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Welcome!  Adirondack Air is intended as a collection of information, thoughts and resources, related to aviation in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.

Mount Marcy and the other High Peaks looking west from 6,000'

Mount Marcy and the other High Peaks looking west from 6,000′

It will hopefully be a growing resource for sharing related information and resources.  Additions and suggestions are most welcome.


Mary Elizabeth Pettitt: High Flying Sky Pioneer


Of all the accomplished women among North Country natives, few if any have soared higher than Mary Elizabeth Pettitt. That is true both figuratively, in light of her many achievements, and literally, because she was an airplane pilot.

When she made the decision to become a pilot in the mid-1930s, it was unusual for the time, and daunting: 97 percent of all pilots were male.

Mary Elizabeth was born in Harrietstown in February, 1914. Her parents, William and Mary (Ostlund) Pettitt, immigrated to America in 1909. Her dad found work as a camp caretaker at Douglas Point on the southeastern shore of Upper Saranac Lake, where the Pettitts remained until the spring of 1921. The family, including five children, then moved to Media, Pennsylvania, before settling in West Orange, New Jersey, where William again found work as the caretaker of a private estate.

During her youth, Pettitt was aware of Amelia Earhart’s exploits and those of other women fliers who became pilots during the early years of American aeronautics. A moment she recalled decades later provided a fleeting connection with aviation history: smiling at her and her siblings as he departed from a neighbor’s place in New Jersey was none other than Charles Lindbergh.

In the mid-1930s, she began a seven-year stint at a music foundation, and in the early 1940s, she chose to explore a passion that had recently developed: flying. The move was triggered by two significant events: one of her sisters employed by an airline wrangled a pass for Pettitt on a flight from New York City to Montreal, which proved thrilling; and she read a newspaper article about female pilots, which clinched the decision. Although opportunities were limited, she began taking flying lessons in Martina, Pennsylvania, about an hour from her home in New Jersey, while still holding down a full-time job.

At the time, women pilots were a rarity, numbering around 750 in the United States. For a little perspective on that number, consider that roughly 3 of every 100 pilots were female. In that atmosphere (pun intended), relatively few women even attempted the training. But flying was Pettitt’s true love, and she would not be denied.

While she was still taking lessons in late 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, setting the stage for millions of Rosie the Riveters to aid the war effort by manning factory and manual labor jobs across the country.

For folks like Pettitt , life was all about flying, and when the war happened, she answered the call after reading about women military pilots, a focus of media attention that included a 1943 cover story in Life magazine. Fliers were badly needed, and although women were not allowed to join the battle, they eventually filled more than a thousand non-combat pilot positions, which allowed that many more men to join the air war against the Axis powers.

Pettitt left the music foundation to build up the flying hours required, earned her private license in 1943, and in February 1944 enlisted in the Women’s Air Force Service. As all accepted applicants did, she attended a rigorous pilot training program for several months at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, learning the ins and outs of flying the AT-6, which was built more than 200 miles east at Dallas. Whether or not the successful trainees considered themselves an elite group, numbers told the story: 25,000 applied, and only 1,830 were accepted. Of those, only 1,074 made the grade.

Graduates were subject to everything military, including calisthenics, drill, instruction courses, and discipline. They were given one uniform and paid $250 a month, but had to cover their own food, lodging, and other expenses. As skilled as male cadets (among the few exceptions was gunnery training, which wasn’t needed by noncombatants), they were dispersed to air bases across the homeland to perform jobs previously exclusive to men. This included transporting cargo, delivering aircraft from factories to bases, testing planes, towing targets for live ammo anti-aircraft practice (one WASP was killed while doing so), towing targets in like manner for fighter pilots in combat practice, performing post-maintenance flights, and any other piloting duties involving nearly 80 different types of planes.

The program, which came to be known as WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), was populated by proud and brave women who risked their lives daily. Among their ranks, 38 died in service to the country. And yet despite their outstanding and immeasurable contribution while enduring virtually the same military training as male pilots, flying roughly 60 million miles of missions, and delivering nearly 13,000 aircraft, they were basically cast aside by the US government.

As male combat pilots began returning home, the need for WASP waned, and in December 1944 the program was disbanded. Its demise was understandable in the natural course of events, but what followed seemed unconscionable: Congress voted not to give WASPs veteran status, which meant they were entitled to none of the medical, educational, and other benefits available to official veterans. Conversely, their navy counterparts, WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), who were by law created for the same purpose (to free men for ship duty), fell under the umbrella of military veterans.

