Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a man named Don Nicol, with whom I worked for maybe 20 years at Scotts. I talked about the flying lessons he took after World War II. His first flight after receiving his pilot’s license was to Marysville. After flying over the town and his family farm, the plane’s engine stopped in mid-air. He was forced to make a crash landing in a field south of town. Yet he walked away without a scratch.
Now, I want to tell you about another of my friends at Scotts, Don Blass. He and Don Nicol often worked together, and their desks were no more than 10 or 15 feet apart, which adds to the irony of this story.
Don Blass was a talented artist. He created many of Scotts marketing materials. He also became the media buyer for Scotts in-house ad agency. And on top of that, he was a pretty fair volleyball player at our Wednesday night sessions in the gym at Trinity Lutheran School.
At one time, Don was a Navy pilot. He flew fighter jets from the decks of aircraft carriers. When his tour of duty was over, he joined the Naval Reserve. To keep his flying status, he was required to fly a certain number of hours each month. So he made periodic trips to the Columbus airport, where the Navy jets were housed.
It was on one of those trips that a strange thing happened. I think it was some time in the mid-fifties. Don put on his flight suit and drove to the airport. He parked his car near the hanger, where his plane was housed. The plane was towed out of the hanger, and within a few minutes he climbed into the cockpit and began going through his preflight checklist. Then he taxied to the end of the runway.
When he was given permission to take off, he advanced the throttle, and the jet roared down the runway. It lifted off and Don retracted the landing gear. In only seconds, he was climbing over the central Ohio farm fields below. He had almost reached the point where he would turn on his after-burner to climb rapidly to a higher altitude.
That’s when things got a little dicey. The engine had a “flameout.” It stopped completely. Unlike the small plane that Don Nicol was flying, Navy fighter jets are not designed to glide very far. Don concentrated on keeping the plane’s nose up, and on a “straight ahead” course.
He couldn’t pick out a good place to land. It would have to be wherever the plane touched the ground, and it would be without the plane’s landing gear. Don was a lucky guy that day. The plane touched down in a large field, and slid on its belly. It was a textbook crash landing. He sat there for a few minutes in absolute silence. Once his pulse rate got back somewhere near normal, he released the hatch, climbed out of the cockpit, and sat on the wing of the airplane.
He soon heard sirens, and he saw a fire engine, an ambulance and a few other emergency vehicles racing toward the field. Then he heard more sirens, and he saw another stream of emergency people coming from the other direction. They all got as close as possible to the field where he was. Then they raced on foot to the plane. They were carrying stretchers and all sorts of other rescue equipment. All of those rescue people were surprised to find Don sitting casually on the wing. The plane was beaten up pretty badly, but there wasn’t a scratch on him.
It was at this point that things turned a little crazy. An argument broke out between the two ambulance drivers. One emergency group was from the airport, and they said they had the right, indeed the duty, to make the rescue and return the pilot. The other crew was from the local township fire department, and they claimed the plane was resting in their area, so the rescue was “theirs.”
Don sat there on the wing and watched as the argument became more heated. He finally picked the ambulance he wanted to ride in. It was the one from the airport. They could drop him off close to his car.
I think the oddest thing about all this, is that both Don Nicol and Don Blass crash landed in central Ohio farm fields, and they both walked away unhurt. Then, years later, they ended up working maybe 10 or 15 feet apart. How ironic is that?
Both of those guys were good pilots, and they were good friends of mine. But to be honest, I am glad I never went flying with either one of them.
Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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