CATHY LEE PHILLIPS
Lifelong United Methodist Ed Wyrick’s passion for flying has endured war and peace and a world of changes
In the fading light of an Alma, Mo., farm, a 6-year-old boy heard a low hum in the distance. His heart pumped fast with anticipation. Awestruck, he watched a Travel Aire biplane circle his family’s wheat field, lower and lower as the pilot scanned the terrain for a landing spot. Within seconds the colorful craft bounced through the field, finally stopping near the boy and his speechless family.
It was 1927 when, flying from Wichita to an airplane factory in Marshall, Mo., the plane landed just before last light. The new model was not yet equipped with lights for night flying. The pilot was greeted warmly and given a delicious dinner and a warm bed for the night. To show his appreciation, the pilot allowed Ed and his aunt to climb aboard the next morning for a ride in the open cockpit. Before the plane left the ground, young Ed Wyrick was hooked.
“I was captured by the thrill of being in the air,” Ed still smiles.
As Ed grew, so did his determination to make the sky his home. Throughout elementary and high school he read avidly about flying, even getting caught in class by his teachers a few times. While attending Joplin (MO) Junior College, a professor recognized his fascination and told Ed about a way to learn to fly.
Consider the time. In the days following World War I, the United States was understandably anti-war. There were many, including President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who saw obvious signs of another war looming. Military experts recognized that another war would be vastly different and more aerial than World War I. While our country remained strongly anti-war, Germany was building airplanes and training thousands of pilots. In this area, the United States was weak in and needed preparation. As part of his economic recovery program to end the Great Depression, FDR initiated the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program. Though not discussed openly, the CPT would be the foundation for our country’s air defense in case of war.
Ed Wyrick applied and was one of 30 students accepted into the primary course of the CPT. Surprisingly for the time, 10% of the class had to be female. These women later ferried planes and parts, but never engaged in combat. Ed learned to fly in a Piper Cub and upon completion of this primary course, received his pilot’s license. He was one of 10 students selected for the secondary course where he learned acrobatics – the forerunner to Tom Cruise, Top Gun, and aerial combat.
Ed graduated in 1940 and traveled to the Naval Recruiting Station to join the military. During his physical, he was surprised to learn he suffered from a Color Vision Deficit. This was not complete color-blindness, but enough to keep him from being accepted into the US military.
“I still wanted to fly,” Ed recalls, and even interviewed with Britain’s Royal Air Force. One RAF requirement was that he had to swear total allegiance to Britain, a move that could have cost him his US citizenship. He wouldn’t do that. Instead, he learned of a CPT for cross-country flying and was accepted. Here he trained in WACO biplanes, Piper Cubs, and Stinson cabin planes.
December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy, thrust the United States of America into World War II. Ready or not, we were at war and trained pilots were urgently needed – and quickly. Ed was deferred from combat to train thousands of pilots for war, getting new students every few weeks.
As the war wound down, Ed was contacted about flying for the Eastern Airlines. “I turned this down at first because I considered it boring. I couldn’t exactly perform acrobatics while flying passengers.” But with a wife (Lois) and a baby on the way, Ed had to support his growing family.
He finally applied and was accepted as a pilot for Eastern. His Color Vision Deficit would not interfere with flying as a commercial pilot. He received his training in Miami and piloted mostly DC3s in those early days. When he retired 36 years later, Ed was flying huge L-1011 widebody TriStars.
Still tall and handsome, skilled and respected, Ed Wyrick is an accomplished man who loves his family and faith. His eyes still sparkle with the joy of a 6-year-old who flew in the open cockpit of a Travelare biplane in 1927. But look a little closer . . . closer . . . and you see a man whose passion for flight unfolded on the headlines of history – from the tragedy of World War II to the joy of crisscrossing the skies in jumbo jets.
While Ed sailed the skies, Lois was a devoted mother and homemaker. She is also a gifted Christian speaker and her writings have appeared in local publications. Ed and Lois Wyrick have been active members of both Newnan First and Cornerstone United Methodist Churches in Newnan, Ga. They currently reside at Wesley Woods in Newnan.
© Cathy Lee Phillips, 2012
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