THE LIFE AND TIMES OF
DON S. MITCHELL
(NOTE:  This was written by Don Mitchell around mid-1990 and provided to TWITT by Richard Avalon of U.S. Pacific, a distributor of Mitchell B-10 and U-2 plans.  It is sort of Don's mini-autobiography and parallels what he said during a presentation at the 1991 Sailplane Homebuilders Association Western Workshop at Tehachapi, CA and, a 1992 presentation at TWITT.  For those interested in more on Mitchell designs, you can contact Richard at:  mitchellwing@earthlink.net or on the web: home.earthlink.net/~mitchellwing/.  Also see his piece on a Goodyear Racer proposal.)

PREFACE

By
Don S. Mitchell

I have spent my whole life in aviation.  I love gliding and soaring and the beautiful gliders and sailplanes, from the primary’s to the hot glass jobs of today.

I have two requests that I would like fulfilled before I die.  One: that I be nominated for and inducted into the Soaring Society of America’s “Hall of Fame”, and the other that when the time comes I have a pot of glue in one hand, a piece of plywood in the other ready to go onto my new home built sail-plane.

The Soaring Society of America can fulfill and accomplish the first and I request that they at least consider doing so.


INTRODUCTION

By
Richard Avalon

Don S. Mitchell will be 75 years old on Feb. 1990. He has been actively engaged in gliding and soaring since his high school days, 59 years ago.

Don became interested in aviation when, at the age of 5, he saw the dirigible, R-34 fly over the family country home in Scotland. ‘The Mitchell family moved to Alameda, California in 1921. His grammar and high school days were filled with model airplane building, winning contests, reading aviation books and magazines, and spending countless hours at the Oakland and Alameda Airports, climbing over arid in the “Swallows”, “Eaglerocks”, “Waco’s”, “Travelairs” and the beautiful Lockheed “Vega”.

As a member of the high school aviation club, he worked on the primary glider, that the club was constructing, under the sup-ervision of Mr. Hall, a French, World War 1 flyer.

He is a prodigious builder, just completed his 34th home built. Skilled in metal, wood, honeycomb and composite structures and is a most talented and imaginative designer.

His aircraft have established and hold many world records and are flying in countries throughout the world. They are on display in a number of exhibition halls and museums. S.S.A. and Oshkosh to name but two.

His ultralight flying wing power gliders and hang gliders have won more contests, set more records, been given more awards, than any other in the history of the movement.

He’s a member of S.S.A., first joining when he was with Hawley Bowlus, and has been a member most of the time since. For several years he contributed articles and over 100 pictures to the Vintage Sailplanes Association and was a member of the organization.

Mr. Mitchell has been an active and strong booster of soaring and gliding for well over 50 years. He is a member of Soaring Homebuilders Association (SHA) and has given lectures and demonstrated his ships at every one of the SHA Western Workshops held at Tehachapi, California. He has been Western Vice Pre-sident of SHA and an active organizer and contributor to all of the workshops and the SHA publication S.H.A.P.  He is a member of E.A.A. TWITT (The Wing Is The Thing) and actively en-gages in the publication.

In order to keep this presentation brief, some of Mr. Mitchell’s aviation engagements have been eliminated. Such as his work at Hiller Helicopters in the Quality Control department and as a Federal Aviation Inspector. His Q.C. work at one of the leading manufacturers of wood and metal rotor blades for helicopters and the various management positions in “Pico” manu-facturers of emergency escape slides for commercial airlines.

After you have read this presentation throughout to the end, you will believe as I do, that Don S. Mitchell, should by all standards be nominated for and inducted into the Soaring Society of America’s “Hall of Fame”. Certainly no other person is more deserving.

DON S. MITCHELL’S SOARING, GLIDING AND AVIATION HISTORY

By
DON S. MITCHELL

The following can be substantiated by one or more of the following:

.....1. Documentation
.....2. Pictures
.....3. Eyewitness

1929—1932

Helped construct a primary glider while attending Alameda High School, Alameda, California.

1934—1936

Student Boeing School of Aeronautics”, Oakland Airport, Oakland, California. Hanger #5.

1937

Dec. 1936 — Jan. 1937, employed by United Airlines at Oakland and Fresno, California, as Radio Operator and Station Attendant.

Left UAL and went to San Fernando, California in Feb. to see Hawley Bowlus. Asked him to teach me how to design and build gliders and sailplanes.

Lived with Hawley for the next 6 years and worked as his “right hand man” for 11 years, on every project during that time.

Hawley and I built the original “Baby Albatross” (Just the two of us). It was first flown in Feb. 1938.

