Last of a Generation - John Miller, 102, Passes Away
John Miller, in 2002 when he was inducted into the Vintage Aircraft Association Hall of Fame
June 24, 2008 — Aviation lost one of its cherished elder statesmen Monday when John Miller (EAA 37635) passed away in his native Poughkeepsie, New York, at the age of 102. His daughter, Trish Taylor, told the Poughkeepsie Journal that her father died from natural causes after a brief stay in the Vassar Brothers Medical Center.
Miller's interest in aviation was sparked at an early age. He was four years old in 1910 when Glenn Curtis flew his "Hudson Flyer" down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City to win a $10,000 prize sponsored by New York World Newspaper. Curtiss was allowed two fuel stops, one of which happened to be in a farmer's field across the road from the Miller family farm.
Miller retold the story in EAA's Timeless Voices of Aviation video in 2003. "I did not see him land," he said, "but my father took me over to see the flying machine after he landed, and I was so thrilled when he took off and flew down the river that I lost all interest in becoming a steam locomotive engineer."
He began flying at age 18, having thoroughly read the book Aerobatics by Capt. Horatio Barber, who was in charge of flight training in England during World War I. He attended the Pratt Institute for Mechanical Engineering, graduating in June 1927. Miller admitted that he skipped school one day so he could witness Charles Lindbergh take off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island at the start of his historic nonstop flight to Paris in 1927.
Miller was the first person to land an aircraft - a Kellett KD-1 autogiro - on the roof of a building when a mail delivery service was started in July 1939 between the Philadelphia Post Office and Camden Airport in Philadelphia. Miller was also a test pilot for the Grumman J2F Duck during World War II, later flying for Eastern Airlines, from which he retired in 1963. According to his daughter, Miller last flew an aircraft about two years ago, capping more than 35,000 flight hours over more than eight decades. Two of the planes he flew are in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; a Boeing 247D and a DC-3.
He has received numerous honors, including enshrinement in the Vintage Aircraft Association Hall of Fame in 2002.
"The fact that he lived so long and witnessed all that he did is great, but he was literally in the middle of all that history," said H.G. Frautschy, VAA executive director. "You hate to speak in absolutes, but I think he is the last of a generation."