Capt. George C. Watkins, a record-setting Navy test pilot, died of a heart attack Sept. 18 in Lompoc, Calif. He was 84.
Watkins, dubbed “Gorgeous George” by fellow pilots, was the first Naval aviator to fly above 60,000 feet, then 70,000 feet. On one day in 1956 he set a speed record of 1,220 mph and an altitude record of 73,500 feet. In April 1958 he set two more altitude records in three days, reaching 76,939 feet.
In 1962 he became the first pilot to make 1,000 carrier landings and, by the time he retired in 1973, the number had reached 1,418 traps aboard 37 carriers. He was the first to log more than 10,000 hours at the controls of Navy planes – ultimately more than 16,000 hours – and first to fly more than 200 different aircraft types.
After retirement, Watkins ran a glider school at Santa Monica, Calif., until a heart condition grounded him in 2003.