Harvey E. Heller
FTL pilot, Harvey Heller. He was a WWII vet, having served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew "The Hump" - Burma, China, India Theater, and was a member of the Hump Pilots Association. I suspect he, in some way, provided supply to original members of the AVG. He loved the FTL. When he passed away, he was buried in his airline uniform.
I'm Harvey Heller's son and the following are highlights that I recall from his FTL career during the years 1951-1978:
- Sometime during 1960, Harvey was told he would be transferred to Newark, NJ from Chicago. He presented a letter of resignation to the Chief Pilot. I'm not sure who that was, perhaps "Pinky," as Harvey was not inclined to move his wife, Gerry, and son to the Newark area. The Chief Pilot said he was going to hold the letter for a week, because a new base was opening in San Francisco. We ended up there, and we were fortunate to remain in California
- Harvey was a fan of the constellation, affectionately known as "The Connie." For reasons known only to him, he was particular about whom he let us dead-head with on FTL flights. I recall climbing up into the top bunk with my head very close to the fuselage. Although loud, as long as the engineer maintained good cabin pressure, it wasn't too bad. One time, Harvey called me up into the cockpit to view a lightning storm. It was more impressive than fireworks. The sky was really ablaze. At that point, I realized I was a committed ground pounder.
- Harvey shared one hair raising experience that occurred on the ground. He was leaning in a FTL aircraft cargo space for a closer view. Upon stepping back, the cargo door promptly dropped down. A second later and he would have been permanently grounded.
- As others, he regularly flew into Saigon and Danang. I don't recall which of the two airfields he was referencing, but he conveyed that one had to take off due north, give the plane full power, and turn quickly to avoid the war zone. And yes...those airliners were being shot at. One time, he brought home a piece of shrapnel that was from a pile along the runway. That memento reinforced the danger associated with his job.
- On one flight over either Canada or Alaska, I don't recall which it was, the copilot and he witnessed huge fireballs being shot up from the earth below, a vast unpopulated area. They came up at regular intervals. The copilot wanted to report them as UFOs. For whatever reason, he passed on the suggestion.
- We really enjoyed the company picnics at Blackberry Farm in Cupertino, California. The company softball game was a lot of fun. Harvey remained close friends with Pete Rinne and Bob Tharp throughout his FTL career. In fact, it was Bob who convinced Gerry and him to move to Vancouver, Washington after his retirement.
CDR USN (Ret)
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