Captain Johnny Miller


FAA DAR Gyropilot
Mar 18, 2004
Lansing, Illinois (Chicago South Suburb)
(1) Air Command, (1) Barnett, (1) Air Command 2 place kit, (1) Sycamore gyro
Total Flight Time
Capt Miller was a guest speaker at a PRA convention in the mid-seventies at Rockford, IL. (The EAA moved out of Rockford and we moved in, nice setup)
Johnny showed films of his Post Office takeoffs (probably the same one linked on here) Johnny owned a 16mm color camera, he said it was his first big purchase. Johnny's business card reads Capt. Johnny Miller Jennies to Jets. Johnny owned a crop dusting business and moved into autogyros. Johnny bought a PCA2 Pitcairn around serial number 15, he got a call from Pitcairn aircraft asking him if he wanted to receive his gyro early, seems the owner of serial number 13 didn't like the superstition associated with that number. Johnny used the opportunity to beat the superstitious pilot as the first to cross the USA in a gyro. Amelia was a little ticked off, but still was the first woman to fly an autogyro across the USA.

Johnny was the first person to loop an autogyro and got paid well to show his skills at the Bendix air races, he also gave rides. Tickets would be sold at a booth and you would present the ticket to Johnny. Johnny gave me one of those tickets and autographed it.

I got to know Johnny at the Autogyro symposium Bruce Charnov created and held at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY. I was privileged to attend the amazing event.

Johnny told me that he was performing at the Bendix Air Races at Curtis - Reynolds airport near Chicago (research proved it to be the future home of Glenview Naval Air Station (now bulldozed))

According to Johnny, he met a fellow gyro owner when he stopped at the Chicago Worlds Fair. The other pilot (who's name I can't recall) joined Johnny in flying to the air races. Mr Bendix himself, was also attending his namesake event (Bendix invented air brakes and other braking innovations for automobiles, etc) Bendix was dedicating his new airport in South Bend, Indiana the next weekend and offered the gyros free fuel to attend. Another attendee of the races was a featured act named Spud Manning, Spud would jump out of an airplane (when parachutists would use the chute to drag them off the wing) and delay his opening until near the ground. The poor audience thought for sure Spud was falling to his death. Spud had a girlfriend named Magenta, from Riverside, IL., the two of them hitched a ride in the other gyro (PCA2s were 3 place) Johnny and the other pilot decided to fly across Lake Michigan, it was close to the fuel capacity to make South Bend.

Johnny Miller told me that part way across the lake he noticed they had picked up a head wind, he signaled he was heading south and they waved him goodbye. Johnny told me he landed at a little airport operated by the FAA, where they were used as an emergency field for airliners, etc. in bad weather or low on fuel. Miller fueled up from drums of fuel and headed east to South Bend.

The other Pitcairn never arrived in South Bend. All three were presumed dead.

The internet was young when Johnny told me the story. Mr Miller"sent me down a rabbit hole" that, to this day, I still enjoy. The little FAA emergency airport, he said was McCool. I don't live all that far from a small town in Indiana (I live 1/8 mile from the border, in Illinois) so I Google mapped it and found reference to a McCool airport near the town. Ironically, old maps show an "Airport" road. The FAA has no records of McCool emergency airport,but the did list a McCool AN Radio range by that name. Now I was really interested. The 4 course radio range was located on the McCool airport and the west leg of the radio took airliners to my home airport (Lansing KIQG, which was an overflow (or weather) airport for Chicago Municipal (now "Midway" KMDW. Lansing was the turning point to find Midway easy, just keep an eye out for the Lindbergh beacon in Chicago and the powerful steady light that that shines from it to Midway. That had it made with all the fancy radios and lights. Lansing was an airmail airport and it's white only beacon was a refreshing change form the previous bonfires the farmers got paid to keep burning across the nation.

Back to McCool. I drove out there one day hoping to find an artifact of the airport or the radio station. I found neither. As I neared where I expected to find McCool airport remnants, I found urban sprawl. Tears formed as I drifted back to a time when DC 3s and Ford Trimotors rumbling overhead, looking for shelter from the storms or a pit stop for gas. It is all forgotten now, or is it. A little strip mall was called Airport Mall. That must be very confusing to those that pass this way. I consulted Google maps again and found the "Airport" mall to be Kitty Corner (Katty Corner to my southern friends) from where the McCool airport was located. (on the North East corner of Airport road and US RT 6. A much larger Mall (not named :"Airport" was covering the land. Now zoomed further in I see the big mall's roads have names like United, American, etc. Surly gone, but somehow, not forgotten.

Spud, Magenta and their pilot were vanished. Frequent internet searches found, remarkably, a photograph of Spud and Magenta and Mr X and his Pitcairn, on ebay, (I was stupid and didn't buy it) and recently, an old newspaper story of how three bodies washed up in East Chicago , IN. near the Standard Oil refinery. The article also stated that parts, assumed from the Pitcairn, were found somewhat later on. About that time there was a TV show where SCUBA Divers were hunting down shipwrecks from tips. I e-mailed them with the story and they had no interest in looking.

My son, Mike has a Great Lakes shipwreck interest as do I, we are both SCUBA divers. Mike has recently befriended a couple of very well known wreck hunters and approached them. The shipwreck hunters all have a list of ships to find and all of the seem to have the Le Griffon (The French Explorer La Salle's supply ship. Credited to be the first shipwreck (of size) to sink in the Great Lakes.