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Northwest Section
of The Ninety-Nines
The international organization of women pilots.

99s Fly!

We'll miss you, Patty Pilot!

December 30, 2020

Patty Lou Mitchell

Patty Mitchell with her airplane

Patty Mitchell passed away at home on December 3, 2020, after a long battle with cancer. Patty was born April 17, 1943, in Wichita, Kansas, to Paul McCarty and Mary McCarty. The second of three daughters, she is survived by sister Judy and sister Malinda, both living in the Wichita area. Father Paul worked for Beechcraft and Cessna in his professional career.

Patty grew up in the Midwest. She had good memories of St. Louis and developed a lifelong love of baseball and for the St. Louis Cardinals. While living there she attended many Cardinal games and met Stan Musial, the great baseball player. She played catcher with the neighborhood boys until they went to little league; in those days, they did not allow girls. During that time, she and her daddy built a soapbox racer and then discovered that girls were not allowed to drive. She had to contend with these barriers all her life and successfully broke through most of them. In those younger years she wanted to be a race car driver, a pilot, and have horses in the mountains. She had airplanes hanging in her room and she would pretend to fly them. In the 5th grade her daddy gave her and her sister Judy a ticket to fly on a TWA Super Constellation to Des Moines to see her grandparents in Iowa. The flight attendant gave them junior stewardess wings. Judy took hers, but Patty said she was going to be a pilot. The stewardess said that little girls can’t be pilots, but Patty said they can when they become big girls. Her uncle Warren took her flying in his Cessna in Iowa and she loved it. She was musical, played the trombone and trumpet in high school and in college and often played Taps at funerals and on Sunday evenings from their house overlooking the Stillwater valley.

She graduated from Derby High in Kansas and received her college degree from Abilene Christian College in Texas. Her son Paul was born in 1963 and her daughter Lara born in 1967, both in Abilene. Patty worked as a teacher in Uvalde and Houston, Texas. She worked as a social worker in Houston, and in her 30s decided to take flying lessons.

In 1974 she joined the 99s and was active in this women pilot organization all the rest of her life. In fact, she held the position of Governor of this Northwest Section of the 99s at the time of her passing. She soloed in 1974 and quickly gained her private pilot, commercial pilot, flight instructor and airline transport pilot ratings flying and instructing out of Houston's Hobby airport. She taught flying and flew charters, becoming a Gold Seal CFI before getting a job flying the Twin Otter for Metro Airlines, where she was the first woman hired.

She married Robert Mitchell in 1978, moved to Montana shortly afterward and flew the Twin Otter for the Forest Service Smoke Jumper Base out of Missoula, one of the first women to become a smoke jumper pilot, call sign “Cow Patty.” She joined the State of Montana Aeronautics as Director of Safety and Compliance and wrote the State aviation newsletter. While overseeing aviation search and rescue in the state, she trained many Montanans in mountain flying and mountain searches.

She and her husband Robert started a flight school and air charter operation in Bozeman and then she entered graduate school at MSU in human factors with emphasis on the cockpit. In 1988 her dream of flying for the airlines came true when she was hired as a pilot for United Airlines. One of about eight women pilots there at the time, she flew the B727, 737, DC10, B747, and B747-400. She commuted to the West Coast for her trips from their ranch on Red Lodge Creek.

Never one for a dull moment, Patty lived life to the fullest, and usually at the speed of a jetliner. The Montana State trooper who gave her a speeding ticket at the age of 74 in her bright red Mustang GT, aptly named the “Beast,” would likely agree. A couple of years ago she founded the Big Sky chapter of the 99s in Billings.

Posing in Big Sky 99s T-shirts

However, life would enjoyably slow down to 10 knots aboard their beloved boat and home, the Orinoco, when after retirement Patty and Robert spent 10 years cruising the rivers, lakes and oceans of the United States and the Bahamas. Most years the grandchildren, Ryan, Riley, Connor, Aaron, Corey and Kristen spent summers on the boat having adventures with their grandparents.

She considered mentoring young women pilots as one of her most satisfying missions. She also spoke at conferences regarding women in aviation and encouraging those who were running into obstacles, as she said, “my professional career was filled with one obstacle after another and one can overcome these speed bumps with determination and grit.”

Patty Mitchell lecturing at Fall Section Meeting, 2015

Patty’s skills as a pilot, instructor, navigator, rancher, wife, mother and grandmother would always be complimented by her wonderful sense of humor and ability to light up a room with ease with her witty jokes and rich laughter. Patty easily made many lifelong friends in every job, air race, and marina across the country.

She was a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Absarokee and considers the congregation her church family. She had three families, her own, her flying family, and her church family, and will be missed by all. In addition to her two sisters, Patty is survived by her husband of 42 years, Robert, as well as her daughter Lara Erickson and son-in-law Brad Kembel of Worden, Montana, and her son Kristopher Mitchell (Colleen) of Cheyenne.

On December 19 a small Funeral service was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Absarokee. On April 17th (her birthday) at 10 am, a graveside service will be held at St Olaf cemetery southwest of Red Lodge to which all are invited, with stories and memories to be shared. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Northwest Section 99s scholarship fund care of Treasurer Aileen Coverdell, 6108 Somerset Lane, Pasco WA 99301-8882.

Written by Stacey Buddell, edited by Beth Chapple

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