Friday, April 01, 2011
Paul Daniel Berk Sr., was a test pilot for Pratt & Whitney who flew more than 100 different military fighter, bomber and transport aircraft during his 50-year career. Born in Steinsville, Pa., he learned to fly at the Allentown Bethlehem Airport by the age of 23. He rapidly earned a commercial rating and became a flight instructor for the Army Aircorps and Navy Cadets. Hired as an experimental test pilot by the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Co. in 1943, Berk flew numerous piston-engine aircraft and, later, jet-propelled aircraft until his mandatory retirement. During his years of flying, Berk reached new levels of altitude and speed while testing aircraft powered by Pratt engines. He was the first in Connecticut to fly a plane in excess of 1,000 mph. He later reached speeds of 1,800 mph. He reached heights of 75,000 feet while piloting a jet at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Berk, in his long career of piloting, bailed out only twice, once out of a burning Grumman Hellcat jet over New York State at 28,000 feet and later from a F9 Panther Jet at 40,000 feet before the aircraft crashed in Glastonbury. He continued to fly for years after retirement locally and piloted aircraft for the Connecticut Parachutists at Ellington Airport for many years. He also was a member of the Quiet Birdman group.