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  1. #1

    Default Information about the Phoenix sign in the photo

    The 'Phoenix' photograph featured in the Funny Sign department has humble origins and I thought some of you might be interested in how it got to be where it is -- which is on the south side of the Usery Mountains, just northeast of Mesa, AZ.

    Back in the 1950s, a pilot named Charles Merritt was looking for a community service project for his Air Explorers Boy Scout Post. Charlie was quite a character and I was fortunate to meet him at a local airport one day as he was fueling "Old Betsy," his well-worn Cessna 205 -- in between jump runs for the skydiving club -- yes that's right, the Sky-Hi Pioneers Air Explorer Post AND Sky Diving Club. I was about 15 at the time.

    Charlie had been around. He was a barnstormer back in the 1930s, and I suspect was one of the first "sport" parachutists in the country. He used to jump out of the plane in front of a grandstand full of people, land in front of the crowd, have some kid come down out of the stands and stuff the parachute back in it's pack. Literally. And then he'd go back up and jump with it again. This man died of old age, but I don't know how he ever made it that far!

    As a young pilot at old Roosevelt Field in New York, Charlie told me he had known other pilots like Charles Lindbergh, and Wiley Post.

    All of this just doesn't fit, if you ever had seen Charlie, or a photo of him. He was no "swashbuckler," not in appearance anyway. I'll bet he wasn't over 5'4", and was nearly that same measurement in diameter. But he WAS Errol Flynn at heart!

    Well, he liked kids, and so he became a "scout master" as he grew older. The Boy Scouts of America was none too keen on having scouts jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. So when they were on the ground, they were scouts. The minute they took off in the airplane to climb up a few thousand feet for a parachute jump, the Boy Scouts disavowed all connections with them (until they landed safely back on the ground).

    Back to the PHOENIX sign. Charlie decided that transient pilots needed a "navigational aid" to help them find Phoenix -- at that time nearly 40 miles away to the west (Phoenix has rapidly grown considerably closer to the marker in the past 50 years). So the Sky-Hi Pioneers humped the rocks into place to form the sign on the side of that mountain, and white washed it, and maintained it for quite a few years, I believe. I don't know who does it now. In these days of VOR/DME radio navigation, and now GPS, such a marker is of little value perhaps. But I smile every time I see it because it reminds me of Charlie Merritt, who though long dead now, is still one of the most interesting people I've ever met.

    Oh. The most interesting thing about Charles Merritt? Keep in mind all the things he'd done; flying old airplanes, jumping out of them with kid-packed parachutes... He wouldn't drive a car! Said driving with all the crazies out there wasn't safe. He lived in Phoenix, worked in Tucson, and flew "Old Betsy" back and forth every day. For ground transport, he relied on his wife and daughter if he couldn't get there by plane. Go figure.

    {Editor's Note: I don't know how the username reverted to "Guest" but this post was originally made by Robert Schaller, who at one time, was the #2 poster of all time on this forum!}
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 04-03-2010 at 12:47 PM. Reason: Fixed link

  2. Default

    very interesting post

  3. Default

    I too had the pleasure of knowing Charlie, and jumping with him and old Betsy near 40th street and Bell road north. I thought Betsy was a Cessna 182. This was in the early seventies. Old Betsy took a quart of oil every time Charley landed between jumps. I also remember it costing less than $10.00 for a lift to twelve five altitude. Thanks for the info on the Phoenix sign, it was news to me but not surprising He was involved in that too.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Thanks for the additional information

    Thanks for the additional input on this story -- Sounds like he was really a remarkable person!


  5. Default

    As the original poster of this information -- and in the interest of accuracy -- DonHelm is correct that by the 70s Old Betsy was a C182. The C205 was the aircraft with the same "old" name that Charlie was flying when I first met him a few years before that - maybe about 1969 or so. By the 70's that 205 was probably on a scrap heap somewhere.

    There was no second seat in Old Betsy -- all except the PIC's chair were removed to accommodate jumpers. I can remember sitting on an old orange crate, trying to fly the aircraft while Charlie instructed from his pilot's seat! Bob

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Very Cool to see you back on here

    Bob, It's been a long time...

    Nice to hear from you.


  7. Default

    My Dad was a member of the Sky Hi Pioneers and helped with the sign. I have some old pictures of the group erecting the sign.

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