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- "I have spent my whole life in aviation. I love gliding and soaring."

So wrote Donald S. Mitchell, a man whose life reflects an obsession with flight, a persistent dream that a man could, with only the slightest assistance from technology, ascend to the sky on winds of desire. It would have delighted Don Mitchell if the wood, foam and fabric of his farsighted creations could be shaken off and the pilot spread his arms and spin upward in the guise of his true capacity --a homesick angel. Certainly all his life Mitchell relentlessly displayed this same degree of homesickness for the blue vault of heaven.

Don Mitchell was born in Scotland in 1915. His parents immigrated to the United States when he was seven and during his school years he fell in love with gliders, building his first one while attending Alameda High School under the tutelage of an ex-WW1 flyer. Later he became a student at the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California.

In the thirties Mitchell worked for United Airlines at Oakland and Fresno as a radio operator and Station Attendant. But soaring was now deep in his blood and he quit his job to move to San Fernando where he sought out Hawley Bowlus and implored him to teach him to design and build gliders and sailplanes. He trained under Bowlus for the next six years and for a total of eleven years, worked with him as his right-hand man on many projects. Together they built the Baby Albatross sailplane, which had its maiden flight in February of 1938. They began to produce plans and kits of the Baby Albatross. During that year they turned out eight kits, two of which were sent to Durban, South Africa.

As an experiment, Bowlus and Mitchell attached a four cycle, 16 horse power "Radio Plane" engine on the front end of the Baby and flew it at Rosamond Dry Lake.

Along with Al Essig, Bowlus and Mitchell began Bowlus Sailplane Inc.toward the end of 1938.

In the early forties, Mitchell designed and began to build a 50 foot, two place, retractable landing gear flying wing glider. He devised a moveable surface he called a Stabilator, which was a combination aileron and elevator, rendering stability without the necessity of a tail. During this time he continued kit production of the Baby Albatross as well as participating in public demonstrations and Air Shows. During this time he was appointed Soaring Editor of Western Flying Magazine.

Mitchell left Bowlus Sailplanes to teach aircraft welding at Aero I.T.I., located at Grand Central Air Terminal near Glendale. Then he went to Timm Aircraft to mold the fuselage of an all-wood trainer for the military, later assisting the FAA with its static testing of the aircraft.

In early 1942 Timm Aircraft received a contract to build the Waco Glider CG-4A. Mitchell was sent to two furniture manufacturers in Los Angeles to organize the construction of the CG-4A wings. Weber Showcase, one of the manufacturers, hired Mitchell to take charge of their production. While all this was going on, he still found time to join Bowlus in the evening and weekends to work on the designing and building of two trainer gliders as well as a scale prototype of the Cargo Glider XGC-16.

During the first part of 1943 Mitchell left Weber and rejoined Hawley Bowlus to work full time on the XGC-16 prototype, while still giving some time to his Flying Wing. Al Criz and Hawley organized and formed the General Airborne Transport Company, because of military interest in the Cargo Glider. Then GATC landed the contract for three XCG's and Mitchell was made Director of Projects.

While Mitchell worked in this capacity he found time to build a scale model of the XGC, converted to use his external stabilators. The plane was successfully tested over the dry lakes.

The military cancelled the Cargo Glider Project. Bowlus and Mitchell began work on what later became the Dragonfly. In 1945 Nelson Aircraft was formed to meet the perceived market for power gliders. Mitchell participated in the FAA flight certification tests of the Dragonfly. Then Bolwus appointed him Supervisor of Production.

In April of 1946 Mitchell completed construction of his Flying Wing. The FAA isssued an Experimental Airworthiness Number for it. The wing was flown as a glider by Mitchell, Bolwus and Paul Tuntland at the dry lakes. Then Mitchell mounted a Nelson 2-cycle engine on it and flew it as a power glider.

After the war, depression hit the aviation industry and Dragonfly production stopped. The San Fernando shop was closed up and most employees laid off. Mitchell joined Ted Nelson and Harry Perl in San Leandro to work on a design for a new power glider. The first prototype proved disappointing and they began on a second power glider project. While Mitchell worked on this project, he began on his own time to construct a new flying wing glider, which he called the Osprey. This was a single place, fifty foot span all-wood wing. He employed his stabilator external surface control system.

In 1950 Mitchell tested the Osprey at Hayward Airport, making several low flights to caliberate the controls. A short time after this the building where the Osprey was stored burned to the ground, abruptly ending its promising career.

Mitchell threw himself into designing and building the Nimbus series of sailplanes. The Nimbus III won the High Performance Sailplane Design Award at the 23rd National Soaring Contest in Gande Prairie, Texas. It also won the Hawley Bowlus Helm's Award at the San Diego Soaring Meet at Torres Pines.

Mitchell kept busy during the later sixties and early seventies, effecting repairs and custom modifications on a series of different aircraft. Then in 1976 he built the first Mitchell Wing hang glider, the first rigid-wing, three-axis control hang glider. This ship had such outstanding characteristics that after its first public flight Mitchell received orders to build twelve of them. George Worthington bought one and went on to set three world records with it.

Business was getting so hectic that Mitchell organized Mitchell Wing Inc. at Porterville, California. Orders came in from all over the world.



In the late seventies, Mitchell installed a 10 horse power pusher power pack on one of the wings, turning it into a foot-launched power glider. Then he and Steve Patmont built a cage with three wheel landing gear, upgraded to an 18 horse power engine and the Mitchell B-10 was born.

Mitchell Wing Inc. sponsored and paid for Ultra-Light Fly-In get togethers at Porterville for six years in a row. The first meet had five ships. The last one had over three hundred of them, from all over the United States and Canada.

Mitchell took his wings to Oshkosh and was awarded top honors on many occasions. More than any other Ultra-Light, before or since.

At his private shop in Mariposa, Mitchell began building the first U-2. The Mitchell U-2 holds the world's maximum altitude record for aircraft weighting less than 600 pounds. It flew to over 26,000 feet. It also holds the sustained altitude record for slightly less than 26,000 feet.

Mitchell Wing sold hundreds of drawings and kits for the B-10 and the U-2, as well as the hang glider version of the B-10.

Sadly Don Mitchell took ill and passed on while he and Richard Avalon were engaged in a joint venture at Tehachapi, California where they had built a hangar and workshop alongside a runway at a local airport. They were building B-10's and U-2's. And Mitchell was still brimming with new ideas and designs. He will be greatly missed by Ultra-Light and Soaring communities around the world.

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