The WorkNotWork Show

The show about people who have turned their passion into their profession.

Three Generations of Fighter Pilots Fly Together

The WorkNotWork Show [0:02:50]: Scratch, as I researched this episode, there was a moment in your career that really leapt off the page for me. You’re a third generation fighter pilot. Most remarkably there was a day, back in 1999, that might be unique in aviation history. Can you tell us that story and walk us through that day?

Scratch Mitchell: Interesting, I know the day of which you’re speaking – it’s the day I got to fly with my father and my grandfather, both military pilots. It was really interesting: it didn’t register until a week or so afterwards how important that was to me, to the family, to my grandfather, to my father.

I was the CF-18 airshow pilot at the time in 1999, and I was somewhat of a public figure and I got to know the generals and what have you. It just occurred to me if there’s an opportunity to do something unique with my family, it was that year. I put the request and I said “there’s an opportunity here to showcase the 75th anniversary of the Air Force,” which 1999 was, “would it be possible to take both my father and my grandfather in a flight where all three of us are airborne at the same time in F-18s?” The answer came back within an hour and was ‘yes!’.

WNW: Wow.

SM: Pretty spectacular. Grampa was nervous. He had not been in a fighter since the last day he flew in France at the end of the war. And he…

WNW: What kind of plane did he fly?

SM: My grandfather was a Spitfire pilot and for the RCAF 421 Squadron. He was in Africa as a tank buster, train buster, and then nearing the end of the war, he was with 421 Squadron in France. And he flew about 400 missions over there, and he didn’t speak much of it. As I became more involved in aviation, he opened up more about this time. But I saw that day, at the time, he was a 78-year-old man.

I saw him turn from my old grandfather to a young fighter pilot again. I saw the fangs come out. I saw that spark and fire come back in his eyes. It was phenomenal and that’s what I feel – I was 29 years old, and I was, as we say, a piss-and-vinegar fighter pilot. And it was really neat to see my grandfather there.

My father who is not much older than I am – In fact he is only 20 years older. He was still in the flying game, and I didn’t see as big an arc for my father in this experience. He had flown F-5s and been in Voodoos and whatnot, in the jet age. It was the biggest transition I saw was through my grandfather’s eyes.

WNW: There’s a pretty good chance that I actually saw your dad fly. I used to attend the Abbotsford Air Show in the early 70s, and the CF-101 Voodoos opened the show. I’m thinking that it was around the same time.

SM: It may very well have been. A funny story: I had the approval to have my father in my back seat, and my squadron commanding officer took my grandfather in the back seat. The mission was a 2V2 – two airplanes versus two airplanes. Two of them went off to the north, and two in the south, and my grandfather was in the northern package and we were in the south, and we mixed it up a bit. But at one point, I said “I really need to show my dad what the F-18 could do”

WNW: Compared to what he had flown?

SM: Compared to what he had flown, absolutely. And I said, I just want to hold my grandfather in the north, for about five minutes, and I wanna wrap it up in a 1V1 dog fight with my dad in the backseat and my wingman. Just a practice dogfight just to show them. Sure enough, we hit the merge, and with my wingman I went up. We were wrapping up the F-18s. It’s a knife fighter – it likes to get slow and then it wrap it up nice and close and see the eyeballs on the other pilot.

And at one point, I remember going up and reversing over, and I heard my dad in the back seat going “nope, I don’t think you should go!” I remember thinking “nope, dad doesn’t know best.” I went the other way and I rolled in, I gunned the guy, and I’m, like “yeah dad, you lost it.” (laughter)

WNW: Well that must have been a special moment, realizing that the student had become the teacher.

SM: I think it was and I think my father took some pride in that moment. That he was along for the ride, and his son was propelling him through the air at 1000 miles an hour. For my father, it was probably a quiet victory for him.

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There’s so much more – this is just the beginning of our extensive, in-depth interview with Scratch Mitchell. We welcome your comments below. Also, ratings and reviews on iTunes are invaluable and very much appreciated. Thank you! (header photo: Mitchell Family Collection)

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