Dick Merrill

Henry Tyndall "Dick" Merrill(February 1, 1894 – October 31, 1982) was an early aviation pioneer. Among his feats he was the highest paid air mail pilot, flew the first round-trip transatlantic flight in 1936, was Dwight D. 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.

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 Dick Merrill's Early years

Merrill had from an early age been intrigued by the exploits of the first flyers and when he enlisted in World War I , he began learning to fly while stationed in France but returned home to work on the Illinois Central Railroad as a fireman.

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 Dick Merrill's Private life

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.

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 Dick Merrill's World War II

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 Dick Merrill's Later life

, 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.

Wing would spend the remainder of her life actively promoting her husband's rightful place in the annals of aviation history.

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 Dick Merrill's See also

  • Virginia Aviation Museum
  • Eastern Air Lines

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 Dick Merrill's References

  1. Cooper. Ralph. "Henry Tyndal Merrill, 1894-1982: AKA Henry 'Dick' Merrill." earlyaviators.com, October 13, 2009. Retrieved: July 16, 2010.
  2. "Harry Richman." imdb.com. Retrieved: September 7, 2009.
  3. "Transatlantic Types." time.com. Retrieved: September 7, 2009.
  4. "Transatlantic Tradition." time.com. Retrieved: September 7, 2009.
  5. "A Strange Airplane Story: The Ping Pong Flight (one of Richman's ping pong balls is shown on this site)." b-29s-over-korea.com. Retrieved: 7 September 2009.
  6. Davis, Martin and Whittle 1978, p. 7. Note: Ten ex-"civi" Douglas DC-3s were originally used but were rapidly replaced by the C-47.

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