Local Pilot Killed in Las Vegas Crash

Doug Gilless was supposed to fly in an air show last weekend with his racing team, Red Steel Jet Team.

By Nicole Gonzales and R. Stickney
|  Tuesday, May 22, 2012  |  Updated 7:12 AM PDT
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A Solana Beach pilot is being remembered by the aviation community across the country. Doug Gilliss, also known as

A Solana Beach pilot is being remembered by the aviation community across the country. Doug Gilliss, also known as "Papa Bear" died in a crash near Las Vegas. NBC 7's Nicole Gonzales talks with best friend Michael Curran.

San Diego's aviation community is mourning the loss of a Solana Beach pilot.

Doug Gilliss crashed in his L-39, just after taking off from Boulder City airport near Las Vegas Friday, May 18.

Gilliss and a passenger died.

A veteran pilot, Gilliss was an Air Force captain in Vietnam, and had been flying ever since.

He had more than 400 hours flying the L-39 model.

He also worked for the FAA and was an aviation law professor.

His call sign was “Papa Bear.”

“He had this gruff way about him but once you got past the gruff exterior, he was just a big teddy bear,” Gilliss’ best friend Michael Curran said.

Michael Curran, of Oceanside, and Gilliss were best friends for 20 years.

They were pilots together in the North County.

“He loved flying. He loved taking pictures of flying. It was just his passion,” Curran said.

He also loved teaching and it’s evident his flight students loved him. Numerous Facebook messages thank Gilliss for his instruction.

“There’s hundreds of pilots and students across the country who’ve benefited by knowing Doug,” Curran said.

Gilliss was supposed to fly in an air show last weekend with his racing team, Red Steel Jet Team.

The show went on without him.

“He would say if you asked him today, 'Don’t any of you stop flying. An accident took me, but I’d do it all over again. If I knew I’d die in an accident at 65, I wouldn’t have changed a thing,'” Curran said.

Funeral arrangements are still in the works.

Gilliss wasn’t married and has no children.

He’s survived by his twin brother and a sister.

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