June 1, 2005
By Alton K. Marsh
J. Lloyd Huck had owned eight airplanes in his lifetime, but he thought the Piper Super Cub seemed to fill all his needs, although it was not popular with his wife, Dorothy. She didn't like the tandem configuration that made her second fiddle to her husband. Then an article on the Cirrus SR20 in AOPA Pilot turned him into a buyer again.
Now the retired chairman of Merck & Company flies more than 100 hours a year from his home base in State College, Pennsylvania, where, at 82, he mentors students at his alma mater, Penn State.
During World War II he was taught to fly in a military class led by Steve Wittman, a record-setting air racer and key contributor to the homebuilt-aircraft movement. When training ended he could do all the aerobatic tricks a combat pilot might need, but instead of seeing combat his entire squadron became instructors. A training slot wasn't what he hoped for.
"To get out, the only choice was bombers, and that led to [Boeing] B-17 training at Roswell, New Mexico," Huck said. But when that was completed, the Air Corps had another surprise: He wouldn't be flying B-17s after all; he would be a replacement Boeing B-29 pilot. After the war he returned to Penn State, got his degree, and began a successful career in pharmaceuticals. First he was a junior chemist at F. Hoffmann-LaRoche Ltd., but moved into sales. He remained in that capacity but moved to Merck, retiring as board chairman in 1986.
His flying activities concerned top officials of Merck, but he safely flew himself in a Piper Twin Comanche PA-39 for more than 600 hours. He was aware of the Twin Comanche's reputation, but his military background had left him well prepared to avoid emergencies. "I thought it was a great airplane," Huck said. "But that laminar-flow wing could jump up and bite you with a hard landing that could be embarrassing."
After the war Huck moved on to general aviation aircraft and stayed close to aerobatics, flying an American Champion Citabria and a Pitts Special. His love of aerobatics continued until 10 years ago when he found that, in his 70s, a 30- minute aerobatic session was plenty.
Safety and simplicity were primary considerations when he purchased the sixty-fourth Cirrus to come off the line. Huck liked the option of having a parachute available to lower the entire aircraft to the ground in the event of an emergency.
Between trips you'll find Huck in the office provided for him at the Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences on the Penn State campus — planning his next flight.
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