Pilot recalls early days of ‘jet stream’

Published 7:32 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2011

At age 92, Bill Folmar continues to make the long drive from Florida to Troy and Goshen for the Folmar and Sanders family reunions.

He was in Goshen July 16 and 17 for the annual reunion of relatives and, as always, Folmar had a story to share.

He let his memory slip back to when he was 25 years old and a pilot stationed at Jorhat Air Force Base, located in the Brahmaputra River Valley in northeast India.

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“We were flying a four-engine plane from Kunming, China, back to our home base across several mountain ridges and rivers that sloped from the Himalayan Mountains down to the ocean, nicknamed the ‘Hump,’” Folmar said. “The plane was empty because we were returning home from flying a load of wartime supplies to Chiang Kai-Shek’s army.”

The plane’s flight level was about 30,000 feet to avoid the extremely rough turbulence caused by strong winds across the tops of the ridges, which averaged 15,000 feet in height.

“We were having a relaxing flight in clean smooth air with good scenery in all directions, including mountains off to our right that reached nearly up to flight level,” Folmar said. “Then I noticed that our plane was moving backwards over one of the ridges below us. I alerted the co-pilot. Then we called the engineer and radio operator and all four of us verified for several minutes that while our airspeed indicator was showing 187 miles per hour forward motion through the air, we could see that the plane was moving to the rear over the ridge, roughly estimated at more than 20 miles per hour.”

Folmar said that he dropped the plane down near the mountaintop and flew against the rougher and slower headwinds to finally reach home base.

“I reported all details to the debriefing officer but none of us thought of reporting it any further,” he said. “Much later, research revealed that meteorologists knew a little about some fast winds aloft and pilots planned flights to use them. But, nobody knew then about the higher, shallow streams of fast wind, later named ‘jet streams’ or the small faster cores of wind near their center, which can travel over 200 miles per hour, now called jet streaks.

“They were discovered and named well after our 1945 flight and have proved to be very useful in planning high altitude flights and understanding movements of weather fronts on earth.”

Folmar delights in telling others that he flew in the jet stream before anybody knew that anything like that existed.

William Erastus (Bill) Folmar and Mary Emma Sanders Folmar graduated from Goshen High School with honors. They married shortly after he graduated from the University of Alabama. She finished later.

They were in the U.S. Air Force for about 25 years then had another long career in real estate in the Orlando, Florida area. They moved to the Mayflower Senior Citizens Center at Winter Park, Fla. in 1998.

Mary Folmar died in 2008 and is buried at Elam Church Cemetery. Bill Folmar and other members of the family continue to come to the family reunions.