Despite the rejection, pilots like Pettitt remained loyal to the cause. As a WASP, she had tested AT-6 planes at Napier Field in Dothan, Alabama. When the program ended, she stayed on through 1945, utilizing another of her capabilities — fluency in Spanish — to provide “Link” instruction to a contingent of Mexican student officers while teaching an English-speaking class of cadets as well. (To avoid the risk and expense of flying lessons, a Binghamton, New York, man, Edwin Link, had developed in 1929 the first flight simulator—the Link—that suitably prepared a pilot in the classroom.)

Returning to civilian life in 1946, she found a pronounced lack of opportunities for women pilots. (One WASP to find related work was Bette Richards, who taught flying in seaplanes at Hall’s on Lake George, New York.) At least one source of employment in connection with Pettitt’s WASP training was found: for distributors, she ferried small planes to sales locations. There was also a stint as pilot/copilot/hostess for Otto Airlines, a commuter service in Newark, New Jersey, where she flew between New York City and Atlantic City and experienced a brush with death: a plane she had just landed flew off under another pilot, who died shortly after with everyone on board when it malfunctioned and crashed.

Another promising job quickly went bust: for a coal wholesaler in New York, she was hired as a pilot/secretary, but was grounded soon after when the owner became too ill to travel.

Above all else, Pettitt wanted to fly, and clearly she was an adventurous sort, as proven already by her varied experiences. In 1947, while reading a flying magazine, she came across an advertisement that piqued her interest. A Kaiser-Frazer automobile distributor in Indiana, Rollin Stewart, was looking for a pilot/secretary, a position she had recently held for a company in New York. Such a specific title appealed to a decidedly limited job pool, and when Pettitt showed an interest, she was hired. While it was hardly obvious at the time, she was about to embark on a journey that determined the rest of her life’s course and led to a brief appearance in the national spotlight.

Next week, part 2: “secretarial work” miles high in the sky.

Photos: Mary Elizabeth Pettitt, WASP, 1944 (newsletter); LIFE magazine cover (1943); AT-6 aircraft in formation (LOC); Avenger Field, Sweetwater Texas, WASP training facility (newsletter); Link flight simulator, circa 1935 (Wikipedia)

Landing on Private Airstrips – Who’s Protected

If you decide to land on a private airstrip and you damage your airplane, who is liable? What if you are invited to land on a private strip and you bend something on your plane. Who is liable? In this article we will explore some general information about landing on private airstrips.

In the early days of aviation emergency landings were common. Fortunately there was more farmland and open space, than there were cities. When an early aviator was forced to ‘drop in’ unexpectedly they were likely to get welcomed with pie and coffee.

It is different now. The airspace is crowded, sometimes you can’t avoid flying over highly populated areas and airplanes are reliable. We don’t worry too much about having to make an emergency landing. We just have to be on the lookout for a spot just in case the unthinkable happens. That’s why those little circles on the sectional, the ones with the ‘R’ inside can be so important.

Each one is a private strip carved out of a farm, forest, or rangeland. 2,000 to 3,000 feet of green carpet waiting to catch you, when your airplane is turned into a glider. These restricted air strips are a possible resource to all of us who take to the air in light aircraft. The landowners who build and maintain these strips share a common interest in aviation, likely own an airplane and use it. For example In a 150 square mile chunk of northern Illinois, I counted 21 private airstrips and three public. Sometimes the private fields are tough to spot from the air. Especially in the Midwest where everything is green.

Let’s take a look at it from the airstrip owner’s point of view. If you land without prior permission, like in an emergency, the landowner is protected from liability as if you were a trespasser. But what if permission has been granted? All states have Recreational Use Statutes (RUS) that deal with liability issues in favor of the landowner. Typically, they give liability protection to landowners even when permission is granted for non-commercial, recreational purposes. Many states define recreational uses, such as bird watching, hunting, snowmobiling, etc. Other states contain a broad and inclusive definition that covers all recreational activities. Essentially these statutes place the risk on the person enjoying the activity. Of course, the landowner must not act negligently, or “with malicious intent” which nullifies liability protection. Landowners may allow hunters on their land to eliminate pests. Or just to be a good neighbor and share their land with others. The intent of these statutes is to relieve them of liability so that they may offer their land for recreational use. It is a win for all parties including the recreation industry. People in states like Illinois – and in many eastern states with very little public land – benefit greatly since more land is available for recreation.

The Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) has made it priority to specify “aviation” in many state’s RUS to clarify the limits of liability. The ultimate objective is for landowners to feel more comfortable allowing pilots to use their airstrips.

The next time you are planning a leisurely flight, find a little circle with an ‘R’ in the middle, look up the owner and give him or her a call. Introduce yourself and get to know them, especially if you fly in the area often. If you should get an invitation to visit take them up on it. Pick up a box of doughnuts and go meet a fellow aviator. You will enjoy the experience.

When you fly out west where there is an abundance of public land, you’ll see a combination of private and public airstrips, some of which are supported by the RAF in its ongoing effort to preserve, maintain and create public use, recreational and backcountry airstrips nationwide. These strips are there for you to enjoy and you will see some eye-popping scenery. In the Midwest the RAF has also been hard at work opening up airstrips for your use and enjoyment. Contact the RAF for more information on air strips and recreational use.

Consider supporting the RAF. Think of it as becoming a part of the other part of aviation – a safe and desirable place to land.

Mike Purpura, RAF Illinois Liaison

Operating from runways that aren’t routine

By Budd Davisson

When landing on a short or soft runway, the difference between practice and reality is that in the real world there’s more at stake than the disappointment of rolling past a specific runway light, or not turning off at a designated intersection—just as is the case when taking off from a short or soft field.

For that reason, we’re going to share some guidelines that can be used to help you get out with a minimum of hassle and risk. These aren’t going to make you into a bush pilot, but they’ll work in the sort-of-short/soft-field situations that we’re likely to see.

Just like short-field and soft-field takeoffs, it’s important here to remember your objectives. In a short-field landing, the goals are:

Have zero doubt of the outcome from the beginning.
Leave as little runway behind on touchdown as is practical, not possible.
Hit a given spot.
Touch down at minimum speed.
Part of the bit about knowing the outcome at the outset is recognizing both the airplane’s limitations, as they relate to the field in question, and your own limitations.

The limitations of the airplane change with both with the airplane type and with the environment. A runway that’s short to a Beech Bonanza is unbelievably long to a Piper Cub. A runway that is plenty long during the winter becomes a pinch in August, and runways of the same length seem to get shorter as they are moved up into the mountains of the West. In addition, a short runway with no obstacles is longer than a bigger one that has trees at the end. There are many factors that make a runway short for a given airplane, and most of those factors aren’t in the POH. Even if they are in the POH, they can’t be trusted.

Other factors that can make a given runway shorter include surface conditions and grade. A wet grass runway gives no braking, and a runway with a slight downgrade gets really short regardless of its actual length. If the runway is rough, then your braking is also in question and it becomes short.

The one thing that doesn’t change about a given airplane on a given runway is the amount of energy that airplane is carrying on touchdown and how much resistance, as supplied by the brakes and surface friction, is available to counter that energy. At a given speed and weight, an airplane is going to have a certain amount of energy. Normally, other than burning off fuel, we can’t do much about the weight, but we can definitely change the touchdown speed. This is good because speed has much more effect than does weight—the force required to stop the airplane goes up as a square of the speed. Add a little speed and the energy goes up a lot. Fortunately, the reverse is also true, which is why a major goal of a short-field landing is to touch down as slowly as possible.

There’s a misconception that the proper way to land slowly is to fly final as slowly as possible. That’s not entirely true. We want to arrive at the minimum safe speed (stall plus a comfortable margin for bumpy air, gusts, and you not being on your game), but that doesn’t require flying the entire final that slowly. We only need to be that slow when over the threshold. During the approach, we’ll start out at normal approach speed and gradually slow to a predetermined minimum speed over the threshold. As we slow down, at some point we’ll see the airplane become more of a brick, and glideslope control will be slowly transferred to the throttle. Then we will use the throttle to keep the threshold/runway numbers stationary in our windshield.

Watching the threshold/numbers move is the key to our success. Just remember: If they appear to be moving toward us (or down in the windshield), we will land beyond them. If they are moving away (or up), we will land short. The goal is to hold them stationary with subtle movements of the throttle. The closer we get, the more obvious the movements become.

We’ve said that one of our goals is to leave as little of the runway behind us as possible, but that does not mean hanging the tail over the threshold on touchdown. Serious bush flying sometimes requires flying on the ragged edge, but few of us are likely to land on a runway that absolutely requires we use every inch. The average light airplane doesn’t need much more than 500 to 800 feet to stop, so unless the runway is 1,000 feet long, it doesn’t make sense to try to use every foot. Besides, trying to plant it right at the end of the runway exposes us to the risk of landing short. If you’re going to make a mistake, it’s better to roll off the other end at a slow speed than drop it in the trees right at the approach end.

