Canadian aviation pioneer George Neal passes away at 97
By Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame
It was with great sadness that Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame learned of the passing of George Arthur Neal, peacefully on April 4, 2016 in North York, Ont., at the home where he was born and lived all his life. Born on November 21, 1918, George was the son of the late John and Kate (Dennis) Neal. He is survived by his sisters Evelyn LoPatriello and Doris Mundinger and many nieces and nephews. He is predeceased by siblings Kathleen Neal, (2007) and John Neal (1994).
By Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame
“We have lost a pioneer in Canadian aviation,” said Tom Appleton, chairman of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. “On behalf of the Hall, we extend our most sincere condolences to George Neal’s family and friends.”
George was the winner in 1989 of Canada’s most prestigious aviation award, the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy, and inducted as a Member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995 at a ceremony held in Edmonton, Alberta.
Neal learned to fly at the Toronto Flying Club in 1935 and earned his Private Pilot’s License in 1936. From 1937 to 1941 he was employed at de Havilland Aircraft of Canada (DHC). In 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and was posted to No. 10 Air Observers School in Chatham, New Brunswick, where he became a Flight Commander, Chief Test Pilot and Assistant Maintenance Superintendent.
In 1946 he rejoined DHC where he would be employed for the next 37 years. His first job was in the engine shop, and in 1947 he was transferred to the flying staff as a full time pilot and took over the development testing of the new DHC-1 Chipmunk trainer. He became Chief Test Pilot in 1948 and, with the introduction of the British de Havilland Vampire jet into service in the RCAF, Neal became one of the first civilian pilots in Canada to become jet qualified. He did a considerable amount of demonstration and development testing of this aircraft across the country and the world.
The flight testing of the DHC-2 Beaver, first flown by Russ Bannock, was completed by Neal in 1948. This included the certification testing required to obtain a Civil Type Approval. His convincing demonstration of the short take-off and landing (STOL) features of the Beaver led to sales throughout the world, and has become one of the most famous Canadian aircraft.
On December 12, 1951, he piloted the first flight of the DHC-3 Otter, and over the next two years undertook the testing necessary for certification in the original land-plane configuration, and later in the float and ski-plane versions.
The first flight of the prototype Caribou was flown by Neal on July 30, 1958. Toward the end of the Caribou test program, during high speed trials, a modified version developed aerodynamic flutter. After the loss of part of the tail surface, it became unmanageable, and Neal and the accompanying Department of Transport test pilot were forced to abandon the aircraft. Neal’s attention to detail before he bailed out prevented fire following the crash, and enabled a clear study of the cause of the flutter.
In the 1950s he procured a copy of the original drawings for the Sopwith Pup Great War fighter and built an award-winning flying replica of the aircraft, now on display at the Canada Aviation & Space Museum, at Rockcliffe Airport in Ottawa.
Neal was Chief Pilot for the National Aviation Museum until 1991, when their program of flying the vintage aircraft collection ended. He flew the Sopwith Pup, Avro 504K, and Nieuport 17, which are in the museum’s collection, and rebuilt a Hawker Hind for the museum. He accumulated more than 15,000 hours on over 100 different aircraft types during his lifelong passion for aviation.
In 1999, George was commemorated by the Royal Canadian Mint, with a $20.00 coin with his profile and the DHC-6 Twin Otter on the reverse and the Queen on the obverse.
George continued flying until 2015, when he flew his personal DHC-1 Chipmunk from Brampton Airport in Toronto, for display at the 43rd Annual Induction Gala of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. This flight was recorded and earned George recognition by Guinness World Records as the oldest active licensed pilot, and flying his own aircraft at 96 years and 194 days as of June 2, 2015.
At George’s request he has been cremated and a private family internment has taken place at Westminster Cemetery. A memorial service is being organized with the help of volunteers from Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
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