Merrill Wien was practically born in an airplane: as an infant he traveled in his parents’ airplanes to air shows’ tucked safely in a laundry basket. His father, Noel Wien, a pioneer Alaska bush pilot [hyperlink to a website about Noel and the book], helped Merrill start flying young: at age 8 he was in the right seat of a Ford Trimotor, and at age 10 his father had him flying a J3 Cub. Though some suspect it occurred earlier, Merrill soloed on his 16th birthday, then earned his commercial and instrument ratings on his 19th birthday.
Merrill was raised in the Alaskan bush flying environment, so most of his flying was in Alaska. In 1950, he started flying for Wien Airlines in single engine bush airplanes (such as the Pilatus Porter). In 1951 he was hired by Pan American, Seattle base, and flew for six months. When he received a draft notice, he was allowed to enlist in the Air Force, and graduated from Air Force Pilot Training in September 1953. He flew C-119′s (Fairchild) about 2000 hours and spent the last six months in Air Rescue Squadron flying Grumman SA-16 Albatross based at Ladd Field in Fairbanks, Alaska. He was discharged from the USAF in September 1956.
Merrill returned to airline flying and flew for in the airlines for 34 years. In 1990 he retired from scheduled airline flying. In 1991 and 1992, he flew in Alaska flying C-46′s into remote areas hauling construction materials and bulk fuel.
He heard that the CAF (then the Confederate Air Force, now Commemorative Air Force) was looking for C-46 experience, and became very involved flying and training in the C-46. This led to time in many CAF aircraft, including the B-25, and “Fifi”, the only flying Boeing B-29. He flew for the CAF for many years as an instructor and check pilot.
Eventually he was recruited to be one of eight national designated pilot examiners, called NDPER’s. This was a program initiated by the EAA, overseen by the FAA, to provide examiners for vintage airplanes, since this type of experience within the FAA was becoming extinct. With type ratings in several different vintage airplanes, this rare bread of aviators were authorized to do flight checks in as many as 80 or so vintage airplanes. This was an opportunity to fly many airplanes he had never flown. He resigned his NDPER status in 2000.
With flight time in a wide array of aircraft, some of the other aircraft types Merrill has spent a significant amount of time piloting are the: Nordyn Norseman, P-38, Grumman Widgeon, Broussard, T-28, Twin Beech, DC-3, DC-4, C-46, 749 Constellation, Fairchild F-27, Cessna 170, 185 and 195 and the Boeing 737′s and 727′s.
He is currently living in Bellingham, Washington, and working as the Director of Flight Operations for the Heritage Flight Museum. He also holds the position of Chief of Safety for the museum and as such, still remembers his father’s practical advice to him when he was flying as a young bush pilot in Alaska: “Remember, always bring the airplane back.” He is currently flying his Scout and an occasional T-6.