We manufactured and sold four (4) “Baby” Kits in 1937.

Hawley and I wrote and made up the original instructions for assembly of the “Baby” Kits.

Once a month, at our own expense we drove up to Arvin, California and the White Wolf Ranch, to obtain permission to hold soaring meets at what became known as the “Arvin Soaring Site” - First meet held in 1938.

1938

Original “Baby Albatross” finished, licensed and flown in Feb.  Hawley made two flights and I made one. Flying down at “Muroc Dry Lake”, now Edwards Air Force Ease. We towed with Hawley’s 1936 Ford V-8.

I am the original registered owner of the original “Baby Albatross”.

Hawley made two airplane tows and .1 made one at Van Nuys Air-port. Gorden Buck did the towing using his 40 H.P. Cubs. Ship flown without the canopy and we used a ¼” rope, 200 ft. long.

Hawley, his father and I made the wood plug for the molded pods, cast the concrete forms and started production of pods for the “Baby Albatross” and the “Super Albatross”.

we started building the original “Super Albatross” for J.K, O’Meara. To take to the National meet at Elmira.

“Super” not finished. J.K. O’Meara and I, as crew chief, took the “Baby” to Elmira for the 1938 National Soaring Meet.

Hawley and I repaired the nose and one wing of the “Big Albatross”, that was in the shop, damaged, when I arrived in 1937.

We built one set of “Baby Albatross” wings for Dick Esserie’s “Baby Bomber”, a two place, side by side sailplane.

We mounted a 4 cyl. 16 H.P., 2 cycle “Radio Plane” engine on the front of the “Baby” and I flew it at the Dry Lake. Five flights made, we had a castering nose wheel on the front of the skid, aft of the tow hook.

During 1938, Hawley and I turned out 6 “Baby” kits, plus 2 we sent to Durban, South Africa.

Hawley, Al Essig, and I organized and formed “Bowlus Sailplane Inc.”, late in the year.

I was elected president of “Bowlus Sailplanes”.

During 1938 I flew the “Baby almost exclusively for many hours, doing auto, pulley, winch, airplane and horse tows.

1939

Finished the original “Super Albatross”. Licensed it and flew it at Rosemond Dry Lake. Hawley and I made several flights, auto tow.

Hawley and I made the first of the three, two place “Baby’s”.

Under Hawley, I had full responsibility for running the pro-duction shop manufacturing the “Baby” kits and for hiring and training the ever increasing personel, on how to mold pods, spars, wings, etc.

1940—1941

Designed and started to build on my own, the 50’, two place side by side, 3 wheel, retractable, landing gear, flying wing, glider. Using my external stabilators for aileron, elevator and stability control. (See Soaring May—June 1948).

Made one horse tow demonstration in the “Baby” at Grand Central Air Terminal. Al Essig and Don Wilson, Jack Benny’s announcer, did the towing with 100 riders from the El Charo riding group charging down the runway in front of us.

Broadcast over a National radio hook up from the “Baby” before, during and after the tow.

Molded pod for the only other “Super Albatross” ever built.

In the shop we built two more two place “Baby Albatross” sailplanes. Ted Nelson purchased these.

Continued building “Baby” kits and started FAA certification of the “Baby”. J.K. O’Meara, doing most of the flight test-ing for the Co. and the FAA.

Participated in a major way with the static testing of the “Baby” for certification.

Worked on my flying wing, as time would permit. 

Appointed Soaring Editor of Western Flying Magazine.

Left “Bowlus Sailplanes” to teach aircraft welding at Aero I.T.I. located at Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale. Welders were in short supply in the ever-increasing war effort.

Went to Timm Aircraft to mold the fuselage. Timm was designing and building an all wood trainer for the military.

Contributed my know-how and experience to the FAA static testing of the trainer.

1942

Early in 1942 Timm got contract to build the Waco Glider CG-4A.

Sent by Timm to two major furniture manufacturers in Los Angeles to organize and get them started on production of the CG-4A wings. Weber Showcase was one of the Companies, Super Cold the other.

Nov. 1942 hired by Weber to take charge of CG-4A wing pro-duction.

Made trips to Grand Rapids, Michigan and Hutchinson, Kansas to set up sub-contracting our CG-4A wing parts.

During my employment at Aero ITI Timm and Weber, I went to Hawley in the evenings and weekends to help on the design and building of the two-place tandem, all wood training glider and the ½ scale 46 prototype of the Cargo Glider XGC-l6.

1943—1944—1945

First part of 1943 left Weber and rejoined Hawley Bowlus full time, building the full size XCG-l6 prototype.

