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Backdraft: the ‘Voice’ of the Fly-In | Guest Column
Submitted by the Fly-In Planning Committee
If you have been at Friday Harbor Airport for its annual Fly-In and Community Open House, you have heard its announcer describing the exciting fly-bys of antique and military planes.
But, you may not know that you were hearing the voice of Richard Drury. Rick really knows airplanes, especially the giant Douglas Skyraider, which opens the show every year with its crowd-thrilling low and loud passes over the runway. Rick knows that airplane because a part of his long and impressive flying career included piloting them in combat in Southeast Asia.
The last of the big propeller-driven war planes, the Skyraider flew low and slow, and suffered a high loss-rate from staggering enemy ground fire provided by the highest concentration of anti-aircraft guns ever seen, mainly on the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail areas.
In February 1970, Rick was the On-Scene Search and Rescue Commander for the rescue of two downed US Navy crew who had been shot down in their A-6 Intruder, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. With the call sign of Sandy One, he set out at dawn to locate the survivors, suppress any ground fire, and then bring in the rescue helicopters, known as the Jolly Greens.
The survivors, with hand-held radios, helped guide Rick to their jungle position. Anti-aircraft fire became intense, and a war erupted around the two downed pilots. After several hours of a grueling fight, Rick was able to bring in one of the helicopters, guide them to the survivors and affect a pickup.
As Rick says, “The best words I heard came from the helicopter pilot, who said, ‘Rick, I’ve got both survivors on board. Now get me the hell out of here!’”
For that action, Rick was awarded the nation’s third-highest award, the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action.
Forty years later a retired Navy captain was to speak at Whidbey Naval Air Station about being shot down and rescued. Curiosity aroused, Rick attended, and learned that Capt. Evan Reese was indeed one of the men rescued by Rick, and was living in Oak Harbor.
After the military, he flew as a civilian pilot in Laos, and later flew for Flying Tiger Line, piloting the DC-8, B-727 and 747. When FedEx bought Flying Tiger, Rick was among the first to fly the Douglas MD-11 with the “glass cockpit.” He became a check airman and flew mainly on the Pacific Rim, based in Anchorage. His routes included Japan, China, Singapore, Australia and various countries along the way.
As a private pilot, Rick owned and flew a North American T-6, flying in air shows with the Condor Squadron out of Van Nuys, Calif., a Hawker Sea Fury, which he flew to a second-in-class finish in the Reno Air Races, a T-28, and an RV-4, which he flew with the Blackjack Squadron, which has performed annually at the Friday Harbor Fly-In.
His current personal airplanes are a Great Lakes Biplane, which he restored, and a Stinson 108-3, currently under restoration.
With over 21,000 hours in his logbook, and more than 40 years after his military career, which amounted to 220 combat missions, the Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses and 23 Air Medals, among others, Rick lives in Friday Harbor with his wife, Carol. He has written four books, including the cult favorite, “My Secret War” about flying the Skyraider in combat.
With the 5th Annual Friday Harbor Fly-In and Community Open House scheduled for Saturday, July 26, Rick will again man the microphone as well as act as Air Boss, responsible for bringing interesting aircraft to the show.
Asked how he finds the planes, he smiles and says, “Many of my flying pals stayed in and became generals or admirals. I have been able to call them, remind them of things that they really don’t want to go public, and we end up with some terrific military airplanes.
“Or, I call up those who went with me to the airlines, have interesting type of airplanes, and they usually fly up and enjoy one of the very best fly-ins available.”
So, now that you know the story, look for Rick on the outside of the tower providing narrative between the golden era music of Miller and Dorsey.
And, if you have a copy of his book, bring it by. He’d be glad to sign it.