At a minimal approach speed the airplane won’t have enough energy to flare normally, so fight the urge to bring the nose up until nearly the last second. And don’t suddenly chop the throttle. Gradually close it so the airplane eases onto the runway, rather than flops on and bounces. Bounces take up runway length and ruin braking.

Once down, raise the flaps to transfer all the weight to the gear and smoothly get on the brakes. Try hard to avoid sliding a tire because a sliding wheel isn’t doing anything to slow you down.

Gradual touchdown

A short-field landing is an “arrival.” You clunk on. A soft-field landing, however, should be a gradual merging of the airplane with the soft surface. The theory is that we’re going to ease our way onto the runway so gradually that we minimize the chance of the surface’s grabbing a wheel.

To accomplish this we’re going to fly what starts out as a normal approach, but as we come into ground effect we’re going to start flying in formation with the ground, doing our best to get closer and closer to it but never touching it. Obviously, we are going to touch it, but we’re going to delay it to the last second by using throttle throughout the flare.

This is really a neat game where, as the airplane tries to slow down and settle onto the runway, we keep adding just enough power to hang it in the air only inches above the runway. But we don’t want to keep it there. Gradually ease the throttle back just a little and let the airplane barely touch. The throttle will stay where it is or will be slightly increased, as you try to soften the touchdown and keep the nose up. Slowly ease the power further back and let the wheels settle on the rest of the way. Then, while the power is being brought further back, gradually lower the nose to the ground—don’t let it drop of its own accord. Everything we’re doing here is an effort to stop the tires from penetrating any deeper than necessary into the quicksand.

Once you’re down, keep the yoke back to keep pressure off the nosewheel and stay off the brakes unless they are needed because they probably won’t grab evenly and will cause you to slip and slide.

Soft, short fields

First of all, there are some takeoffs and landings that shouldn’t be made. When the runway is both soft and short, the best you can do is use a modified soft-field technique for either landing or takeoff, but it’s a serious compromise in both cases and the ramifications should be closely considered. If it’s a soft, short field and you realize on takeoff that you aren’t going to make it, you have to abort much earlier because the braking won’t be there to stop you. Landing in the same situation is even worse because by the time you realize you can’t get stopped, you probably can’t go around either.

Any runway longer than 1,800 feet generally will accommodate most small airplanes without using special techniques, as long as the density altitude isn’t too high and the obstacles aren’t very tall. Still, using short-field techniques can’t hurt. Even though 1,500 feet isn’t really short, it is short to the pilot accustomed to landing on a mile of concrete. “Short” is a personal definition. If the runway looks and feels short to you, or if it may be soft, treat it accordingly.

Budd Davisson is an aviation writer/photographer and magazine editor who has written approximately 2,200 articles and has flown more than 300 different types of aircraft. A CFI for 36 years, he teaches about 30 hours a month in his Pitts S-2A Special.


Crashed in the Wilderness

Crashed airplane and tarp shelter

To keep warm, the plane crash victims huddled together under a tarp (bottom right of photo)

I was sitting at my desk on the evening of February 21, when I received a call from DEC’s Ray Brook dispatcher. “There is a plane crash near Lake Placid, can you respond?” I couldn’t believe it. I was just going through our archives of Adirondack plane crashes, and so I thought maybe I had heard wrong. “Are you serious?” I asked. But this was real, and it was very real for the three people on the plane that crashed just minutes earlier.

People huddled together under a tarp

The rangers took this image of the victims in their tarp shelter

Amazingly, all three aboard the plane were unhurt. Still, it was February in the Adirondacks, and the pilot and passengers were stranded on the side of a mountain; they remained in incredible danger. Temperatures were already in the single digits and would probably be below zero at higher elevations as the night wore on. Fortunately, they had been in cell phone contact with us, and gave coordinates that put the crash site on Nye Mountain in the High Peaks, the same location of another crash in 1978.

Within a few minutes, I dressed in fleece layers and Gore-Tex and filled my extra large pack with two sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a tent, a stove and food: standard emergency gear for a DC Ranger on a winter rescue. Studying a map, I noticed that it appeared the crash was 3 miles from a road high up the mountain. So, we devised a plan whereby Ranger Giglinto and I would locate the crash, do a medical assessment, and bring enough gear to keep the victims comfortable or if possible, walk them out that night.

