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2014-02-27

Wrong airport? Nevin Marr has some stories

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

The recent flurry of national news stories about pilots landing at the wrong airport stirred some memories for Korean War veteran Nevin Marr of Medina. After serving in the US Navy, Marr ended up with a career in airplane mechanics, and according to him, it is not at all unusual for pilots to end up in the wrong place.
There's the old joke about the pilot bringing his passenger jet to a nice landing and coming on the intercom to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have two things to tell you. One, we're early. And two, we're at the wrong airport." Marr hints this good news, bad news announcement may very well be true.
Not all wrong landings end with a punch line, however. In the 70s and early 80s, Marr worked in Pensacola, Florida. In 1978, a National Airlines flight crashed into the bay and three people died. "The pilot had a choice of coming in visual or ILS (Instrument Landing System] and the pilot chose visual as it was a nice clear night."
Unfortunately some red lights on a barge in the bay lined up with the runway lights. That led to a misjudgment and the plane ended up in the water, said Marr. The pilot, co-pilot and navigator all lost their jobs.
"The jet jockeys always have to get there faster, or go higher," said Marr. During a stint at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, around 1959, Marr heard a group of pilots bragging about who could get to a certain altitude faster. "The plane they were flying had a nose landing gear and if the pilot pulled it up at the end of the runway it would give them one or two more seconds," he said. "Well, this jet jockey was trying that and apparently hit a dip in the runway and ALL the gear came up!"
The investigator later asked the pilot, "Do you realize how close that runway came to your butt?"
While working at White Sands, New Mexico, Marr did a lot of work on F-80s. The government was running a lot of tests on the planes. The planes were modified and made into drones or, "pilotless airplanes." Marr said so many of the test planes crashed the government finally designed kits to replace whatever part was damaged - wing, nose, tail, whatever.
"What they did was, the pilot flew the plane and the flight was recorded on the flight data recorder. Then the recorder was installed in another plane and the recorder flew the plane."
While Marr only served a short stint with the US Navy, he values everything he learned while in the military. "Everything I own, I owe to the US Navy," he said, proudly showing off his jacket decorated with the Navy insignia. Because of his positive experience, Marr believes every American should serve at least three months, the equivalent of basic training, in military service after high school graduation. "They should have to do this before they can continue in the military, go to college, play professional sports or get a full time job," he said.
Marr almost missed his own chance to serve. "We were five young guys from Sherman, Texas, and we went in to the recruiter's and said we wanted 'to fight the Koreans.'"
During the follow-up interview in front of a board, an officer questioned Marr about a recent asthma attack, the first he had ever experienced. "Well, I couldn't lie to their face, so I admitted I had had an attack, but I asked them to just give me a chance." Amazingly enough, the board decided he and his friends were the kind of young men they needed. Even more amazing, "it was another 40 years before I had another asthma attack," Marr said.
With his knowledge of shipboard electrical systems and electric motors acquired in the Navy, Marr got a job as an electrician in Dallas when he got out of the service. The pay was $1.75 an hour, the top rate at the time.
"Then [aircraft manufacturer] Chance Voight in Grand Prairie put a big full page ad in the paper hiring practically anybody who could spell 'airplane.'" Marr thought he might qualify for a job in building maintenance, but after he interviewed he was told that with his electrical background he could work on airplanes.
That was the first step in a career that had him working on the space program, traveling to the Philippines, Mexico City and all over the US. "They sent me half way around the world many times," he said.
His strangest assignment was several years spent in Mexico City, fixing T-33s for the Mexican military. "The government had sent six planes to them and two years later they were all grounded," said Marr. His job was to repair the planes and teach the Mexican mechanics to keep them flying. "The problem was they had their jobs because of some relative in the government so they really weren't interested in learning anything."
Marr managed to get all six planes airworthy. One day, after one landed, he directed the pilot down the taxiway, but the pilot ignored him and kept going. Puzzled, Marr watched the jet disappear around the corner of a large hanger. He ran after it and found the plane parked in front of a small door about halfway down the side of the building. When Marr went in, he found himself in a tiny saloon, the pilot already leaning against the bar, waving him over, asking him if he wanted "una cerveza."
Eventually, Marr ended up in San Antonio. "I had a friend, George, coming to visit and he wanted me to look for a place for him in the Hill Country. I found a really nice place up at Medina, but I didn't think George would want to commute any farther than Pipe Creek." Marr checked the Medina property several times and finally said, "The heck with George! I'm buying this property for myself."
Unlike those unfortunate pilots, Marr has landed in the perfect place for him. The world traveler loves his life in the Hill Country, although he admits it was something of a shock to learn he couldn't buy a beer in Medina!