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Gone West: Pitts Test Pilot Mel Barron
By James Barron, EAA 205645
As a young man, Barron served with the Army Air Forces during World War II. One of his last assignments before war’s end was to B-29 flight engineer school. Barron flew with the Cleveland Air National Guard after the war, and was later recalled to active duty during the Korean War. Barron flew as an Alaskan bush pilot early on and was based in Kotzebue. Most of his flights were north of the Arctic Circle and were for the purpose of re-supplying mines. He flew singles and twins on skis and floats. He told stories of routinely getting caught in whiteouts and other challenging conditions. Landing sideways on the mountain slopes where the mines were located was also the norm.
Barron spent the majority of his career as a test pilot. He first began that endeavor in Fort Collins, Colorado, with the Silvaire Aircraft Company in the late 1950s where he test flew the last 75 Luscombes produced before they shut their doors due to bankruptcy. Following that he flew for the Colorado Game and Fish Department.
Next, Barron went to work for Piper Aircraft Corporation in the mid ’60s and became their chief experimental test pilot. He flew the test program that certified the Navajo line of aircraft. He ran a test flight program on that aircraft with turbine engines installed which was later to become the Cheyenne series. Barron transferred to Vero Beach, Florida, with Piper and continued production test flying there.
Upon leaving Piper, Barron became the first Pitts factory test pilot. He did both experimental and production test flying. It was called Aerotek then (1972) and Curtiss Pitts was a partner. He spent 14 years with them and loved “wringing” out the Pitts biplanes. He was a designated engineering representative and signed off on numerous modifications to the Pitts over the years. Barron’s last experimental test flight project with Pitts was flying the test flight certification program on the Husky.Barron was a diehard aerobatic pilot and owned a 1932 Great Lakes Special for 20 years after which time he donated it to the Antique Air Power Museum. It had its own unique story as it was once owned by legend Frank Price and flown by other notables of the time. He also took pleasure in flying gliders and earned two two-lennie pins for flights to 35,000 feet in mountain wave. Some other aircraft he owned over the years were a Bird biplane, a Waco UPF-7, a Naval N3N biplane, and a Vultee BT-13.
Along the way, Barron married and raised a family of six children. He is sorely missed by family and friends.
Submitted by his son, James.