Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America
1905 - 2008
From teaching himself to fly at age 18 with no flight instruction whatsoever to being the world’s oldest active pilot at 100, John Miller’s remarkable life spanned many of the critical transformations in American aviation. Though perhaps best remembered for beating out Amelia Earhart in her bid to make the first transcontinental autogyro flight in 1931, Miller also distinguished himself in many other ways.
Miller began his aviation career in earnest in 1929 by barnstorming, carrying 40,000 passengers in one summer, then became a Marine Corps Reserve demonstration pilot. After purchasing one of the first commercially available autogyros—a Pitcairn-Cierva PCA-2—he began performing at air races and other venues, astounding audiences by looping the rotorcraft. He also supported himself by operating an airport that catered to bootleggers running whiskey from Canada during Prohibition.
In 1936 Miller joined United Air Lines and flew Boeing 247-Ds, including the one displayed in this museum. Miller took a leave of absence to become chief test pilot for the Kellett Autogiro Corporation during the certification trials of the KD-1 direct control autogiro. Then he worked with Eddie Rickenbacker of Eastern Air Lines to demonstrate urban air mail service by flying an autogyro to and from the roof of the central Philadelphia Post Office under an experimental contract in 1939–40.
Miller stayed with Eastern and resumed flying airliners, including the Museum’s DC-3. During World War II, he also served as chief test pilot for Columbia Aircraft, making pre-acceptance flights of the nearly 300 J2F-6 Ducks built. After the war, he logged many thousands of flying hours for Eastern before retiring.
Bored with retirement, Miller acquired a Bell 47G helicopter and began supporting county sheriffs near New York City in some of the first helicopter policing operations in the region, including the rescue of two boys from certain death on an ice flow in the Hudson River. . In 2006, at age 100, he was still actively flying his own Beechcraft Bonanza while remaining a “current” instrument-rated pilot, marking 82 years at the controls.
His final words shortly before his passing at age 102 were reported to be, “I guess my flying days are over.”