The family of Louis (Louie) Wilson Byrn are sad to announce his passing on June 9 at the age of 97. Louie was a longtime resident of Pagosa Springs.
Louie and his wife moved to Pagosa Springs in 1985 after he retired. Louie grew up in Indiana and moved with his parents to Alamosa, Colo., in 1932, graduating from Alamosa High School in 1935.
Louie’s lifelong passion was aviation and flying. He completed his first solo flight in the early 1930s after only four hours of instruction. He then earned his flight instructor rating and decided to open a flying field near Del Norte to introduce private flying in the San Luis Valley. The flying field was soon relocated to Alamosa and is now called the San Luis Valley Regional Airport.
During those few years after high school and before the beginning of WWII, Louie provided solo flight instruction for his father, Dr. Howard Byrn, his sister, Anita May (Byrn) Tormohlen, Anita’s husband, Walter Tormohlen Sr., and many other folks in the valley. Anita was the first woman pilot in the valley. Louie piloted the first plane to ever land in Creede, and he began barnstorming (selling rides) over southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. It was an exciting event for folks to see an airplane land nearby, and the rides created extra income during the lean war years.
In 1941, the U.S. Army started the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program as preparation for the threatening world situation. Louie was enrolled as instructor in the CPT, giving flight training to young men and women to prepare them for the Army Air Force (AAF). In early 1942, Louie joined the AAF as a Service Pilot 2nd Lieutenant and was assigned to the Air Transport Command, flying supplies to all combat areas, the Far East and India being early destinations. Later during the European Theater, as a captain flying the four-engine C-54, the largest AAF transport aircraft, Louie piloted a constant shuttle of bringing casualties home to the U.S. and returning to the front with supplies.
With Louie’s discharge from the AAF in 1945, he looked for a location to restart his career as an airport operator and instructor. Louie chose Hillsboro, Texas, and opened Byrn’s Sky Ranch. While there, he met and later married Annette Bryan. They had their honeymoon in Alamosa, flying there in a small but fast Culver Cadet. The plane was so small that Annette had to repack her clothes from a suitcase to paper sacks in order to fit them behind the seat storage. Louie and Annette worked together at Byrn’s Sky Ranch, with Louie giving instruction to students under the GI Bill and also operating a crop dusting operation.
In 1950, Louie saw that helicopters were the new all-purpose flying machine and so obtained his rating as helicopter pilot. This gave him the opportunity to join Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI) in Lafayette, La., as chief pilot. After a long career with PHI, Louie retired as vice president in 1985 and returned to his beloved Colorado, choosing Pagosa Springs as home.
Still leading an active life, Louie had been living with his daughter, Beverly Byrn McIntyre, and her husband, Mike, in Spokane, Wash., since November 2014. Louie is also survived by his nephew, Walter Tormohlen Jr. (Judy), of Pagosa Springs; his great niece, Tamara Tormohlen (Marc Breslin); and great-great niece Hayden May Cleverly, of Carbondale, Colo.
Louie’s wishes were that his ashes be scattered by his family at the top of Mt. Blanca.