Cover photo for William Roderick Berry's Obituary
William Roderick Berry Profile Photo
1922 William 2014

William Roderick Berry

June 20, 1922 — September 21, 2014

William was born to James L. and Catherine E. (Salsa) Berry, in Fellows CA. He has been a resident of Kern County over nine decades.

A Committal Service with Full Military Honors is scheduled for 10:45am, Wednesday October 01, 2014 at Bakersfield National Cemetery – 30338 East Bear Mtn. Blvd. Arvin, CA.

Military Honors provided by the Associated Veterans of Kern County.

In 1985, The Bakersfield Californian interviewed Bill and published the following article:

Bill Berry may be one of America’s most experienced aviators.

He has been a full-time filier for 24 of his 63 years and guesses that he’s logged about 41,000 hours of flight time, plus “a lot of hours I haven’t counted.”

Berry’s logbooks exceeded 40,000 hours when ‘I stopped counting.” He averages about 1,500 hour annually, but has flown as many as 2,000 hours in a year.

That’s an incredible number, considering that commercial airline pilots rarely exceed 900 hours a year.

Based on the hours and the type of aircraft he’s piloted, Berry has flown about 5 million mils, most of them only 200 feet above the ground and through canyons, fog, clouds and mountain passes.

(The Federal Aviation Administration does not keep records of the most-ever flight hours or miles, a spokeswomen in Oklahoma City said.)

“I’m so damn tired of flying, you can’t believe it,” Berry said. “When you fly every day and every day, it becomes a job – it’s not fun anymore.”

He’s also worked on a railroad and in oil fields, and has been a welder and a firefighter.

The Fellows native – he now lives in Oildale – recalled: “I saw my first plane at Meadows Field in 1928, looking out the window of my father’s car.” He took his first ride in 1934 in a plane piloted by Ernie Claypool, who later was killed in a mid-air collision over what is now Edwards Air Force Base.

Berry’s pilot on his second ride was Tom McCart, who still lives in Bakersfield. “I used to save up my lunch money for a $2 ride that lasted no more than 10 minutes.” Berry said.

“I remember when they had air races around pylons at Meadows Filed in the early ‘30s, “ he said. “Jimmy Doolittle (later a World War II hero) raced for Shell Oil, even though he was in the Army.”

Berry took courses in welding and aircraft mechanics at what is now Bakersfield High School and “bought my own flying time” at Meadows while a student.

After graduating in June 1940, Berry joined the Civilian Conservation Corps at Lake Isabella, where he welded and fought fires for six months, before building seats and other interior equipment for 90 days for Lockheed bombers bound for England.

He then worked on the Southern Pacific Railway until enrolling at Bakersfield College in September 1941. “I quit BC in December, and went back to SP,” Berry said.

“The war had broken out for us, and the (former) Army Air Corps had schools for cadets in Gardner Field, near Taft, and Minter Field near Shafter. They had sandbags and everything” because West Coast residents were fearful of a Japanese invasion or bombing after Pearl Harbor was attached on Dec. 7, 1941.

Although Berry had been flying for nearly 10 years, “I was told I couldn’t pass the written test.”

He again returned to SP before becoming a welder at the Mare Island shipyards near Vallejo for nine months in 1942. In the mean time, he had been married for the first time (“I raised two families.”) Nev.; his son, 39, lives in Bakersfield. Berry has five grandchildren.

He joined the Navy in September 1942 as a n apprentice seaman, being paid $50 a month, then became a gunner on a torpedo boat tender in the South Pacific for nearly two years. “My big would was a dislocated little finger I’d hooked on a guy’s belt loop, “ Berry said with a laugh.

After the war, “I had a wife and baby and I had to do something, so I went to work in the oil fields. In the meantime, I kept flying, as I could afford it,” he said.

After 16 years in the oil patch, Berry began flying for a living in 1962 for Free-Lance Aerial Recon, owned by Frank Orloff of Bakersfield.

For 10 years, Berry flew a 150 horsepower, two seat plane hundreds of miles a day, checking the integrity gas, oil and utility lines.

Since 1972, Berry has been flying for Patroline Inc. of Paso Robles, which contracts with several oil companies for aerial inspections of their lines. “It’s a preventive maintenance thing.” Berry said. He is one of four pilots hired by Patroline.
He plans to retire when he turns 65 in June 1987 and “do a lot of fishing, and maybe fly one or two days a week. I couldn’t be a flight instructor because I don’t think I’d have the patience.

Thinking back about the 52 years since he first left the ground. Berry said, “Today, we’re going through the biggest changes ever in aircraft, such as using materials like Styrofoam and carbon fibers that are lighter and stronger than ever. Also, the radios, power and designs have changes.

“The only thing I’d change in my life would be to see more of the West, “ he said, as he prepared for yet another flight.

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