Still working as time permitted, on my Flying Wing model 278.

Al Criz and Hawley organized and formed General Airborne Transport Co. to build the XCG-l6.

G.A.T.C. got military contract for three XCG-16 Cargo Gliders.  One for flight, one for static test and one for standby.

Al Criz and Hawley made me Director of Projects at G.A.T.C.

In this position I worked under Hawley on problems associated with the XCG-l6, (And there were many), and I had two engineers working on an engine, propeller, and rear wheel drive unit for a roadable flying wing airplane I was designing. One other engineer I had working trying to design a way of swinging a propeller around the boom of a “Baby Albatross” with the engine in the pod.

The other project that I did myself was the conversion of the ½ scale, 46’ prototype of the XCG-16, to a flying wing, using my external stabilators for control and stability.

After completion of the conversion Hawley, Paul Tuntland and I flew it many times at the dry lakes.

Towing was by auto and airplane. All flights were made without any major problems. (See Soaring Aug. 1989).

After the delivery of three XCG-16 gliders to the military and the cancellation of the glider projects, Hawley and I went to work on the mock up of what was to become the “Dragonfly”, a two place side by side, pod and boom power glider with a three wheel retractable landing gear. Originally this design was known as the “Bumble Bee”, but later changed to “Dragonfly’. At this time I had my 50’ flying wing in Hawley’s shop, working as time permitted.

In Nov. 1945, Nelson Aircraft was formed to exploit what was believed to be a market for power gliders.

1946—1947

Worked with Hawley designing and building the prototype of the “Bumble Bee”.

After flying the prototype, we started FAA certification.

A new set of wings had to be built using 45° plywood, plus other modifications in the design.

Under Hawley I had charge of getting the wings, pod, tail, etc. built for static test and participated in a major way with the actual testing, as well as working on engineering and shop problems.

Gave Paul Tuntland, shop support in the FAA flight certification tests.

When we went into production, Hawley appointed me supervisor of production, with all shop personnel, and manufacturing under me. Note! “Bumble Bee’ was changed to “Dragonfly” after we were informed by Republic Aircraft that the name was on their copyright list. They had copyright on every kind of “Bee” you could think of. They were building the “Sea-Bee”.

Finished my flying wing model 278 on April 1946. Experimental Airworthiness Number NX18992 issued by the FAA.

Flew the flying wing many times at the dry lakes, as did Paul Tuntland and Hawley. No problems with either control or stability.

Later I mounted a Nelson, 2-cycle engine on the wing and we flew it as a power glider. This was the same kind of engine we used on the “Dragonfly”.

l948—1950

Depression hit the aviation industry and “Dragonfly production stopped. Totally built, 7 plus one prototype. This was a sad end to a fully certified power glider, with most personnel laid-off and the San Fernando shop closed.

Ted Nelson and Harry Perl asked me to move 350 miles north to San Leandro, California to build a new power glider. Just the three of us. So I moved.

We took the molded shells of the “Dragonfly” pod and spliced on a new mahogany plywood tail boom. I built the cantilever wing, with some help from Ted and Harry, out of 7075-T6 aluminum. This included making form blocks for each of the L.E. ribs. One every 6 inches, heat treating and artificially aging each, making the spar and skinning the wing. Later I made the trailing edge ribs, etc. Most of the wood structure was done by me. Ted worked on the engine, propeller, engine mount, landing gear and the retraction. Harry did most of the design work. I call this ship “Post Dragonfly, Pre-Hummingbird “ ship.

The above ship was flown but had poor performance so the wings were saved and the rest scrapped.

Harry talked Ted into one more try at a power glider and he gave us the go ahead.

Harry and I designed, laid out, and discussed a two-place tandem seating, with tandem gear. Engine and propeller to be fully retractable. The fuselage and tail to be wood and the wing to be the one saved from the other ship.

Harry did the majority of the detail design, Ted did the engine fittings and retraction. I did the majority of the work on the fuselage, tail, short center section, and controls with help from Ted and Harry, when required.

In April 1949, I designed and started to build, on my own time, a new flying wing to be known as the “Osprey”. This is a single place, 50 ft. span, all wood wing using my external surface control system.

After the original “Hummingbird” was completed, licensed and flown, I left Nelson Aircraft and completed the “Osprey”.

Helped to start the Northern California Soaring Association. One of the Directors the first year.

1950—1963

Flew the “Osprey” at Hayward Airport. Four auto tows to 25-30 feet. All controls normal and flights successful.

