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Allyn Berryman

Photo #7113 | Allyn BerrymanAllyn R. Berryman, known affectionately to his friends as Owl, started life on Oct. 30, 1928, in Chicago with parents Harry and Julia Berryman. He grew up in Chicago. As soon as he was old enough he enlisted in the Navy in the closing days of World War II and served on the cruiser Columbia. He stayed in the Reserves and went on to school to complete his technical degree at DeForest (predecessor to DeVry) in Chicago. He was called back into the Navy in 1950, and served for two years aboard the destroyer Lyman K. Swenson as an Electronics Technician in combat duty off the coast of Korea.

He reported to the Great Lakes Training Center when called back into active duty. It was in the dead of  winter and was freezing cold. Shortly thereafter he was assigned to a ship in San Diego. He and  a shipmate went out water skiing, using their Navy issue long underwear for wetsuits. The contrast  was not lost on Al and he decided then that he would not return to Chicago. When his service was completed in 1952, he dis-embarked from his ship at San Diego and was greeted by recruiters from China Lake. He and one of his buddies decided to try it out while looking around for other opportunities. As happened with many people who came to China Lake with this idea, he quickly became absorbed in the work and stopped looking elsewhere.

His electronics and flying skills led him into a variety of fascinating projects. He was invited to work on one of Bill McLean's special projects, the Moray submersible. This project was a proof of concept for a small fast two-man maneuverable submersible, which could be launched by a large submarine to attack an enemy sub. Al was involved with the instrumentation and controls and developed an autopilot that allowed stable high speed underwater runs. He was a pilot and designed the system so that it could be flown like an airplane rather than controlled like a traditional submarine. Al was the only civilian pilot of Moray and was the pilot on many of the test runs, including the first, and the very memorable last one, when the battery compartment exploded and sent Moray to the bottom of the ocean. This was one of many close calls Al had during his life, including a midair collision, and a near drowning when a raft carrying a large spool of wire capsized in rough water while preparing for a test off the beach at San Clemente and Al's feet became entangled and drug him under. He survived them all primarily because of his extraordinary skill and ability to think clearly under pressure.

He piloted Moray during a two week joint diving operation off San Clemente with Jacques Cousteau's Soucoupe, and the other two NOTS designed diving vehicles, Deep Jeep and CURV. Al also provided technical consulting to Cousteau in the exploration of the La Jolla trench off the San Diego coast line.  In 1966, he was sent to the Mediterranean with Deep Jeep and made dives down to 2000 feet, while participating in the search and recovery of an H-Bomb that was lost in the sea when a B-52G collided with its tanker while refueling off the coast of Spain. For this work he received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award. He later worked on an experimental weather modification program. He designed and outfitted a turbo charged Cessna 210 with avionics and special instrumentation for this task, and flew as pilot in command on many of the cloud seeding operations all over the midwest, often flying in thunderstorms. For the last 20 years of his career, he was the Hardware Group Leader in the Simulation Laboratory, doing hardware-in-the-loop testing on many of China Lake's missile programs.

In retirement he continued electronic design projects from his home, some commercial and some just for fun. One was an elaborate data collection and monitoring system for a close friend's twin diesel powered boat. He loved projects of all kinds and was not happy unless he had several going. He took all the welding classes up at the college and did a lot of welding and metal work, primarily a lot of ornamental iron projects for friends.

Al achieved his dream of learning to fly shortly after he arrived at China Lake in 1952. Over the years, he owned many airplanes, alone and in partnership. He became a highly skilled pilot and one of the area's best instructors. Eventually he earned many pilot ratings, including airplane, instrument, glider, ATP (Airline Transport Pilot), seaplane, and helicopter. In the mid-'50s he was attracted to soaring and checked out in sailplanes at the famed soaring site of El Mirage in the California desert. He became very interested in the Sierra Wave phenomenon which had been discovered in the 1950's and explored the wave on many flights with his Cessna 170. He achieved the Soaring Society altitude gain goals of 1,000 meters (3281 feet) and 3,000 meters (9842 feet) by shutting down the engine in the airplane and soaring it like a glider. On his best flight, he soared the 170 from 6,000 feet to 33,000 feet, but the recording barograph system failed so that achievement was never recognized. On that flight the battery died from the cold at altitude, and he landed dead stick at the old Davis Airport after dark in high winds, with no radio or lights, an amazing accomplishment.

He ran the Sierra Soaring operation at Inyokern for over 20 years with three other partners, making many long cross country soaring flights, mostly on the mountains, taught many people to fly and set several State soaring records. He also enjoyed many backpacking trips in the Sierras, bicycling trips, RV adventures, and RC model airplanes. His adventures were always laced with mischievous humor, including the famous bicycle trip from “Fairbanks to Mexico City.”

Al got his nickname when a friend's young child had trouble pronouncing “Al” and it came out “Owl.”  Everyone thought that was a great name and it stuck. Al decided that he liked the name also, and it marked the beginning of his collection of owl paraphernalia of all kinds.

He will be remembered by all his friends as a thoughtful, but mischievous, person with daring tendencies and innovative ideas — but always persevering to accomplish his goals. As he expressed during his last difficult year — “I had a great life.”  He left us on January 15, 2011, having accomplished what we all desire — an exciting, productive, and worthwhile time on this earth.  His kindness, helpfulness, and generosity enriched the lives of all who knew him, while his legendary storytelling, most of which was true, endlessly entertained them.

He leaves his close friend and longtime companion, BJ Holden, stepsons, Mike and Joel Cash, and his many dear friends.

Donations in Al's memory can be made to China Lake Museum Foundation, PO Box 217, Ridgecrest, CA 93556; "In Memory of Allyn Berryman"

A Memorial and Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, Feb. 19 at the White Star from 1 to 3 p.m. All are welcome, but if you do know ahead of time that you can attend, please call 760-793-0541 so we can get a rough head count for providing munchies. Come prepared to tell your best Al story if you have one you would like to tell.

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Posted: 2/9/2011


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