Even though we each carried 45 pounds, we made very good time going up the mountain. I occasionally glanced at the GPS, keeping tabs on our navigation and progress. When the GPS indicated we were within 1000 feet of the victims’ anticipated location, we yelled for the subjecst. Our voices is carried well through the valleys below, but we heard no response. When we were within 200 feet of the coordinates, we became concerned. “They should hear us,” we said to each other. Just then Ranger Joe La Pierre – the incident commander who had been directing the search and rescue response from below – radioed to us that the coordinates were wrong: the plane wasn’t on Nye, it was on Big Burn Mountain, 6 miles away.

GPS units have dozens of options for coordinates; the pilot relayed the coordinates for the crash site from a hand-held GPS in one format, but these were mistakenly re-plotted it in a different format. It was an unfortunate miscommunication, but a perfect example of the importance of remembering to relay the format and datum your unit uses.

Thankfully, we recognize the error and quickly refocused the search and rescue operation to the new area. As Ranger Giglinto and I were still deep in the backcountry, this required sending out new personnel. Fortunately the correct location of the crash was not as remote, and Rangers Kevin Burns, Chris Kostoss, Pete Evans and Dave Russell were able to use snowmobiles to get partway there. From that point, they used snowshoes to break trail through three feet deep powder snow.

I made it to the new command post just in time to hear the radio transmission of the rangers closing in on the crash site. In order to find the exact site, the rangers needed to make voice contact with the subjects, yelling back-and-forth to hone in on them. Finally, at 2 AM, the rangers reached the victims, providing them with much-needed extra layers for warmth and snow shoes to wear on the hike out.

For six hours, the three men had been huddled together attempting to stay warm, sitting on gear and spruce boughs to keep themselves off the snow, and draping a tarp over their heads for warmth. “We were just cold,” pilot Frank Drombroski said later of the ordeal. “You can’t bundle up enough in that temperature for that long without the cold having its way with you.”

Although they still had a little more than a mile to hike, their spirits were lifted by the arrival of the rescue team and their body temperatures rose with the physical activity. At 3:30 AM, they were roadside and evaluated by staff from the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service.

Pictures of wrecked plane in the treesLater that day I led FAA investigators into the crash site. The daylight revealed just how lucky the men were. The plane had nosed into the ground, but the trees slowed and softened the impact. The tail section was suspended in the air ten feet off the ground. The wings took most of the impact. There was smaller debris scattered about and the tops of trees were sheared off in a line, revealing the flight path. If the man had not been wearing safety harnesses, they might of been ejected from the plane.

On March 9, the wreckage was removed by a salvage company based in Delaware. The plane was rigged and long- out to the helipad at the Raybrook office by Sikorsky helicopter. From there, the FAA was able to get a further inspection of the wreckage to aid in the preparation of their report on the cause of the accident.

As a DEC Ranger, I found it extremely interesting to be involved in a crash incident from start to finish. From my experience on the job and recent research, I already knew that numerous aircraft have crashed in the Adirondack wilderness through the years. In incidents like this one, where the plane hit near a mountain summit, in that topography, there is usually a fatality. It was remarkable that all three men were able to walk out with barely a scratch.

By NYS Forest Ranger Scott VanLaer as printed in the New York State Conservationist, December 2013. Scott VanLaer is a DEC forst ranger working out of DEC’s Ray Brook office in the Adirondacks.




ADK Plane Crashes


Picture of crashed Grumman Goose airplane

Crash of Grumman Goose plane, 1/8/1957

Since the early 1900s, there have been nearly 200 documented significant plane crashes in the Adirondacks. DEC Raners maintain a database of these wreckages.  Occasionally a hiker or hunter will stumble upon one of the many old crashes scattered throughout the park and report it. When this happens, it’s important to determine if the wreckage is from a documented crash or one that has not been recorded.

The first recorded collision in the Adirondacks was of an early Wright biplane that crashed on Raquette Lake in 1912. Since then, there have been crashes of gliders, gyrocopters, helicopters and even a massive B-52.

Grumman Goose, nose down crash

Crash of Grumman Goose, 1957

In fairly recent history, hikers have come across two previously undiscovered plane crashes. In 1979, hikers in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, wandering off trail near the Robinson River, caught a glimpse of an aircraft partially submerged in mud and water in a beaver meadow.  While it had obviously been there a long time, the hikers reported the sighting anyway.  Thankfully they did because the plane was a missing piper cub that was last seen departing Massena on December 4th, 1954.  At the time, the plane and the pilot had been the subjects of a massive search, but no trace of them had been found.  For a quarter of a century, the plane lay hidden by water and mud until a beaver dam released, revealing the aircraft.

