Tom Haines

So long, Johnny Miller

June 24, 2008 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

Things were a little slow that day at Oshkosh 2001 as I was manning the Sweepstakes Bonanza. Throughout the week members had worn away the grass in the shape of the stunningly beautiful V-tail, a 1966 V35.

But at the moment I was daydreaming when up walks a skinny old guy, his belt pulled tight to hold up his pants. “What model is it?” he asked. I’d answered the question probably a hundred times that week, but at that moment some synapse didn’t close properly in my brain and out of my mouth came, “S35V.” He tilted his head, and it was then that I recognized him as Bonanza aficionado John Miller and I also recognized that I was in for a lecture. “There is no such thing,” he remarked. “It looks like a V model.” I knew it was fruitless to correct my mistake. And I also knew I was about to learn something about Bonanzas. For the next 20 minutes I listened and absorbed as Johnny walked around the airplane and commented about every part of the airplane, giving me worlds of insight into the history of those remarkable airplanes.

Aviation lost an icon this week when John died at age 102–a fount of knowledge dating back some 84 years, nearly to the beginning of aviation. John started flying at age 18. It’s hard for me to believe even now that he was 95 when he corrected me at Oshkosh. He was an active pilot nearly to the end. Over the decades, he has touched the lives of thousands of pilots, whether in person or through his books and magazine articles.

We’d enjoy reading your remembrances of this remarkable man. Click on the “post your comments” link below to share your Johnny Miller stories.

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14 Responses to “So long, Johnny Miller”

  1. Karen Gebhart Says:

    I had the good fortune to have lunch with Johnny once. It was at Expo down in Tampa a couple years ago and I was invited to speak at the Octogenarian group luncheon. I was considered the kid being the only pilot in the room well under 80. My speech was on encouraging more people to learn to fly. This group had a lot to tell me and I listened intently. But my real insights came as I sat next to Johnny during lunch. A rather humble fellow, I had no idea who he was or his legacy of flying that far exceeded by simple VFR flying for only a decade. So I entertained his questions and interest. He drilled me on what I flew, how I flew, and if I thought I was any good. In return I asked him if he still flew – thinking there was no way he was probably still active. By gosh, to my surprise he said he was looking forward to turning 100 and had his CFI ready to go “round the patch” with him to mark the date. There was nothing he looked forward to more then being able to say he flew on his hundredth birthday. I made of point of checking back that next year, and sure enough he did it. It is a sad day to learn this remarkable and dear man has left us, but I would rather think he is flying even higher now – blue skies forever Johnny!

  2. Fred Robbins Says:

    You can hear my 2007 1 hr. 40 minute recording of Capt. Miller’s stories at the website above.

    It was a sheer delight to listen to his stories over the last 35 years at KPOU.

  3. Fred Robbins Says:

    Since the link to my recording does not appear in the previous comment, here it is… http://frobbi.org/dcpa/JohnMiller.html

  4. Capt.Ken Perkins UAL Ret. Says:

    It was not unexpected,but it is sad to have a friend of 50 years go west.After all those years,every time we got together I would hear a new story.Several years ago when John and his wife Edith were visiting us here in NH,I invited another old friend Capt.Ed Nibur over without telling him John was here.These guys were bitter rivels during the barnstorming days flying D-25 New Standards.They haden’t seen each othe since 1933.Then the stories started and I was lucky enough to get most of it on video tape.Have a good trip John!

  5. Julie Filucci Says:

    You meet a few characters in the world of general aviation. Some stand out for their feats–among whom Mr. Miller would certainly number, having accomplished so many on his own–and others stand out for their turn of phrase. Mr. Miller was one who will remain etched in memory because of both. Sharing lunch and flying stories several years ago, we were at a local diner in Poughkeepsie near the airport. He had a chocolate shake–he was a healthy man to his end, but allowed himself a few luxuries. But he wouldn’t touch my french fries when I offered. “Fries?!? I wouldn’t feed that to a hog!” Can’t have fries to this day without a chuckle.

