he could win, and his gambling remained a problem for years. Whether following his advice or Tobys own sharp eye for real estate, the couple bought a showplace Spanish-style home on Miami Beachs De Lido Island. Dick had to forgo the ponies to pay for the house, Rickenbacker wrote. Their storybook lives were disrupted by the death of their infant son, Henry, who died in his crib in 1940. Their second son, Richard Wing Merrill, known as Ricky, would be murdered at his Miami home in 1982. In their grief over Henrys death, they were comforted by their Catholic faith and a growing circle of friends. Those friends would come to include Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom Dick commanded a campaign charter leading up to Ikes November 1952 election as president. That campaign covered 40,000 miles. Dick took special pride in being able to ease Mamie Eisenhowers fear of flying, as he had calmed so many others (including Toby, whose father had been crippled in a plane crash). After Eisenhower won, the Merrills attended the inaugural dinner. Merrill flew Dwight D. Eisenhower a total of 40,000 miles before the 1952 presidental election. New federal regulations caught up with Merrill on October 3, 1961, when he made his last LGA-MIA flight as the Federal Aviation Agencys new age-60 limit on airline captains went into effect. Although he was already 67, it was a bitter pill for a man who still met all the FAAs physical requirements. It finally took the FAA to put me out of business, he complained. EAL wasnt about to let its star pilot vanish into retirement, however. It created a consulting title that would allow him to continue flying, at reduced pay, so long as there were no revenue passengers on board. His retirement took a novel turn in 1966, when he was invited to help pilot an unprecedented round-the-world sortie in a new Rockwell Standard executive jet. The 72-year-old aviator immediately replied, When can we get started? Merrill asked entertainer Arthur Godfrey, a friend he had checked out previously in a Lockheed Constellation, to join a four-man crew. The Jet Commander departed from New York LaGuardia on June 4, 1966, returning 90 hours and 23,524 miles later after touching down in a dozen countries. Their trip included an unscheduled stop in Karachi when suspicious Pakistani fighter pilots forced them to land and explain what they were doing. The crew set 21 international speed records en route. To honor his father. That collection is now housed at the Virginia Aviation Museum in Richmond. In 1972 Merrill helped EAL deliver its first L-1011 TriStar from California to Miami. Boosted by a hurricane-like tailwind, the aircraft averaged a record 710 mph groundspeed. Although he would take the controls of the supersonic Anglo-French Concorde six years later with an EAL evaluation team, the TriStar flight was his last record-breaker. Merrill would close his logbook with about 45,000 hours in the air, nearly five years. He had accumulated almost 8,000 of those hours after officially retiring from EAL in 1961. Because of more restrictive modern limitations on airline flying time, an FAA representative told Dick that his record was unlikely to be broken. That record and his other achievements earned him a gold medal from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1970, validating his lifes work. He cherished the award, which had been won in 1927 by the aviator he wanted to beat across the Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh. Merrill already possessed a Harmon Trophy, awarded to him a decade after Lindbergh won the honor. Dick and Toby would spend their final years at their home in Lake Elsinore, Calif. But as Dick told his biographer, My runway is running out. He died at the age of 88, with Toby at his bedside, on October 31, 1982. Toby would follow him in March 2001, working until the end to preserve her husbands legacy in aviation history. Henry Tindall (Dick) Merrill, a pioneer aviator who in 1936 made the first trans-Atlantic round-trip flight in an airplane, died Sunday at his summer home in Lake Elsinore, Calif. He was 88 years old. Merrill set several commercial flying records, including the first commercial trans-Atlantic flight in a plane in 1937. Merrill was a pilot for Eastern Airlines for 33 years, most often assigned to the New York to Miami trip. Many passengers, attracted by his safety record as well as his reputation for skill and luck, refused to fly with any other pilot and canceled their travel plans when he was temporarily reassigned. In the 1930’s and 40’s, Mr. Merrill was frequently detached from his regular route for special missions. In 1935, for instance, he flew 8,200 miles from Kansas City to the southern tip of Chile to help in the successful search for Lincoln Ellsworth and Herbert Hollick-Kenyon, the explorers, who were then missing in Antarctica. Jim Ashlock, a spokesman for the Miami-based carrier who was a friend of Mr. Merrill, recalled that after one such mission the pilot approached Capt. Rickenbacker, general manager of Eastern, and said,”You know, there are better pilots flying for this airline.’That may be true,” Captain Rickenbacker replied,”but none as lucky. Merrill’s record for flying without injuring himself or a passenger ended in 1936 after two million miles when his Newark-bound plane crashed in a storm into a wooded hilltop eight miles northwest of Port Jervis. Although his jaw and ankle were broken, only three of the 10 other people on board were injured, none seriously. Five Years in the Sky. Thanks for reading The Times. Subscribe to The Times. Merrill, who refused several offers of a desk job with Eastern, retired in 1961 at the age of 67. He officially logged more than eight million miles and 41,709 hours of flying, the equivalent of nearly five years in the sky, in his 41 years as a pilot, which spanned the history of modern aviation. After learning to fly in the early 1920’s, Mr. Merrill, who was born in Iuka, Miss. Spent about seven years barnstorming in the South and Southwest. On May 1, 1928, he joined Pitcairn Aviation Inc. Merrill received several awards for his flying exploits. He won the Harmon trophy, awarded annually for promoting general aviation, for the first commercial trans-Atlantic flight, and the International Federation of Aeronautics School Gold Medal for logging more flying time than any other pilot. Married to Toby Wing. Merrill captured the public’s imagination when he was photographed in the cockpit of his plane with one of his pet squirrels sitting on his flying helmet. He liked to tell the story about running into a storm on a flight from Richmond to Newark. The turbulence caused the plane to pitch and roll and Alcibiades, one of his favorite squirrels, was tossed about.’You will pardon me, squirrel,” said Mr. Merrill, who was unable to catch the animal,”but at a time like this it’s every man for himself.’ The plane landed safely and Alcibiades, the aviator said, was uninjured. Although he eschewed alcohol and tobacco, he was a frequent patron of nightclubs and racetracks and a friend of movie stars and celebrities. His co-pilot on the 1936 trans-Atlantic flight was Harry Richman, the Broadway entertainer. In 1966, he and Arthur Godfrey, the entertainer, flew a corporate jet around the world, setting 21 world speed records. Merrill was secretly married in Mexico to Toby Wing, the actress and Mack Sennett bathing beauty. Three years later their infant son, Henry, was smothered to death in his crib in 1940. Merrill’s only other child, Richard Wing Merrill, died earlier this year in Miami. Merrill was widely known as”Dick” after the fictitious”Dick Meriwell,” whose fame as a fictional hero was widespread in the 1910’s and’20s. He was given the nickname by teammates on a New Orleans semiprofessional baseball team for which he pitched both right- and left-handed. Merrill is survived by his wife and two granddaughters, Anna Wing Merrill and Simone Wing Merrill, both of Lake Elsinore. The item “Aviation Pioneer Pilot Dick Merrill Original Autograph handwritten letter + post” is in sale since Thursday, July 9, 2020. This item is in the category “Collectibles\Transportation\Aviation\Other Aviation Collectibles”. The seller is “memorabilia111″ and is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 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