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Montana Aviation Pioneer Al Gillis Passes

by Chris Sorensen |

Just four months short of 100 years old, Albert F. "Al" Gillis, well-known aviation pioneer, passed away in his sleep early Saturday morning, Aug. 2, 2003.

Mr. Gillis was born in Great Falls on Dec. 13, 1903 and spent his entire life in Montana.

In 1936, he and Earl Hanson formed the Gillis-Hanson Flying Service in Great Falls. Al was a charter member of the first Montana Pilots Association, formed in 1939. In 1940, Gillis Flying Service was awarded a government contract to provide pilot training to civilians (CPT) pending military service. From 1940 to 1945, Gillis Flying Service trained over 1,500 students, many of whom continued as pilots or instructors.

From 1949 to 1954, he was a partner in Baker Aircraft Sales of Long Beach, Calif. Gillis Aviation, a corporation, was formed with Jack Riedesel in 1954.

In 1966, after 35 years of flying and with over 15,000 flying hours and a remarkable career in aviation, Al retired.