    Up there, we can all teach ourselves to fly just like you did, Mr. Miller.

  6. frank parrish Says:

    About 3 or 4 years ago I was at my airpark home in N. Ft. Myers, and was thinking of buying a “mussle boat” (go fast boat), and there was a dealer I heard of located up in Clearwater. I drove up and met the young gentleman that owned the dealership and during our conversation discussing boating and the fact that I fly, he said his Grandpa was had been flying for many years and was “at his house” there about a 5 minute drive away. As he kept talking, I then learned it was John Miller, who I had met several times at ABS Conventions and such other events. His Nephew insisted I follow him to his house and say hello to John, so I did. I could not get away, John and I talked for most of 2 hours and had a great visit. I want to thank his Nephew for the invite. I enjoyed meeting John again and also his nephew. This was the last time I met John and the first and only time I have met his Nephew. Perhaps I shall meet his Nephew again sometime. Thanks

  7. Bill Bedell Says:

    I never met Mr. Miller, but through his gift of story telling, I sure got to know him. Enrichen yourself and read his book and the many stories printed in the ABS magazine.

    John, I know you’ve waited many years to see your wife again. May you have tailwinds and blue skies on your travels west.

  8. Ward Miller Says:

    I knew John for many years and was fortunate to have recorded a 1.5 hour speech he made in 1990, at age 86. He talked about much of his early flying days and used no notes. One of the funniest stories was the day he became a Commercial Pilot.

    A barnstormer came to town in 1922 and took John up for 5 minutes. John later hung around him for many weeks and help take care of the Jenny. Finally, the pilot told John if he overhauled the engine and recovered the wings, he could have the plane and next summer he would teach him to fly. So this 17-year-old new airplane owner spent the winter recovering the aircraft and overhauling its engine. (He owned a motorcycle and was handy with a wrench.)

    In the spring he would go out to the field where the Jenny ws tied down and practice taxiing. One day he was just going too fast to stop before that rock wall and pushed the throttle forward, and was airborn. The next couple of hours are a story in itself. Anyway, after many attempts he finally landed without incident. Now, in his own words:

    “As I taxied back, a man had stopped in his little Model-T Ford pickup truck. He was a farmer type and he said, ‘Gee, it shore was purty the way you landed that thing. How much ya charge for a ride?’ [Prolonged laughter from audience.] There was a great big sign on the side of the fuselage that said ‘Five Dollars!’ I pointed it out and he said, ‘How much?’ I realized then he didn’t know how to read, so I said, ‘Five dollars.’ He sez, ‘I ain’t got that much. I sez, ‘How much ya got?’ He sez, ‘Dollar-and-a-half.’ ‘Get in!’ [Prolonged laughter] . . . . I got him up and down successfully, and by the time I got back, there were several other people there. So I continued hopping passengers the rest of the day until it was too dark to fly. I went home with a pocket full of money, because the rest of them paid five dollars apiece. He was the introduction price, at a dollar-and-a-half.”

    So, the day John made his first solo, at age 18 and never having taken any previous instruction, he also became a Commercial Pilot!

  9. RUDY KUDRITZKI Says:

    it’s a pitty I never met him. I met fighter aces, mainly germans from wwII, i.e. as a colonel in the luftwaffe I was ordered and honored to be the personal host for adolf galland at an aviation meeting 1988 in oberschleisheim and others were my commanders in the “neue deutsche Luftwaffe” . bubi hartmann, krupinski, kammhuber, limberg just to name some.
    I also met pilots of the luftwaffe that test-flew all kind of captured enemy airplanes including thunderbolts, b-47, russian fighter planes etc.
    stories these people could tell outscored mine about t-38 talon, f-104 starfighter, f4f phantom, raf hawker hunter, bae hawk , alpha jet and other airplanes I have flown and tested in the “luftwaffe” or etps(empire test pilot school, great britain) and other units.
    I hope memories of those pioneers will be kept alive even after our flying days are over!

    rudyky, col. german airforce, ret./aeronautical eng.

