Captain John “Johnny” W. Minor Jr.
Captain John “Johnny” W. Minor Jr. passed away May 6, 2017 at age 97 ½, after several years of declining health. He was born on Nov. 5, 1919.
At age 8 he saw Charles Lindbergh at a parade in Oklahoma City and fell in love with flying, a love he never lost. After several years at the University of Oklahoma with an aeronautical engineering major he joined the Army Air Corps in May 1940 and had flight training at Randolph Field, San Antonio.
In December 1940 he was one of 24 in his flight class that were transferred from the Army Air Corps to Pan American World Airways to allow Pan Am to expand as the U.S. readied for World War II. His first flight for Pan Am was as co-pilot on a Sikorsky S-42 flying boat from Miami to Havana in March, 1941, with 32 passengers. In addition he flew two other flying boats: the Consolidated Commodore and the PB2Y3. His life during the war was hectic, with rapid promotion to captain, multiple transfers to New York, San Francisco, and back to Miami, and flights to Latin America, the Pacific, the Azores, Africa, and India. In a seaplane the usual landing pattern in San Francisco bay was to fly UNDER the Golden Gate bridge.
He married Jeanne Murphy in 1941 and they had three children: Jay, born 1943; Lynn, 1945; and David, 1948.
His first land plane was the DC-4; then he flew the Boeing Stratocruiser and the DC-7, each piston plane faster and longer range than the previous craft. His longest regular flight was “over the pole” from San Francisco to London on the DC-7, 23 hours with a refueling stop at Frobisher Bay, Canada. Navigation was by the stars with a sextant, with no second chance if you missed the refueling stop. By 1953 he had enough seniority to be transferred to San Francisco to stay, and became more involved with the affairs of the local Airline Pilots Association Union. For many years he was chairman for the union air safety committee, working with the Pan American, Boeing, and the federal safety investigators to make airplane travel the safe travel it is today. In the 60’s he began flying the 707 jets with flights around the world as well as Australia, Japan, and Central America. Supersonic air travel was on the horizon, and he was on the pilot committee advising Airbus regarding the Concorde cockpit design, and Boeing and North American Aviation regarding their supersonic transport designs that never saw reality.
Because of his piloting skills, as well as his warmth and social skills with the junior crewmembers, he served as a “check-pilot” for many years, rating experienced crewmembers on their performance on both familiar and unfamiliar planes. His favorite plane was of course the 747 which he flew over the Pacific for almost a decade until he hit mandatory retirement in 1979.
He was a devoted family man, patient with the trials of raising three kids who behaved imperfectly when he wasn’t there. He traveled with his kids and family all over the world. His grandmother-in-law lived with the family for 40 years and they were close. His wife Jeanne died of cancer in 1984 and he was at her side every day for her last two years. He then built a new home in Coronado on San Diego Bay and started a long-time companionship with Dorothy Gulbransen, who predeceased him in 2013. They were constant fixtures at every Clipper Pioneers event for 2 decades. Dorothy helped revive the “Pan Am calendar’” with reprints of the old photos and posters. In addition to Pan Am social events he loved travel and sailing and was one of the founding members of the Coronado Yacht Club. His biography and recordings of oral history interviews are in the
SFO air museum at the San Francisco International Airport.
He is survived by his sister, three children, nine grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren.