George Edgar Ronald Hewitt was born on Dec. 4, 1950, to George and Rose Hewitt in Winnipeg, Man. George worked for Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), Air Canada’s predecessor, upholstering the insides of airplanes. Rose stayed home with their kids: George, Linda, Sharon, Wayne and June. George was always fascinated by planes. “My brother and I used to build model aircraft, fly them, break them and rebuild them,” Wayne says. George and his youngest sister, June, would play “pilot and stewardess,” Rose says. The Hewitts would go on trips to Florida or Mexico, and “even as a baby, I was on a flight somewhere,” says Wayne.
When George was about 13, he joined the Air Cadets, and at 16, won a scholarship to get his private pilot’s licence. After that, “he’d grab me and say, ‘Let’s go flying,’ and off we’d go,” Wayne says. In a rented Cessna, the brothers would fly around the city, “up the river and back.” In high school, George joined the reserves and got his jet licence, too. When Winnipeg hosted the Pan American Games in 1967, George—who was a member of his Air Cadet squadron’s honour guard—proudly raised the flag for Canadian swimmer Elaine Tanner, who won two gold and three silver medals.
George had set his sights on becoming a pilot. After high school, he went to Red River College in Winnipeg to take a business administration course, and “as soon as he finished that, Air Canada hired him,” Wayne says. “He was very, very excited—and I was excited, because he left his Opel GT [sports car] in the driveway.” George moved to Montreal, where he he met and married his first wife, Barbara; they had two children. As a commercial pilot, he started out flying domestically, but quickly advanced, and was soon flying overseas, too. “He had friends all over the world from flying,” Wayne says, and loved travelling to Australia or the Far East. George, who had an adventurous and competitive streak, also took up sailing, and participated in several regattas.
After Montreal, George was stationed in Vancouver. He and Barbara eventually separated. About 19 years ago, he remarried, to Wendy, a “loving, caring person” who was involved in work for various non-profit organizations, according to Wayne; the couple had two children together. George and Wendy entered into a U.S. green card lottery, and when they won, moved to Bellingham, Wash., close enough to Vancouver that George could keep flying out of the city airport. George was increasingly interested in vintage airplanes—especially the Navion, a single-engine four-seater originally designed after the Second World War. He bought a Navion and intended to participate in airshows, sending Wayne “some photos of him[self] flying in formation.” George joined the Washington-based Cascade Warbirds, a group for vintage airplane buffs, and the American Navion Society (ANS). Easy-going and well-liked, George was respected in the ANS for his flying skills, says president Gary Rankin; he was adept at handling dangerous situations. In 2007, he was flying out of an ANS convention in Sedona, Ariz., when his engine died. George managed to land the plane, “coasted up to a parking place, tied it down and never scratched it,” Rankin says. “It took a lot of skill, and a lot of luck.” Wendy, who was with him at the time, was spooked. According to Wayne, “she didn’t want to fly for a while after that.”
Just over a year ago, George and Wendy moved to Fort Mohave, Ariz. They liked the climate, Wayne says, but even better, it was a fly-in community—their new home had an airplane hangar attached to the house. In December, George retired from Air Canada after almost 40 years. At his retirement party, “Wendy put together all these photos of their flying adventures,” Rose says. In June, at the ANS convention, George won the “efficiency contest,” Rankin says, based on who can travel at the greatest speed on the least amount of fuel. This summer, for Rose’s birthday, the couple came back to Winnipeg for a visit. Expecting two grandchildren, “Wendy wanted me to show her how to knit booties,” Rose says.
On Sept. 16, George and Wendy were at an air show in Reno, Nev., seated in box seats reserved for members of the Cascade Warbirds. Suddenly, the veteran pilot of a Second World War-era P-51 Mustang airplane (which was produced by the same company that designed the Navion, according to Rankin) lost control. It crashed into the audience, killing nine, including the Hewitts. Wendy was 57, and George was 60.