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Obituary: Glenn H. Brink

Glenn H. Brink, 94, a pioneer of commercial air transportation and an avid sailor, died peacefully Christmas morning 2011, at his daughter’s home in Southbury, CT. Prior to moving to Southbury, he lived for more than 50 years in Manhasset, NY. He was a sweet and loving husband, father and friend; and a gentleman, always. Born in Buffalo, OK, April 8, 1917, to Hazel Blanche Brownrigg and Earl Barrett Brink, he lived a full and accomplished life. A 1939 graduate of the University of Michigan College of (Aeronautical) Engineering, where he was president of The Flying Club and treasurer of the National Intercollegiate Flying Club, he spent the next 38 years at American Airlines. He was director of aircraft development/flight engineering, chief test pilot and the youngest commercial airline captain in the country at the age of 25, earning the “Million Miler Award” at age 33. He retired in 1977 and continued work as an aviation consultant.

During the 1940s, under contract to General Electric, he flew its then experimental plane through a series of tests which developed the cabin pressurization system that was put in the B-29 Superfortress bombers and that are now used in all modern planes. In a related test conducted in a Douglas B-23, he simulated a drop of 8,000 feet in four seconds, or a pressure change of 22.72 miles per minute, at 25,000 feet over New York. In 1943, when conducting tests at La Guardia Field, NY, the weather conditions were too warm; he immediately flew the four-engine C-54 to the Arctic Circle, returning a week later with successful test results. In 1948, he earned American Airlines’ highest award, the “Award of Merit” for “astute application of engineering analysis in establishing promptly the cause of two Douglass DC-6 fires.” Consulting for Curtiss-Wright, he was instrumental in the development and design of the modern day flight simulator.

Later, in the 1950s, his test work to determine take-off problems with the DC-6s “would prove to be a milestone” in leading aircraft designers and the then-Civil Aeronautics Authority (now the FAA) to take into account fully the effect of outdoor temperature on allowable gross weights in the calculation of takeoff performance, according to a 1993 Air & Space article. In 1953 he was named by AA’s then-President C.R. Smith a commanding member of “The Order of Flying Firsters,” an organization created to recognize “pioneering in air transportation,” for flying the first transcontinental nonstop flight on the DC-7, from New York to Los Angeles, about which he was interviewed by Walter Cronkite. He also conducted the acceptance tests for AA on the first new airplanes – the DC-6s, Convairs and Stratocruisers; and oversaw the development and flight tests of the Convair 990 Astrojets and the Boeing 727s, while at the same time planning for the future of the supersonic airliners.

In the 1960s, he served as an American Airlines representative to the Supersonic Transport Advisory Group established in 1961 by the Kennedy administration to investigate the viability of commercial airlines supersonic transport, a proposal later abandoned in favor of ‘jumbo jets’ like the Boeing 747, the last plane he captained prior to retirement. In 1963, he earned his “Mach Deuce” rating in the Royal Order of Starfighters when he flew a Lockheed Starfighter F-104G at twice the speed of sound at Edwards Air Force Base. The F-104 was one of the supersonic planes that then held the world records for speed, altitude and time to climb – simultaneously. He also flew the DC-2, DC-3, DC-4, CV-240, DC-6, DC-7, L-188, B-707, CV-990, B-727, BAC 1-11, B-747, and the DC-10.

During WWII, he flew B-24 bombers under contract to the War Department for the North Atlantic Operations of the Air Transport Command, a select few AA pilots who pioneered an all-weather ‘airline’ via Presque Isle, ME, to Labrador, Iceland and Greenland, about which his friend, author and aviator Ernest K. Gann wrote in “Soldier of Fortune.” The ATC transported personnel and supplies in support of the war effort.

He took his first flight at the age of 2 in his father’s barnstormer, a Curtiss JN4 “Jenny,” in the Oklahoma cornfields, soloed in a Great Lakes aircraft at 16 in 1933, and earned his private pilot’s license in 1934. For recreation, he participated in many aerobatic exhibitions and air races. Dubbed “The Monocoupe Kid,” by Detroit News Aviation Reporter John S. Hammond II, he flew his first plane, a Monocoupe, in the 1936 Ruth Chatterton Sportsman Pilots Air Derby from Cleveland, OH, to Los Angeles. The race was held annually in conjunction with the National Air Races, where he also flew demonstrations.

 A captain of the skies and seas, he was an avid sailor and a member for nearly 72 years of Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, and the Aspatuck and Quantuck yacht clubs, all on Long Island. He sailed and raced his Star boat Bandersnatch, his Manhasset Bay One Design At Last, and his Cal 36 Windfall throughout the Atlantic seas, including a crossing from New York to Yugoslavia aboard the boat Ksenija. He played tennis regularly, including more recently at his former Southbury, CT, residence at the Heritage Village 40th Anniversary Celebration’s “Nonagenarian Tennis Match” when he was 91. He also skied into his eighties.

He was a life member of the Grey Eagles, an organization of retired American Airlines pilots, and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. His name is inscribed on the National Air and Space Museum’s Aviation and Space Exploration Wall of Honor in Washington, DC.

He was predeceased in 2004 by his wife, Ann Dolores F. Rapp, to whom he was married Aug. 16, 1942, at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, Forest Hills; a brother, John E.; a brother-in-law, L.W. “Scoot” Llewellyn; and a sister-in-law, Marjorie Osborne. He is survived by a brother, Bill O., of Grosse Pointe, MI, and sister, D’Arlene Llewellyn, of Sarasota, FL; sister-in-law, Sue Cote Brink, St. Petersburg, FL; his five children: Nancy Ann Taylor and husband, Ron, of Seminole, AL ; Glenn Hamilton and wife, Barbara Tibbetts, of Calverton, NY; Christopher Barrett and wife, Eliana Duarte, of Yonkers, NY; Patricia Ann, of Southbury, CT; and Elizabeth Ann Matthei, of Newtown, CT; six grandchildren: Christopher, Gregory, Craig, Christopher, Molly and Patrick; and three great-grandchildren.

No services are planned at this time. Donations may be made to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, West 46th Street and 12th Ave., NYC, NY 10036, or www.ALZinfo.org.