  10. Lew Gage Says:

    I met John Miller and his wife Edith about 20 years ago at an American Bonanza Society Convention in Denver. John invited my wife and me to dinner and it started a friendship that I was fortunate to be a part of.

    I think it was four, maybe five, years ago at the Dallas ABS Convention that was the last time I saw John. The elevators had stopped working just as the annual business meeting ended and everyone was heading to their rooms to wash up for lunch. I knew the service elevator for the baggage was located just behind the main guest elevators and so went there and took it up to my 8th floor room. However I had pushed the wrong button and got off one floor too high. The stairway was adjacent to the elevator and so I started down one floor. When I made the 180 degree turn on the stairs who should be commin UP the stairs but John Miller. He was not even breathing hard. I said, “John, the service elevator is working if you want a ride up.” ( His room was two or three floors above mine). His reply was “I walk up a couple of times a day for the excercise.” What a guy, almost 100 years old and doing 10 floors twice a day just for the fun of it. We should all take a lesson from this.

  11. Jim Record Says:

    Johnny Miller was a frequent visitor at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome near his home in upstate NY. The Aerodrome founder Cole Palen and Johnny were old dear friends and shared a common passion for antique aeroplanes and flying.
    The staff and volunteers of the Aerodrome were thrilled when Johnny honored us with his presence about 4 years ago at our annual banquet. Johnny captivated us for well over an hour with his slides of old photos and his stories. Even at 98 his power of recollection was astounding, with detailed remembrances of events as if it all had happened just yesterday instead of more than three quarters of a century ago.
    Johnny never seemed to tire of answering our questions as long as we would ask them. A true gentleman, he spoke to the newest young volunteer with the same thoughtfulness and enthusiasm as he would address the Board President.
    Fair weather and following winds as you fly West, Intrepid Aviator, we will miss you.

  12. Rankin A. Whittington Says:

    When I flew my Skyhawk in to Manteo, North Carolina, to attend the Centennial of Flight Celebration, Johnny Miller was near the back of the welcome tent with a stack of his books. He had flown his Bonanza down from New York that day. With no one around him at the moment and out of curiosity, I spoke to him. He then gave me at least 30 minutes of the most fascinating aviation time I’ve ever encountered. He signed the book I bought, and I left in awe of this energetic young man in an old body. He was an inspiration.

  13. Steven Oxman Says:

    Johnny started writing for the North East Bonanza Group newsletters when I was its President many years ago. After a year or so of writing for NEBG, Johnny started writing for the American Bonanza Society’s magazine (aka, newsletter). From those articles, ABS developed a terrific book on Johnny’s writings. That book is still available to purchase and its really provides the reader with a lot of who Johnny Miller is, as told by Johnny.

    The stories I could tell of my time with Johnny could fill a small book onto itself, for Johnny was always teaching me something. Any time with Johnny was a time available for him to mentor you on flying, plane purchasing, eating, getting fat (or rather how to get rid of “the pounds” – while sticking his finger in your gut), flying the autogiro, flying into birds with a Connie, etc.

    Johnny, from myself, Judi, Philip, and Warren – we wish you the best on your flight west.

    Steve Oxman

  14. Nick Wilson Says:

    My father emailed me the day he found out Mr. Miller had passed, and though the subject line just said “Johnny Miller”, I knew what was coming… You can only out-fly death for so long!

    I met Mr. Miller several times during my youth, my father had flown with him for Eastern, and when my friends said “your dad is still flying at 80!” I’d just smile and say “That’s nothing! There’s this guy…” and tell them about Johnny.

    He was an amazing guy. A very nice guy, when he learned my father was teaching me to fly, he lent us the dual-yoke from his Bonanza for us to use.

    In a flight shop a few years ago, I idly picked up a book on autogyros, and flipped to the index to see if he was mentioned – I had to laugh at the list of page numbers he was on :)

    Wherever he is, I’m sure the flying’s good.

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