Tuesday, June 22, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Retiring crew members, left to right, pilot John Pinter,
second officer Stu Mitts, and first officer Bob Gilbert
are all smiles after landing in Honolulu on their
last flight yesterday.

Flight crew
united in

The three comrades chose
to end their careers on the
same trip to Honolulu

By Russ Lynch


THREE United Airlines flight-crew members stepped off Flight 53 to Honolulu yesterday and into retirement.

In an unusual event for the industry, the three comrades chose the same trip to end their decades of service with the airline

When yesterday's Boeing 747 flight from Los Angeles pulled up at Gate 8 at Honolulu Airport, Capt. John Pinter was in charge. "We have to fly our final flight (in command) prior to our 60th birthday and I turn 60 on June 24," Pinter said in an interview before the flight.

Pinter, who has been based in Hawaii, thought it would be a great idea to invite along his longtime friend Capt. Stu Mitts, also a Hawaii resident.

"When you're 60 years old, you can no longer be a captain or a copilot," Mitts said. When he turned that age in 1996 he decided not to quit right away but to stay on for a while as a flight engineer, also called second officer.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
First officer Bob Gilbert Gilbert waves goodbye to passengers.

He decided to hang up his hat in April of this year but Pinter persuaded him to hang on a bit longer. "John and I have been friends for years," Mitts said.

Then there was Bob Gilbert, a mainland-based pilot who was also due to retire at about the same time. Pinter persuaded him to make up the retirement-flight threesome, creating an event that United's chief pilot in Hawaii, Capt. Bill Carter, said is highly unusual in aviation.

Recognizing the uniqueness of the event, the airport fire department pulled out its fire trucks and arced water over the 450-passenger jumbo jet as it taxied toward the terminal late yesterday morning. That's a rare tribute, reserved only for those running their last flight after long service.

Pinter counts himself lucky to have flown at all. "When I was a kid I had cancer. I was considered 4F and the military wouldn't take me," he said.

"When I couldn't fly, and that's all I wanted to do when I was a kid, I decided I'd build them," he said. He worked for Boeing Co. and went on to Continental Motors, a Detroit manufacturer of light aircraft engines.

Considered cured of his cancer, he did get a private pilot's license and in the 1960s aviation was growing so fast that United, facing a shortage of pilots, instituted what it called a Pilot Advance Acceptance Program.

They took private pilots, tested and worked them up to a commercial license, and put them to work. Pinter joined the program in 1967.

"The door was closing fast but I had my foot in the door," he said.

Pinter flew as a flight engineer with United for 10 years in Boeing 727s and Douglas DC-8s.

Then he had 11.5 years as a copilot in 727s, 737s and the DC-10 and finally 10 years as a captain on the 747.

"I'm retiring with class," he said, by flying into Honolulu on United's top-of-the-line 747.

Pinter said he was a product of the jet age, starting right out in jets.

But Mitts, like Gilbert, started with propeller aircraft, going into the Air Force right out of college and went through pilot training. He did a 179-day tour in Vietnam in the early 1960s, flying the equivalent at the time of today's high-flying AWACS planes.

He came back in 1963, "the day before President Kennedy was killed."

He flew commercially in propeller-driven DC-6s. He joined United 30 years ago, was a flight engineer on 727s and 737s, a captain on those aircraft and DC-9s and later captained 757s and 767s.

He and his wife bought an apartment here as a nice place to live for a year and a half while he built his service with United to a total of 30 years.

Since then, "we've kind of gone native" and will stay in the islands, Mitts said.

Gilbert started with United in early 1968, as a second officer in propeller-driven DC-6 aircraft. "I flew props in the Navy. It was kind of home for me. I liked them," he said.

But United got rid of all its propeller aircraft six months later and Gilbert moved on to jets, as second officer in 727s and DC-8s. In the mid-1970s the airline went through some retrenchment and Gillbert said he "barely hung on," as a second officer in the smaller 737s.

The first time he flew jets was as second officer in a 727 and he went on up the line to 747s.

"It was fun yesterday," flying in at Pinter's request as first officer on the 747, said Gilbert who turns 60 on Saturday. He said he will return to his East Tennessee home.

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