Son Of On the Lighter Side

Not to be outdone by our Mr Johnsson, I contribute some true Texas Tall Tales of a memorable character I met while flying a J-3 Cub around the nation back in the mid-'70s. "Ol' George" McEntire was another of those Texas legends, and I started hearing mention of his name as far away as Casa Grande, Arizona, as someone worth looking up.

How Fate brought McEntire and me together, and about my four days of adventures around Del Rio with him, fairly requires a whole book, so I'll stick to a few episodes for now. (— K O Eckland)

How Brief Is a Briefing?

A former Lockheed test pilot, among other things, George McEntire was a well-off cattleman and owner of considerable land around southwestern Texas, and as "down home" as they come. For one thing he enjoyed a passion for racing horses, and made ritual flights to a track at Ruidoso, New Mexico.

"Ol' George," as he was best known, always telephoned FAA Flight Service Station in San Antonio before those flights to Ruidoso to check the weather enroute. To illustrate his fame in the region, he once recorded the shortest weather briefing on record in this phone conversation:

    FSS: "Flight Service."

    McEntire: "Ol' George."

    FSS: "Nope."

    McEntire: "Thanks."

He hung up and drove to the racetrack instead, in a downpour.
Lost In a Mental Fog

During his time as a check-pilot for production Constellations at Lockheed's factory in Burbank, McEntire had more experiences than you can shake a control-stick at. Once he overheard where an Air Force Connie was having panel problems while trying to get into Burbank on a foggy night—its ILS and other instruments for a blind landing were not working. They circled above the fog, awaiting instructions.

Ol' George suggested to the Operations chief that he take a Connie up and lead them down on his instruments, which seemed like a sensible idea, since the local fog was light enough to permit that. He got a co-pilot and galloped off to the rescue, pulling up alongside the circling C-69.

"Tuck in as close to my starboard side as you can without chewin' off my tail," he radioed the other Connie, "Turn on your headlights and stay right with me. Keep me in sight, and I'll get you down, OK?"

The C-69 driver agreed that was a good plan, and closed the gap between them. With Ol' George's co-pilot acting as a lookout, they formed up for an approach and slipped into the fog layer.

"How they doin'?" Ol' George asked his co-pilot.

Looking over his shoulder at the lights of the shadowy C-69, he answered, "Right with us."

Although Burbank's runway was wide, Ol' George stayed off to the left to land on the dirt shoulder, letting the C-69 have the full runway. They came in low over the fence and touched down.

"How about now?" he asked.

The co-pilot said, "They're down."

Ol' George, uncertain of what might lie ahead in the fog, hit the throttles for a go-around back to the runway. As they climbed, the co-pilot said, "Guess what?"


"They're still with us..."

After some patient radioed instructions, Ol' George got them on the runway the second time and convinced them to stay down.
Texas Gooney Bird

McEntire had a rancher-friend, Harry*, who decided that flying was the only way to get around Texas in a hurry. However, he was one of those types who God never intended should fly.

Harry called the Beechcraft factory and ordered a new Bonanza over the phone. As a package, eight hours of dual instructions came with it, which Harry figured was all he needed to get it home. Ol' George flew him up to Wichita on the Saturday it was ready, then flew home and had his bulldozer driver go over to Harry's ranch and scrape a 2000-foot runway into the prevailing wind.

Harry got in his eight hours during that weekend at Wichita and headed home with his solo ferry ticket in hand. However, it turned out that after several missed approaches, he needed 2,100 feet to land, going over a drainage ditch and wiping out his landing gear, stopping just short of a cattle watering trough. Harry's hired help got the Bonanza on a flat-bed truck, and took it to the airport for a new gear.

McEntire told his 'dozer-man to go add another few hundred feet to the runway. Harry later picked up his repaired craft and flew it home. That time there were no missed approaches, but he still came in too hot and overshot, taking out his new set of wheels and doing in a wing, as well, before stopping a few feet from the trough.

Because of a problem with the local sheriff about trucking the plane, which had previously caused some traffic congestion, mechanics were brought in to repair the Bonanza in the barn. During the down-time, Ol' George had more footage scraped, to where Harry International was well over 3,000 feet long.

On the big day when Harry's Bonanza rolled out of the barn, Ol' George and other well-wishers were there to see him off on his latest adventure in the wild blue yonder. Starting at the very end of his new, improved runway, from out of a huge cloud of yellow dust Harry came roaring, becoming marginally airborne and retracting the wheels. Unfortunately, he wasn't airborne quite enough, for he settled momentarily, the prop dug the ground, the engine stopped with a "clank!" and the plane bellied into a small berm left by the 'dozer at the end of the runway. This berm in turn catapulted Harry and his former airplane up and over the watering trough to settle in another huge cloud of yellow dust. Unharmed, but visibly shaken, Harry climbed out of the remains of his month-old Bonanza and tore up his student ticket.

Ol' George added, "I called up a trophy shop over in San Angelo the next day and had 'em make an award for Harry for 'The Shortest Over-Water Flight In History.'"

(* Not the gentleman's real name.)
In-Flight Refueling

Texas is known for big everything, including wind—I can testify to this by once landing my Cub across the 50-foot-wide runway at Eagle Pass! As McEntire told me, "Hell, we don't use windsocks. We put up a trace-chain, and when that's standin' straight out, we stop flyin'."

It seems that Ol' George met a young AAF cadet during the war at Kelly Field who was just married on his three-day leave, and wanted to fly his bride in his old Monocoupe to his parents' home in San Diego, but that winds from the West were too strong to get airborne. "I finally convinced the kid it wouldn't be so bad once he got some altitude, and arranged for four of us hang onto his wings, point him West, have him rev up to speed, then let go," Ol' George said. "He almost went straight up!

"I had checked winds-aloft reports and calculated his speed and fuel reserve, so told him to land at El Paso and Tucson, where there'd be a crew standin' by to catch him and hold him. Told him to keep the motor runnin' while they gassed him up, then they'd let go and he could move on to the next pit stop."

He told how he then called "Ol' Ernie at Paso" about when to expect the kids and to have some guys available to catch them, then phoned Wally at Tucson about the plan. After that, winds were supposed to ease up. (He failed to mention it, but I found out from McEntire's wife that the gas at each stop had been "taken care of by an anonymous person.")

"The kid called me from San Diego the next day," McEntire said. "They got as far as Yuma, but had to take a bus from there because of a civil no-fly rule in California during the war." He also mentioned how Wally at Tucson later told him he didn't think the Monocoupe's wheels even touched the ground during that stop. Technically, the plane was flying while getting gas! (OK, well, maybe...)

"I haven't seen the kid since," he added, "but I got a Christmas card from him and his wife every year. That's nice of 'em to remember me." Who could forget?