Business Aviation 'Trailblazer' Chuck McKinnon Dies

Apr 3, 2017 - 7:15 PM

Business aviation pioneer Charles "Chuck" McKinnon, who was the founder and long-time manager of IBM’s flight department, died March 30 in his hometown of Trussville, Alabama. He was 101.

"Chuck McKinnon was a trailblazer for business aviation,” said National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) president and CEO Ed Bolen. “The industry would not be the same without a visionary like him. He worked tirelessly to promote the many benefits and opportunities business aviation [offers], both in the U.S. and abroad.”

McKinnon learned to fly in a Waco biplane from an auto racetrack on a site that is now Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, according to the NBAA. Famed air racer Doug Davis gave him flight lessons in exchange for washing and waxing his aircraft.

After graduating from Georgia Tech in 1939 with degrees in engineering and business, McKinnon continued his career as a pilot for United Airlines, which had won a contract to fly supplies to troops during World War II. He is believed to be the last living member of the “Tracy Aces,” an unofficial title given to United Airlines pilots who had trained together in Tracy, California, the NBAA said.

In 1954, McKinnon joined IBM to found the flight department. He flew the company’s first business aircraft, a twin-engine piston Aero Commander, which transported engineers to sites across the country. He led the department until his retirement in 1977.

During his tenure he opened a satellite flight department at Le Bourget Airport in Paris in 1960, and a decade later worked to save the airport when Charles de Gaulle Airport began operations. He also was active with the NBAA, serving as a representative on a committee to standardize cockpit instrumentation and aircraft flight-handling characteristics.

During his career, he flew four U.S. presidents, two kings, and several astronauts. The NBAA presented its John P. “Jack” Doswell Award to McKinnon in 2010 in recognition of his lifelong individual achievement in support of business aviation.

McKinnon was predeceased by his first wife of 66 years, Mary, in 2004; and his second wife, Janice K. Barden, founder of Aviation Personnel International.