Seventy Years in The Sky and Going Strong

Still Cleared For Take Off


by Mike Ford

In 1938 Howard "Mike" Hunt was a sixteen year old Iowa teenager on his way to a church youth group meeting when the car he was riding in went a different direction. "The Methodist church had young peoples organization and the car instead of going to the church went to the airport , and I took my first airplane lesson". Inspired by his uncles love of flying he had already built many models before that day. While his father had reservations, his mother understood her sons love of planes. By the time Hunt was 17 years old he had his pilots license, but he had to wait again until college to get into a cockpit.

It was clear the nation would soon be in the middle of another world war and the young man seized the opportunity to fly. "President Roosevelt could see that we were going to enter the war and they wanted a pilot pool so they put out a program called the civilian pilot program and i joined that" Stated hunt.

After the United States entered the war Hunt enlisted in the Army Air Corp and went to California for training, after which he was assigned to the Air Transport Command in Great Falls Montana."My biggest thrill" remembered Hunt "was checking out in a B-17. I was just fresh out of flying school and had about 80 hours in a B-17 and I'm the plane Commander now"

The B-17 was just one of the planes the young aviator was asked to fly during the war. It was in a single engine P-39 headed to Ladd Field in Fairbanks that gave Mr. Hunt one of his first big aviation adventures. Forty minutes into the flight his engine failed. Hunt had been instructed to bail out if there was an issue, since planes were more plentiful than pilots at the time. The prospect of jumping out of his plane over the frozen Alaskan terrain was not an option he was relishing. Hunt kept his wits and stayed with the fighter. "I did what every prudent pilot does, changed my fuel source put on a boost bump and thank god the engine came back to life at about 5,000 feet, but I'd reached the point where i either had to bail or ride the airplane down".

While stationed in Great Falls Mr. Hunt had a brush with one of World War II's most famous B-17 bombers, the "Memphis Belle". The flying fortress had survived 25 missions over occupied territory and the Army Air Corp brought it back to the states to do a war bond drive. Hunt had the privilege of being part of that mission."I picked her up at Spokane after it had been repaired, had a few bullet holes in it but was in fair shape and I flew it to various cities. I remember stopping in Des- Monies and ten days later leaving it in Tampa Florida"

After five years of service to our country Mr.Hunt made his way north and over the years has flown over 100 kinds of aircraft both fixed wing and rotor-craft. Over the years he was involved in many ventures, including Air Transport Associates. Flying C-46's between Seattle, Fairbanks and Anchorage.It was a profitable venture, Hunt remembers fondly "I was driving a Buick station wagon with wood panel sides and smoking cigars now and then. I was an airline executive"

Government red tape drove Hunt to give up being an airline executive, working for other airlines for a time then going to work with the FAA until he retired.

As part of the commemorative air force he still takes part in air shows across the country and goes to the reunions of the Air Transport Command. The number of his comrades is dwindling, and at the latest reunion three years ago in San Diego only 24 members were in attendance. The director of the program was hoping to increase attendance but Hunt sees the writing on the hangar wall. "I don't know how you can do it , they're all stored in that hangar out west and i don't know anyway to get them out of there, and sooner or later I suppose that's where i will go. I told my wife when she got out there to reserve us a warm hangar, I don't want to be out in the cold anymore. I want to work in a warm hangar"

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