In 1990, hikers climbing Boreas Mountain uncovered the wreckage of a plane near the summit.  The skeletal remains of the pilot were an obvious sign it was an undiscovered crash.  That plane, a Cessna U206A, had crashed in 1984.

from the New York State Conservationist, December 2013

Condor II – The Story of American Airlines NC-12363

American Airlines NC-12363 was a Curtiss-Wright T-32 Condor II that crashed in a snowstorm in the Adirondacks in 1934.  Aviation artist Ted Williams drew this rendition of it for the cover of Skyways: The Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940 #83 July 2007.

Drawing of a 1933 Wright T-32 Condor II in American Airlines blue and orange

Ted William’s drawing of a 1933 Wright T-32 Condor II in American Airlines blue and orange

The Curtiss-Wright T-32 Condor II was first built in 1933 and introduced several firsts to commercial air transportation.  These included retractible landing gear, and passenger cabin soundproofing.  Some variants had passenger sleeping compartments and one dubbed New York, was modified with a wheelchair ramp and other amenities to be accessible to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

N-12363 is the only known survivor of the 45 Condor IIs that were built.  Some parts were picked up by passersby and the remains moved and stored by a Richard Newman of Moab, Utah, who hoped some day to restore it.  The colors for the illustration were taken from fabric found at the crash site.

Plan drawing of N-12384, outfitted for Admiral Richard Byrd

Plan drawing of N-12384, outfitted for Admiral Richard Byrd


Elevation drawing of N-12384, outfitted for Admiral Richard Byrd

Elevation drawing of N-12384, outfitted for Admiral Richard Byrd


Perhaps the most famous Condor II was NR-12384, used by Admiral Richard Byrd in his second Antarctic Expedition from 1933-1935.

These drawings are from that airplane.









“N-12363 was dellivered to American Airways in March of 1933 as a T-32 day plane with 15 passenger seats.  It was designated Number 166 and assigned to the Boston – Chicago and Newark – Boston service of the Eastern Division of American Airways.  Its crew that day, December 28, 1934, were Newark based brothers Ernie and Dale Dryer, former barnstormers who had performed throughout the Midwest on the air show circuit.  They were friends and contemporaries of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and others of that era.

The afternoon of December 28th, Condor Number 166 left Boston for Cleveland and Chicago with stops at Albany and Syracuse.  The lower baggage compartment was full of mail sacks and Air Express packages.  Ernie Dryer was the captain and Dale flew as his co-pilot.  There was a single revenue passenger, Mr Ralph Hambrook of Washington, DC, and a dead-heading company pilot, John Brown.  Ernie Dryer landed Flight 166 at Syracuse around 5:45 in lightly blowing snow.  Talking by phone to AA’s Dispatch at Albany, Dryer was informed the weather was reported to be blizzard conditions to the west over Lake Erie and Cleveland.  Dispatch cleared them to return east to Albany and then Boston so they departed Syracuse at 6:30 pm.  The crew and dispatch didn’t know the storm they were avoiding had passed to the north and its fury was directed in front of them, they were flying into it.

Some 35 minutes into the flight from Syracuse the crew became lost as the radio antenna iced up and cut off their ground contact.  The right engine started missing due to carburetor ice accumulation in the throat.  The wings started collecting ice also as the aircraft had no wing deicers.  Propeller alcohol was hand pumped and caused ice particles sliding off the propellers to slap into the fuselage.  They were now in the middle of a massive major snow storm, losing power with zero visibility, just snow and blackness.  Captain Dryer circled with his side window open looking for any sign of habitation but there were none.  No sight of anything due to the heavy snow.  The ship radio crackled static and noisy whines.  Now both engines were losing power.  Dryer continually shut off the magnetos momentarily and then back on to backfire the engines and clear the ice in the carburetors.  Now 40 minutes had passed and their altitude was slipping away due to the loss of power.  Then the right engine sputtered and at the same time Dyer suddenly felt, heard and saw tree branches hitting and sliding by the cockpit windshield and lower wing.  Instinctively, Ernie pulled back hard on the control yoke, stalled the aircraft and flipped the magneto switches “Off” while yelling at his brother, Dale, to “Hang On!”

