James Ray Younkin was born on April 3, 1929, in Fairfield, Iowa. He moved to Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, with his family when he was thirteen.
After graduating from high school, Younkin joined the United States Army, where he played in the orchestra at Fort Knox. When he completed his military service, he attended the University of Arkansas and earned an engineering degree in 1952. Younkin worked for Hughes Aircraft in Tucson, Arizona, until he returned to the university to teach electronic engineering for a year in the mid-1950s. Younkin then worked for Collins Radio in Iowa, where he invented a gyroscope for airplane navigation systems. This invention led him to join Aviation Instruments in Texas. Younkin later designed the Century autopilot series and established TruTrak Flight Systems in 1999, where he continued to develop autopilot systems and other navigational and safety products.
Younkin is the cofounder of the Arkansas Air and Military Museum in Fayetteville. He built many of the displayed planes from scratch, including the replica of the Travel Air Mystery Ship.
Younkin passed away on May 13, 2019.