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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172

Still Flying: Miller Flying Service, Plainview, TX
by Skip Burroughs

There comes a time in a person's life to look back and reflect upon the deeds done and the progress made. A time to recognize the value of contribution to our great society. For James Miller and Marge Mitchell at Miller Flying Service in Plainview, Texas, that day has arrived. These people would not trade lives with anyone, as their work is their pleasure, every day and all day long.

James Miller, owner and operator of Miller Flying Service, has been nourishing his relationship with airplanes since 1936. It all started while he owned a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership and repair facility in Lockney, TX. One day he saw an ad for a Taylor J-2 Cub with 37 horsepower that said “$999 with $333 down.” He found a partner in town to share the airplane with him and he was soon taking flying lessons. After soloing—with 3 hours and 45 minutes in his logbook—this young man went right to work teaching his friends to fly.

Whenever the airplane needed some maintenance or repair, James would land in the street in front of his shop and roll it to the door and do the work. There is still an ordinance in effect in Lockney today prohibiting anyone from landing an aircraft on Main Street. His airplane partner also had a business in Lockney and one day came to James with a problem. “The people around here think we're crazy and it's hurting my business.” James had become the sole owner of an airplane.

Soon thereafter, he had acquired a '37 Taylorcraft and an OX-S powered Travelair. He was now barnstorming the plains of Texas. At one pasture in Littlefield he couldn't get anyone to go for a ride. People would all come out to see the airplane but wouldn't agree to go up. There had been an airplane accident there not long before and everyone thought flying was just too dangerous. James had a plan to demonstrate the safety of flying. He would shut the engine down while in the air and land “dead stick” to show that in the event of an engine failure the airplane would still fly to an uneventful landing. The people were still apprehensive about flying, so the next step was to shut the engine down while flying and have an associate step out onto the gear leg, reach out to the propeller, and pull it through for a restart. This must have instilled confidence in the eyes of all.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, James was invited to apply for a job as a flight instructor for the U.S. Army Air Corps. He closed his business and joined a class of 23 others to learn how to teach flying to the cadets. Out of the 23, only three were graduated, and James was one of them. He was stationed at Victory Field in Vernon, Texas and gave many of our WWII heroes their primary training in PT-19s. In 1944, the Army announced they didn't need any more pilots, so James requested a discharge and went on to his next venture.

After the war, everyone wanted to learn to fly, and it became big business. Airplanes had saved the world and many folks were inspired to take to the sky. James was operating out of a grass strip north of Plainview, Texas, and was so busy that his wife would bring sandwiches to the airport for a quick lunch under the wing. He worked late into the evenings doing maintenance.

James thought the airport was too far away from town. Some progressive people who shared his opinion realized the value of an airport to the community and purchased land one mile from the courthouse for a “real” airport. James took over the management, and Miller Flying Service had a permanent home.

Marge Mitchell is also an integral part of Miller Flying Service. She became focused on aviation when she and her husband took flying lessons in 1950 and they both soloed within 30 minutes of each other in a 1948 Funk—Marge before her husband because she was a lady and “ladies go first.” She went on to obtain her Commercial, Instrument, and Multi-engine ratings. She and her husband traveled in their business and went on many outdoor outings, which was their first love. They went by air, of course, and she did all the “flying work.” They were always on point to hunt or fish on opening day anywhere in the country.

In 1960, the lure of aviation brought Marge to Miller Flying Service to work in the sales department. In 1964 she purchased a new Bellanca 260, number 8888 Romeo. When she flew home from the factory where she picked up the airplane, the tower operator at Plainview thought she was stuttering when she first called in. Ever since, her airplane was referred to as “stuttering 8 Romeo.”

Marge, a passionate Powder Puff Derby racer, entered a race in 1973 that started in Jackpot, NV, and went to Landers, KY. Her meteorologist/weather advisor suggested a route and altitude that took her along a ridge line where she should find some updrafts. And updrafts there were! Holding the nose low to maintain altitude and indicating 240 MPH at times, she went on to be the overall winner of the race. She beat the twins and the other singles by 9 minutes.

Marge tells us her biggest thrill of all time was in 1972 when she had the opportunity to fly an Air Force Jet trainer. Most people just get to go for a ride, she got to fly one, a T-37 from Reese Air Force Base in Clovis, NM. Several days prior she was fitted with her flight gear and got familiar with the airplane in the simulator. During her flight, she made approaches, performed acrobatics with rolls and loops and made one pass over her home airport at Plainview. Not many women civilian pilots have had the opportunity to fly an Air Force Jet.

Marge says, “Nothing can give the pleasure that flying can,” and we all know this to be true. She was on a commercial flight not long ago and she traded her window seat so a young, first time flyer could enjoy the view from above. After they had climbed above a broken layer of clouds, the child exclaimed, “Hello, God!”

James and Marge are both staunch promoters of Bellanca aircraft. They have traveled all over the US, visiting fly-ins, conventions, and air shows doing their sales work. In 1983, James and Marge purchased stock in Bellanca, an action that spurred the resurrection of Bellanca and allows Super Vikings to still be produced today. Both James and Marge have served terms as Chairman of the Board at Bellanca.

Miller Flying Service specializes in the sale of Bellanca Super Vikings and twin Aerostars. They also perform service and restoration and have a fully equipped avionics shop and a paint shop. They employ 20 people and most have been there for years. James and Marge still work everyday plying their unswerving dedication to aviation. Many airline pilots started their careers in Plainview, Texas.

I have watched the aging process over my years and have realized there are two things that keep one full of youth: curiosity and enthusiasm. Though James was born in 1910 and Marge in 1913, they have managed to stay young because they are as enthusiastic about aviation today as they were when they received their first certificate. Recently, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride to Amarillo as James went to renew his flight instructor's certificate. Yes, he passed the check ride!

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.