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John F. Mitchell

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John F. Mitchell






In 1954 John Mitchell graduated from the University of Detroit with a Bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He had participated in the Air Force ROTC program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Following graduation from pilot training John Mitchell went to “Aircraft Observer Training for Pilots” school at James Connally AFB, Waco, Texas and graduated with Navigator/Bombardier ratings. He was then assigned to the 40th Bomb Wing at Smoky Hill AFB, Salina, Kansas, where he flew B-47Es until the spring of 1961. His next assignment was a two-year Air force Institute of Technology (AFIT) graduate aerospace program, which he completed in August 1963.


John's first PCS after graduate school was to the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards AFB, where he was assigned to the X-20 (Dynamic Soaring) DYNASOAR program until it was abruptly cancelled three months later. There was a critical shortage of engineers, and he soon became the stability and control flight test engineer for both the F-5A and F-B Category II test series, while accumulating flying time in the U-3A(Cessna 310) ferrying colonels around California (Chuck Yeager among them).


While gearing up for the F-111A test program, John received orders to report to Hurlburt Field in Florida, where he received retraining in the C-47 ‘Phyllis Ann” program. His Vietnam combat tour began when he flew the fourth RC-47P aircraft (heavily modified with electronic consoles and other radio detection equipment) from Manchester, New Hampshire to Tan Son Nhut AB in Saigon. For almost a year, he flew out of Tan Son Nhut, Pleiku, Danang, and Hue Phui Bai, flying 147 missions and accumulating 950 combat flying hours.


Back from southeast Asia in August 1967, John resigned from active duty, reunited with his family, and flew to Buffalo to interview at the Flight Research Department at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (CAL).  Hired as an engineering test pilot, he subsequently worked on many one-of-a-kind aircraft, including:

    A modified B-26, used to train fledging test pilots at both Patuxent River, Maryland for the Navy and at the Edwards for the Air Force.

    The variable stability NT-33A, modified with an F-94 nose to electronically simulate a wide variety of proposed or existing fighter aircraft.

    The Total In-flight Simulator (TIFS), a converted Convair 580 designated as an NC-131H.  This aircraft had a complete simulation cockpit attached in front of the nose.  With this setup, the Concorde (approach and landing) and the Space Shuttle (approach) were simulated long before either vehicle became operational.


In his 28 years at CAL (later named CALSPAN), John was also involved in Human Factors and Training, with such programs as the Navy E-2C, F-18A, and T-45, utilizing the Air Force systems approach to training for the B-1A. In addition, he worked at the Real Time Electromagnetic Digitally Controlled Analyzer and Processor (REDCAP) Air Force facility, which was built and installed at CALSPAN.


The purpose of REDCAP was to simulate the former Soviet Command and Control operations: from Early Warning, Filter Centers, and SAM sites to first line aircraft. It included an elaborate hardware and software simulation of the Soviet AWACS, with four operators making decisions in real-time regarding US bomber penetration.


During his tenure in western New York, John took the opportunity to fly the T-33A, F-100C, F-101B, and F-4C with the Air National Guard at Niagara Falls, where his unit had Air Defense Command alert duties with the F-101 Voodoo interceptor. He retired from the military in November 1982 after 28 years of active and reserve duty.


When the REDCAP facility relocated from Buffalo to Edwards AFB, CA in 1995, John retired from CALSPAN. Since five of seven children work and live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, John and Sue decided to move to nearby Northern Virginia, where he took a position as a cartographer with the Defense Mapping Agency (later renamed the National Imagery and Mapping Agency) and more recently to the National Geospatial-Intelligency Agency (NGA). He worked until his retirement from Civil Service in February of 2003.


Three years after graduation from flight training, John married Susan A. LaFramboise of Michigan in 1959. Their seven children include four in the D.C. area and one in St. Louis: one works at NGA, and one each with NASA Greenbelt, CIA Langley, Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and a goverment contractor (In Sequence). Of the two remaining children, one lives in Rhode Island and the other in Michigan, where he works for Astra-Zeneca. Sue and John have 19 grandchildren, 8 boys and 11 girls.