Captain Don Kelly retires from Global Aviation

Captain Don Kelly celebrates career, retires wings

Captain Don Kelly embraced retirement and celebrated a career spanning nearly 50 years as a pilot this May. Friends, family and teammates came together to commemorate Kelly and his accomplishments at an event hosted by Global Aviation.

“Don has been a devoted and valued member of our Global Aviation family for 15 years. He represents the excellence we all hope to have in our careers and as individuals,” said Flo Newton, Global Aviation President. “While we only wish Don the best in his retirement, we will all miss his presence here greatly.”

Kelly did not originally seek an aviation career, aviation found him. While studying pharmacy at the University of Washington and completing his required two years of ROTC, a Colonel approached Kelly with an offer he could not refuse. The Colonel proposed that Kelly begin “advanced” ROTC and in return be guaranteed a pilot training spot.

“I said, ‘where do I sign, sir?’” remembers Kelly. “I graduated in pharmacy. Took my pharmacist exam. Married my wife 10 days later. Then we drove to San Antonio.”

Pilot training followed in North Carolina and Texas. Kelly received his wings in 1957.

Kelly flew a C-123 Provider

Kelly flew a twin engine C-123 Provider cargo aircraft

As Aircraft Commander, Kelly flew a twin engine C-123 Provider cargo aircraft, dropping paratroopers and landing on short dirt strips. He also enjoyed the fun of flying that C-123 for a flight demo team.

“We broke up the Army work by answering requests to put on shows for small town America. It was max performance. Every thing we did was showing off our airplanes and flying right to the limits,” recalls Kelly. “22, 23, 24 year old kids will do that without thinking of anything going wrong. You are invincible at that age.”

In 1962 Kelly began 29 years of flying for Eastern Airlines. He never imagined that his career as a pilot would end because the airline did. Kelly promptly dusted off his pharmacy license, which he had kept current as a back up plan, and went to work in Connecticut. He eventually moved to Portland, Oregon, continuing his pharmacy career. Good luck intervened in Portland though, and Kelly returned to the cockpit.

“At a neighbor’s Christmas party, I got to talking with someone who asked what I did. I told him ‘I’m a pharmacist but I used to fly airplanes,” says Kelly. The man asked Kelly if he missed flying. “And I said, ‘Every day. Every day.’”

The man turned out to be a valued charter customer for Global Aviation. He took out a business card and wrote down Flo Newton’s name on the back. He told Kelly to call Newton and get back in the cockpit. Kelly did just that. Three months later he was working for Global Aviation.

Kelly says that he has always been proud to say he works for Global Aviation. “In the charter business they are first class. You can eat off the hangar floor and the aircraft are spotless. The employees and management led by Flo are great,” says Kelly.

In 50 years of flying, Kelly can share a lot of history and wisdom about changes in the industry. He continually challenged himself to make sure every flight was done safely, smoothly and economically. When he started in the Air force, jet fuel was 11 cents per gallon and nobody cared how much they burned. Now at $5 per gallon, it is a different story.

As a pilot Kelly has seen all of the United States, most major cities in South America, and the Caribbean. Last year he took a river cruise to Normandy which he calls a “once in a lifetime” trip. He plans to stay a bit more grounded and local in his short-term retirement plans. Kelly’s wife, yard, home projects, books and maybe some volunteer activities are calling him.

Kelly also loves to golf. “I’ve been fortunate with good genes and good health. But trust me, golf doesn’t get better with age,” jokes Kelly.

Pilot Don Kelly retires from Global Aviation


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