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Benoist Biplane 1911

George Grundy, last of Early Bird Fliers

Knight Ridder Newspapers

George D. Grundy Jr., the last survivor among fliers recognized as the Early Birds of Aviation, died May 19, 1998 in Leesburg, Fla., nursing center.  He was 99.

The Early Birds were fliers who soloed in a balloon, airship, glider or powered aeroplane before Dec 17, 1916, the 13th anniversary of the first flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Mr. Grundy was among the the last of 598 pilots to gain association by membership vote after supplying documentation, but many pilots who died before the organization was formed in 1928 were never Early Bird members, said Carol Osborne and aviation historian of Santa Clara.

The Early Birds formed to show some deference to those aviators who took the risks and taught themselves, including Mr. Gurdy, who said in a recent interview that he got interested in flying while attending the Merchant Marine Academy in New York. He made his first solo flight in Sept 17, 1916, in a Benoist biplane at a flying  school his father operated on Staten Island.

He said he didn't enlist during World War II, but in addition to repairing wooden planes at Maritime Academy, Mr. Grundy said he taught wartime pilots and earned $1 an hour doing so. He decided to sell real estate, mostly in New York, rather than pursue a career in flying, as some Early Birds did.

One was Allan Loughead, one of the brothers who after changing their name to Lockheed founded the aircraft corporation that bears their name. Another was Glenn L. Martin, whose company became Martin Marietta and finally Lockheed Martin. The penultimate Early Bird, Walt Addems, died in December at age 98 in Palo Alto. He flew the mail and then became director of flight operations for United Airline.

George Debaun Grundy Jr. was born June 21, 1998 in New York City.  His wife Norma Grundy died in 1993. They had no children. A nephew, Joseph Kelleher of St. Petersburg , Fla., is Mr. Grundy's only survivor.

Closed cockpits and passenger cabins took the fun out of flying, Mr. Grundy said last year when presented with an Early Bird pin that had orbited with the space shuttle Atlantis. "Air travel today is like sitting in a closet".


Interested in other Early Bird Fliers here is link to:   Pioneer Pilot - Walter E. Lees

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