Charm of the Carolines
By Bob Jones
Monday, August 23, 2010
Originally presented in the blog “Charm of the Carolines”
It’s taken me a year to convince my dad he needed to write a post for this blog on his experience getting his glider license from legendary Garland Pack in the late 1960s. Finally, I present to you guest blogger Bob Jones and his unique perspective…
It was a Friday in May of 1968 when I received a call from my buddy. “You’ve got to see this place I found!” He was bursting with enthusiasm. “Can you get off this afternoon? I’ll pick you up.”
Prentice and I met in junior high in the mid-1950s. He was a year older, but we both were in the school marching band. We soon found that we had many common interests, such as ham radios and flying. We were cadets in the local Civil Air Patrol squadron and would pass time together at the local county airport.
After high school we remained friends but set off in different directions. When my work brought me to Nashville in 1965, we were thrilled to renew our friendship after a few years while I was in college and getting established in a new job and he attended college and put in a hitch flying with the U.S. Navy.
As promised, Prentice picked me up that afternoon and we headed south out of Nashville, to where? “Just wait. You’ll love it!” he answered.
We passed through the appropriately named village of Eagleville and just a few miles south, we came upon what appeared to be a small airport with a gravel runway, a windsock, and a long hanger filled with gliders. We pulled in and went into an office located on the end of the hanger. My friend introduced me to Garland Pack, the manager of the operation.
Mr. Pack appeared to be a thin gentlemen in his 50’s, dressed in khakis with close cropped gray hair, a permanently tanned face and a big smile. He was warm, friendly and soft spoken. I explained that I was a Private Pilot (with the ink barely dry on my license) and I wanted to learn about gliders.
“Oh well,” he said, “You’re an old pro. You can get a glider endorsement on your ticket with only ten solo flights and a check ride. Let’s get started.” I didn’t realize at that time what a compliment it was for Garland Pack to call me an “old pro.
Garland Pack was born in Dickson, Tennessee, the second of four children born to Willard and Dolly Daniel Pack. He was very mechanically inclined and read all of the scientific, technical and aviation literature he could find. Garland totally restored two Waco 9 bi-planes while in high school.
Barnstormer Clyde Shockley of Muncie, Indiana, heard of Garland and came to Dickson to see the bi-planes he had restored. Clyde was very impressed with Garland’s work, and offered him room, board and flight instruction if he would come to work for him after graduation. Garland left for Muncie on the morning after his high school graduation in 1930. He returned two years later as a licensed aircraft mechanic and pilot, with his “tickets” signed by Wilbur Wright!
The next few years were spent as a “barnstormer” throughout middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky. He would fly into a small town, land in a pasture, and take folks for their first airplane rides and even teach a few flying lessons. Cornelia Fort was one of his students. Nashville has an airport named after her, another aviation legend.
Garland met his wife when he had engine failure near Creaton, Kentucky (no longer exists), and was forced to land on a farm. The family allowed him to stay while his plane was repaired, and there he met and later married their daughter Margaret Mitchell Napier.
When World War II began, Garland volunteered for the Air Transport Command of the Army Air Corp. He chose this branch because he “wanted to fly but I didn’t want to have to kill anybody.” In the military, Garland would ferry military bombers around the country and to Europe, crossing the Atlantic sixteen times. On one trip, he was to ferry a B-17, which he had never flown before, to England. Not wanting to lose his place in rotation, he studied the flight manual overnight and made the trip without incident.
Garland was transferred to the China-Burma theater of operations where he flew the Burma Road or “The Hump” as it was known. This was particularly hazardous duty, flying heavily loaded, unarmed cargo planes at high altitudes over the Himalayan Mountains. The weather was unpredictable and frequently bad, navigation aids were primitive and airfields often unimproved. Garland flew fifty-six missions “over the Hump” and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war, Garland designed, constructed and flew midget race planes from his basement workshop. While test flying his second race plane, it proved to be uncontrollable at low speeds and he had no choice but to “bail out.” I had that chute open before I passes the tail!” he said modestly.
When fellow Army transport pilot Jesse Stallings started Capitol Airways, Garland was the first pilot hired. When Capitol ceased operations several years later, Garland was in demand as a corporate pilot. When I met him, he was flying an aging DC-3 for a trucking company. The sexy biz-jets (think Lear-jet) were just coming in but he refused to transition. Garland told his employer that he would help find a qualified pilot if they desired a jet, but he would retire with the DC-3. He told us that the jets weren’t really flying but rather you just aim them and burn a hole through the sky!
The trucking company stayed with the old DC-3 for several years, preferring the safety of Garland’s flying experience.
Garland’s love was flying and glider flying in particular. He said, “You’re one with the air! You’re not beating it with a propeller or burning it with a jet.”
After my first flight I could understand his love for this sport! After releasing from the tow plane, it was so smooth and quiet! You could converse in normal tones and even hear the tow plane 1500 feet below pulling off another glider. The only sound was a gentle whish of the air passing by. We flew a few turns and stalls, and then he showed me how to return to the “key” position, fly the pattern and land. It was too late in the day for another flight, but I could return the next morning.
I could hardly sleep that night, so eager to return to Eagleville and my glider instruction. We pushed the training glider out and Mr. Pack suggested we take a tow to 500 feet and he would “follow” me through on some landings. We managed to survive my first glider landing and pushed the glider back for another flight. I climbed back into the cockpit as he reattached the tow rope. He then walked over and said, “Go to 500 feet over the key and land.” I nervously asked, “Aren’t you going?” He replied, ” You’ll be fine. You’re an old pro!”
Garland Pack passed away in 1986 at the age of 73, after two years of hospitalization with Parkinson’s disease. He is truly Tennessee’s aviation legend.
(Thank you to the Eagleville Soaring Club for permission to use these photos.)