Garland Pack, who soared high, grinned at death, dies

Garland Pack, who soared high, grinned at death, dies

Tennessean Staff Writer
March 27, 1986

Garland Pack, 73, an aviator who soared on high and grinned often at the specter of death, died yesterday in Veterans Administration Hospital at Murfreesboro.

He died of Parkinson’s disease, for which he had been hospitalized for almost two years, his daughter said last night.

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Woodbine Funeral Home. Burial will be in Hermitage Memorial Gardens. Members of the Soaring Association, an international association of glider pilots, will serve as pall bearers.

Born the son of an auto repair shop owner in Dickson, Tenn., Mr. Pack learned to fly while still in high school, “with an manual on his knee,” his daughter, Judy Mraz of Dickson, said. “He didn’t have an instructor.”

Mr. Pack left Dickson about 1930 to take a scholarship at Oyde Shockley’s School of Aviation, in Muncie, Indiana, where he earned his mechanic’s license.

By 1932, he had assembled a small biplane, and he launched on a brief career barnstorming in and out of the Tennessee and Kentucky hills, offering rides, just for the fun of it, to folks for 50 cents.

He met his wife, Margaret, after landing in a coal-mining town called Creaton, Ky., which does not exist anymore, his daughter said. “His plane broke down, and he had to land in that field,” Mraz said. “My mother’s father was a coal miner, and my grandmother invited him to stay.”

During World War II, Mr. Pack flew in the military Air Transport Command, shuttling supplies from the U.S. to Europe. “He had volunteered for the ATC because he said he didn’t want to kill anybody,” Mraz said.

Later, as a military pilot, he flew “The Hump” over the Himalayas, carrying gasoline and other supplies from India to China. “Burma Road, as The Hump also known, was real dangerous,” Mraz said, “because he flew the route with no gunners or weapons aboard at all, and he was loaded down with gasoline.”

“It was real dangerous,” Mr. Pack later recalled. “On a clear day, if you couldn’t see the wreckage of several other planes, you knew you were on the wrong route.”

After the war, Mr. Pack returned to Middle Tennessee, and to his basement workshop in Nashville, where he learned to build midget planes for racing and telescopes for stargazing. “He worked out of Cornelia Fort Airport, Cumberland Airport and Berry Field” Mraz said. “He built the Eagleville Airport, hanger and all.”

He did fly as a professional pilot, but only occasionally. He was the first pilot ever hired by Capital Airways, the charter airline founded in Nashville by the late Jesse F. Stalling.

In December 1961, Mr: Pack was riding as a passenger in a light plane (being flown by a physician) that crashed at night in a dense fog near LaGrange, GA. The crash was blamed on faulty air mapping of the hilly area and a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure, which caused an incorrect reading on the plane’s altimeter.

The physician suffered a broken jaw, and Mr. Pack broke a wrist, an arm and a leg, his daughter said. A third passenger, a child who had been sleeping under the pilot’s seat, was unharmed.

On another occasion, Mr. Pack lost an aileron (a control element on a wing) on a small plane he had flown out of Cornelia Fort, and at 4,100 feet, he bailed out. “I jumped,” he later said.” The chute was open before I passed the tail of the plane. Then I was wondering if I was going to hit a power line or land in the Cumberland River.” He missed both.

During the early 1960s, Mr. Pack’s passion for flight found a new outlet – the glider.

“When you have flown in a glider,” he told Tennessean writer George Barker in 1963, “you have flown.” “You are part of the air,” he said. “You’re not beating against it with propellers or burning it with jets. You just sit in it and ride with it”

He continued to tinker in his basement with the racing planes, and he also constructed a full-scale replica of the Wright Brothers’ first flying machine. “That’s why we’re all nuts,” his wife, Margaret, joked last night, as she and her daughter reminisced about her husband.

In 1975, Mr. Pack’s son, an avid hang glider and a hang glider designer, was killed while trying to perfect an experimental model. Lee Pack was 22 when he died on Percy Priest Lake.

How important was flying to Garland Pack?

In addition to his wife and his daughter, Mr. Pack is survived by a second daughter, Tayye Haley, of Mount Juliet; a stepson, Gayle Napier, Fort Worth, Texas; two sisters, Margaret Smith and Myrtha Field, Dickson, and seven grandchildren.