George Mitchell, 100; Pilot, Father

George Addis Mitchell, 100, was one of the oldest living American Ailines pilots at the time of his death in June. He had lived in Pacific Palisades since 1966.

Born in Butler, Pennsylvania, on September 29, 1915, Mitchell attended Grove City College as a pre-med major, but switched to chemical engineering. Midway through his fourth year, he had completed his required courses, so he took metallurgy, which helped him land a job at U.S. Steel.

George Mitchell Photo: Bart Bartholomew

George Mitchell
Photo: Bart Bartholomew

Mitchell took his first flying lesson when he was 23. He flew for fun before World War II, but following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he was one of the people responsible for starting the Civil Air Patrol, which augmented the Army Air Force. In 2014, he received a Congressional Gold Medal for that effort.

Mitchell had tried to enlist, but U.S. Steel wouldn’t release him. “I was working in a critical position in off-grade steel—making sure there was no scrap because of the war effort,” Mitchell said in an interview with the News.

In 1944, he applied at Pan Am and was accepted, but wasn’t given a start time. A buddy told him he should fly for American Airlines instead. He applied and was hired on June 6, 1944—“the day the invasion started.”

Mitchell worked with the Air Transport Command, flying people back and forth between Europe, North Africa and the United States. “We’d take supplies over and bring the wounded back,” he said. “We’d bring POW’s home. They were too thin, had sunken eyes and were in terrible shape. When we landed, they would get off the plane and go down and kiss the earth.”

After the war, Mitchell’s first commercial airline job was flying a DC-3 out of Tulsa as a co-pilot. “There was this pretty little stewardess [Alicia Judge],” he said, remembering that the captain asked the stewardesses to keep the sugar off the passenger trays so as to use it to make candy after they landed. (There was still rationing in the U.S.)

George and Alicia married on May 25, 1948 and treasured their life together for 55 years until Alicia’s death in 2003.

Mitchell built an impressive flying career at American, rising to the position of chief pilot. Even after retiring as a pilot he continued with the company, helping to establish American Airlines Training in the United Kingdom and later serving as an instructor training U.S. Air Force pilots assigned to the KC-135 during the Gulf Wars.

After officially retiring in 2003, Mitchell continued flying a Cessna 310 for Angel Flight out of Santa Monica, working for the volunteer service that helps people living in remote areas reach urban areas for major medical care.

Every year after he turned 75, Mitchell marked his birthday by piloting a plane out of the Santa Monica Airport with a good friend. He did that for 25 years, piloting his last flight on his 100th birthday.

Mitchell is survived by his three children, George, Joni (husband Tom Hiller) and Jennifer, and a grandson, Michael.

He was an active member of Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, serving on the Session and as a Deacon. He passed peacefully at his home in the Riviera neighborhood on June 22, surrounded by family.

A private celebration of life will be held this month.

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