by Art Furchgott, Jr.
Dear Gene: In the past few issues of REPArtee had some interesting stories about Gil Waller. Gil was a good friend of mine and we kept in touch until he passed away in Feb. 1939. I had the honor to hear Gil tell one of his tall tales. Capt. Gil Waller had already started the story when I wandered up to the group of hanger flyers around him.
“It happened back in 1923,” he was saying. “I was in the Army detailed with a cameraman to take a DH-4 and make a mapping survey of a section of west Texas. The job was to take a week; nothing out of the ordinary happened, although I did get frisky and loop the crate one day.
When we landed, the camera operator acted a little peeved. He told me he didn’t have his safety belt fastened when I looped, and he had almost dropped his equipment. Some people get mad at every little thing.
“So we were on our last day’s work, cruising along minding our own business when two eagles loomed up in front of the ship.
I maneuvered out of the way of one of the birds but the other crashed into one of the outer-bay wing struts. The impact threw the plane out of control.
When I regained my bearings, the controls were loose and sloppy. “I looked at the broken strut expecting to see part of the wing rip loose, but the wing was intact.
The eagle, caught there, was still alive. It lodged somehow between the top of the strut and a brace wire. Several other wires were trailing behind the wing. I moved the joystick, but the ailerons did not respond. The crash had snapped the aileron control wires,
“The ship began to spiral tightly; we began to lose altitude fast. I knew we would end in a spin if I did not do something immediately. I tried all the tricks I knew, but nothing seemed to work. I turned back to the camera operator and give him a sign to jump and use his chute. He was not looking in my direction, but instead was watching the eagle on the strut. His eyes, which I could see through his goggles, were wide with astonishment. I followed his gaze.
“The eagle seemed to have revived. One of his wings was free and he seemed to be making an effort to straighten it. You could see by his expression that it was very difficult, but he finally made it. The effect was noticeable instantly. the spiral loosened up; soon we were making a wide turn. I looked intently at the bird and he seemed to understand what he was doing. I motioned downward with my hand and his wing went down. We were now in a straight glide.
“The terrain below was pretty flat, so there was little other maneuvering to do. However, we were flying downwind, so I motioned for a turn into the wind. As the eagle strived to obey, I could easily see that it was taking his very last bit of strength to dip his wing still further. I cut the engine and we landed. I looked at the eagle. He was looking at me and he smiled . . . the smile of a hero as he died.
“And that,” concluded Captain Waller, “is my story.”