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Published 12:00 am Friday, December 24, 2010

Serving on ground duty as an Army aviator with a Mechanized Infantry Battalion and Wildflecken, Germany frequently gave me the opportunity to provide aviation support to the batallion as well as my S-4 Logistic responsibilities to our unit on the East/West Germany border in 1963.

Such a mission was offered by the adjutant who asked if I would fly a young solider to Rhein-Main Airport to return stateside to his father’s funeral. Time was of the essence so, yes, I accepted the request.

The L-19 “Bird Dog” aircraft was certified for visual flight rules only since it did not have avionics for (IFR) VHF/OMNI. The local area was visual, but when I got to Frankfurt, the ceiling was 200 feet, three miles visibility — well below the VFR conditions.

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The flight had been following the Autobahn, rivers and railroads, and when I got to the edge of the airfield control zone, I could clearly see the runway lights.

I called air traffic control, reported my position and requested a radar controlled approach landing.

I was told to turn an assigned heading, quickly identified, steered to a center-line approach and landed. My passenger made his connection back to the States, and I walked into base operations to file a return flight back to Schweinfurt AAF. The operations officer handed me a phone and said he thought that the call was for me. The conversation went something like this:

“Hello! This is Captain Drane.”

“Are you the pilot that just landed an L-10 below minimums at Rhein-Main?”


“I’m Colonel (can’t remember his name) the USAEUR Aviation Staff Officer and am considering writing a violation and grounding you! What do you have to say?”

“Well, sir, you could rightly do that; however, I just delivered one of our young soldiers to make tight connections back to the States to attend his father’s funeral. On top of that, I have been flying for the last three years in Europe in the Second Aviation Company in twin engine L-23s and in all weather conditions. I have nearly 500 hours of actual instrument time and more than 3,000 total hours. Also, I am currently assigned to the “Can Do” infantry battalion in Wildflecken.”

There was a pause, oh so silent, then a gruff (expletive deleted). “Don’t ever do that again!

I never heard another thing about it. My service was a “calling,” not a vocation, profession or a job! It has taught me how to serve our fellow beings.

God bless America!

We need to collect more stories like this one to fill our book to promote the Veterans Home Project for the Miss-Lou!

Erle Drane is the Natchez Veterans Service Officer.