Paul Tutland came up from Los Angeles to look at it and agreed to test fly it for me. Paul was killed in a glider accident, and a month later the building where The “Osprey” was stored burned to the ground. The end of what might have been a great sailplane.

Designed and built the first of the “Nimbus” sailplane series. “Nimbus I” was 46’, single-seater, full cantilever, all wood glider. After many good flights, it was wrecked making an off field landing during a contest in 1954.

Designed and built ”Nimbus II”. A 50’, single-place, all wood, cantilever sailplane. This ship had, for the time, outstanding performance and was entered in three national meets and many California soaring contests and get-togethers.

Designed and built “Nimbus III”, a 40’, cantilever, single— place, all wood sailplane. (Ed Blalocks "Nimbus" had a 46’ wing.)

“Nimbus III”, was winner of the High Performance Sailplane Design Award at the 23rd National Soaring Contest, Grand Prairie, Texas.

“Nimbus III” won the Hawley Bowlus Helm’s award at the San Diego Soaring meet at Torrey Pines.

Without help I built 4 complete “Nimbus III” sailplanes and sent out 7 “partial kits” (50% of the ship completed)

Designed and built “Nimbus IV”. This ship had an all metal fuselage and tail with all wood, 50’, cantilever glider. It did not perform as expected and was discarded.

1964—1975

Repaired and/or modified the following:

One Flying Plank
One Slingsby Skylark
One Baby Grunau
One Foka SZD-24C
One Dutch “Sagetta”
Three “Baby Albatross”
One Weihe
One Tweed GT-T
Two KA-6
Three Standard Austria
Two BG-12
One Nimbus III
One Wing for Mooney Mite
One Concept 70: Cleaned up the flaps and made ailerons droop with the flaps, etc.
One Australian Arrow: I cut the 43.5’ single piece wing in half at the centerline and made it into a two- piece wing. This ship is still flying.

1976 - 1977

Designed and built the “Mitchell Wing” hang glider. From start to flight took 23 days. This was the first rigid-wing hang glider with 3 axis controls. This ship has such outstanding performance that immediately after it flew at Los Angeles regional meet, I obtained 12 orders. Sold one complete to B. White who flew it to the regional championship in Los Angeles and then to a National championship at the National Hang Glider meet in the East.

I built 7 complete “Mitchell Wings” and turned out 5 more kits.

George Worthington bought completed ship #4, and flew it to three world records. (See Soaring Sept. 1977).

Organized “Mitchell Wing, Inc.” located at Porterville, Calif-ornia, to manufacture the wings. Orders were coming in from all over the world.

1978—1985

I installed a 10 HP pusher power pack to turn the wings into a foot-launched power glider. Five ships like this were made.

Made new cage for the “Wing” with three-wheel landing gear, 10 HP pusher engine installation. Thus you took off and landed on wheels. Later I went to 18 Hp and called the ship the “Mitchell B-10”

Experimented with fixed and adjustable flaps, slats and slots for the wing.

“Mitchell Wing, Inc.” sponsored and paid for Ultralight Fly-In get-togethers at Porterfield, 6 years in a row. The first had 5 ships - 3 of them ours, but the last one had over 400 from all over the United States and Canada.

Took ships to Oshkosh 6 years in a row. Awarded top honors, many times. More than any other ultralight ever did or has since. 

Designed and built in my own shop in Mariposa, California. The original “Mitchell U-2 Ultralight Flying Wing”.

The Mitchell U-2 holds the world’s maximum altitude record for aircraft weighing less than 600 pounds, of over 26,000 ft. It also holds the sustained altitude record of a little less than 26,000 ft.

“Mitchell Wing” sold hundreds of drawings and kits for the B-10 and U-2 and the hang glider version of the B-10.

They are flying in countries all over the world.

Designed arid built the original A-10.  This is a foam and alumi-num skin, B-10. A very successful ship and holds 3 worlds records. A-l0‘s were sold as a complete ship.  No kits or drawings were sent out.

1986 to June 1989

Designed and built the foam and glass “Victory Wing” , power glider. This ship meets all the requirements for Ultralight and Microlight categories. It has either a 3-wheel or tandem landing gear. Tandem gear is fully retractable as is the nose wheel on the 3-wheel gear. Flown same and all who have, flown it admit it is a super, easy flying ship.

Built and sold 2 modified B-l0 hang gliders, boosting the span to 39 and 40 ft. Made enclosed pods and cleaned up the ships for additional performance.

I have the plans for the “Victory Wing” but have not decided to sell them at this time,

Have the basic design for a two-place, 50 ft - flying wing power glider and may start construction the first of 1990.
 

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