Old 166 was traveling at an estimated 70 mph when it was pulled up into the stall.  She was descending at about 100 feet per minute in a tail down attitude when the tail wheel snagged the top of a 130 foot Beechwood tree, which was in a grove of 100 foot high hardwood trees.  The tree top snagged and partially sheared but held the crippled airliner’s tail wheel.  It acted like a carrier’s arresting gear, abruptly halting her forward travel in less than 40 feet.  The Condor cam to rest in a horizontal attitude on a four foot blanket of snow.  They were down, but where?

Sitting on the snow, shaken, the pilots saw the light from the nose mounted passing and landing lights, also the cockpit and passenger cabin lights remained on.  Dryer killed the lights to save the battery.  The aircraft remained completely intact with only the outer wing panels folded back and tips broken but Dryer ordered the aircraft immediately evacuated for fear of fire!  Later, when it beam apparent that the plane would not catch fire they returned and scrounged for anything that could be used to protect against the snow and the cold.  There was a half sandwich which belonged to Brown and water jugs were in the rear of the cabin. But there were no blankets so they used seat cushions to sit on and for warmth.  A large section of cabin fabric was cut off to build a shelter for the passenger, Mr. Hambrook.  The heavy snow continued throughout the night dropping over an additional foot on the wrecked aircraft and survivors.  At early daylight the snow ceased but the temperature dropped to almost zero.  Being inside, the wind was not a big problem but they could hear it howling among the high tree tops.

As the day progressed the survivors found they were in a heavily forested area with nothing but snow, trees and gloom!  They had no indication that they were on a mountain side.  Dale Dryer tried the radio without success, however John Brown finally managed to get it to work.  They were able to talk to Albany and inform them that they were down, safe but freezing.  In 1934 radio direction finding was a soon-to-be discovered art so unavailable to help them in their predicament.  Pressed for an approximate location after flying blind nearly 45 minutes after leaving Syracuse, their estimate was 200 miles south of their actual location.  But there was a massive mobilization and rescue under way.  New York Governor Lehman ordered ground and air troops to mobilize and start searching.  New York State Troopers were call out to assist and local police and volunteers were asked to help with ground searches.  25 airline aircraft were diverted to help with the search along with as many Air National Guard aircraft as could be readied.

Local search teams headed out into the weather to search for the Condor and its survivors but the first day came and went with no sign of NC-12363 or its survivors.  In the town of Poland, New York, where NC-12363 was thought to be within a 50 mile radius, over a thousand newspaper/radio reporters, State Troopers and National Guard searchers concentrated their efforts, virtually taking over every spare inch of space while stringing in miles of telephone wires, massing trucks, cars and generally just over burdening the town’s resources, as part of the rescue effort.

To the north, in Morehouseville, New York, a village of small houses, one man claimed he heard the engines of a large airplane close by around 7:30 the night before.  He was sure of the direction and it was his intention to trek through the snow into the mountain area south of the town.  Being woodsmen and foresters he and his neighbors formed a party of five (two brothers and three neighbors) then departed on snow shoes carrying hunting equipment and axes.  They planned to travel light and as fast as they could across the frozen landscape.  Meanwhile the search efforts to the south had not turned up a trace of the downed airliner and the brief landscape description given before the Condor’s batteries quit suggested that the accident site was further north, way up in the Adirondack Mountains.

In late afternoon search planes were working north of Poland when an Air National Guard pilot spotted a plume of black smoke off in the snowy distance.  He flew toward it and in the fading light saw the outline of the large airliner with four people standing close by and waving.  He circled over the crash site and slowed his open cockpit plane down as much as possible so as to drop a small chute which held blankets, sandwiches and a quart of rye whiskey.  But the chute became entangled very high up in the trees.  Another American Airways Condor in the search saw the National Guard plane and then the parachute.  Flying closer the pilot spotted the Condor.  This was Chief Pilot Dean Smith of American’s Eastern division, who had flown the Condor II for Admiral Byrd in Antarctica that summer.  He immediately contacted Albany on the radio and gave the location, reporting that the survivors seemed to be in good shape.

The ground search party of five men, from Morehouseville, heard the aircraft circling and headed in that direction.  But at the crash site the survivors were looking up at the parachute with dismay, as they had no way to get it down.  Then they heard the ground party a short distance away, who were shouting and firing guns to draw other searchers to the spot.  It was getting dark but the five new arrivals set to work with their axes to cut down the tree which had hung up the chute and supplies.  They had brought some extra clothes, whiskey and sausages which were immediately consumed by the survivors.  The first tree fell hung up on another and so it too was chopped down.  As it turned out four trees had to be cut down before they reached the chute.  It was getting dark so the rescuers determined it was too dangerous and risky to move the survivors out in the dark.  They set about making a large lean-to and built a larger fire.  The next morning many more searchers arrived with sleds and supplies so Mr. Hambrook, the passenger, was carried out on a sled while the three pilots walked out with their rescuers.  The three pilots all suffered minor frost bite and were hospitalized briefly at Utica, New York for a few days.  Dale Dryer suffered a fractured jaw which required more medical attention later.

American’s mechanics, using horse drawn sleds, removed the engines, props, flight instruments and landing gear then carried them back to a hangar at Utica.  The carburetors were found to have almost solid ice in the throat with an opening diameter of less than a quarter of an inch.  It indicated the Curtiss Wright Engineering Department’s claim that they had solved the problem of carburetor icing on the Wright R1820 radial engine was not so.  This had major consequences as the Wright R1820 had been selected to power the new Douglas DC-2 and subsequently the Douglas DC-3.  As a result anyone who has flown a Wright engined DC-3 will remember that the carburetor heat levers were right by the throttles on the top of the throttle pedestal.  Mixture lever were down almost to the floor!”

NC-12363 was a local magnet and a souvenir hunter’s major delight even though it was more than eighteen miles up in the mountains, over rugged terrain.  Eventually though, everything possible was carried off including the cockpit and cabin seats, insulation, fabric, floor sections and metal flooring from the cockpit.  One woman was even seen staggering down the trail carrying the cabin entry door.  Everything that could be stripped away was!  The cables, control yoke, cockpit panels, nacelle cowling, metal skin off the center wing, the wing struts, all were gone!  Parts and pieces were now scattered for a 75 mile radius of the Herkimer County Seat in New York.

Years later I had the pleasure of meeting Ernie Dryer.  We became good friends and would meet all over the country, as he and his wife did a lot of traveling in his pickup camper.  Ernie did quite well in life and should laugh because he had “only” a 6th grade education.  I told him a 6th grade education in the 1917 pre WW I era was better than a Doctorate in the 1970’s.

Ernie became quite senior at American and when the first underpowered B-707 was introduced he was number one or two on the seniority list.  As I recall he flew Flights 1 and 2 on the New York/Los Angeles route and had an interesting story about one of his very early flights.  That particular winter evening he had a fully loaded plane bound for LAX out of Idlewild.  It had snowed earlier that day but had turned into a light rain. Upon receiving takeoff clearance he put the pedal to the metal however the airspeed came up slower than normal.  Very soon all the runway was behind them and they were about to go through the blast fence when he demanded “Gear Up! ” The copilot looked like he was going to argue so Earnie said “Gear Up Dammit!  The co-pilot’s hesitation was such that as the gear came up it took out part of the blast fence, with enough noise to scare the hell out of the passengers sitting over the wing.  Ernie said to the copilot, “Now look what you’ve went and done! “He did three fly-bys, none of which revealed any damage. Still though Flight Operations wanted him to go out over the water, dump fuel and return to Idlewild.  Ernie had no indication of anything wrong so we told them he was going to LAX. His reasoning was that it was too cold in New York and if he had a hung gear LAX was more prepared to handle the new 707 than Idlewild, plus he would burn off the fuel without having to screw around over New York for another hour.  Upon reaching LAX the normal landing was made after which an investigation did not show a single scratch on the aircraft.

Seems neither Boeing nor American’s engineering and safety committee had done enough research on the effects of snow or slush on the early, and very underpowered, B-707’s takeoff roll.  Boeing engineers, after some serious study, found the snow, slush and water should not have allowed the 707 to get past V1, much less reach V2. They concluded that Dryer and the 707 should have ended up in Jamaica Bay.  But because he did not Boeing asked him to come up to Seattle to show and tell them what he had done! Ernie said Boeing sent him a letter about four months later; he would chuckle about it but never let me see the letter. He passed away in Hemet, California in 1985.

Top: Dick Newman at the crash site in 1965 Bottom: N12363 Fuselage Frame

Top: Dick Newman at the crash site in 1965
Bottom: N12363 Fuselage Frame

by Dick Newman, as published in REPArtee – The Retired Eastern Pilots Association Magazine, Winter 2008