Meet the man who flew the SR-71 Blackbird —the world’s fastest jet

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2018 by hillermuseum


By Kali Shiloh

Writer at The Six-Fifty

The ups and downs of Brian Shul’s life have been both literal and extreme. Shot down over Vietnam, the fighter pilot suffered extensive burns and broken hands before enduring 15 reconstructive surgeries during a year in the hospital. But the fire inside of him ultimately propelled the Air Force major to the greatest of heights — inside the top-secret cockpit of the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built.

On Saturday, December 30th, Shul will visit the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos for the fourth year in a row to tell stories of his crash, recovery, and the four years he spent flying over three times the speed of sound. Though social media and software are now the local niches, Shul’s visit to Silicon Valley speaks to the often forgotten legacy of the Peninsula as a region steeped in pioneering aerospace history.


Something my bicycle can’t do

Shul found his calling early: “When I was about 8 I went to an airshow, and that was the end of it . . . I thought, ‘Wow, there’s something my bicycle can’t do.’”

The sounds of jets firing their afterburners gripped his soul and held on tightly. “I gotta try that at least once,” he remembers thinking, “before the Yankees call me to play third base, which I was pretty sure they were gonna.”

With his heart aimed skyward, Shul joined the Air Force at 22. It was toward the end of the Vietnam War, with 212 missions under his belt, that enemy fire forced his plane to a crash land in the jungle near the border of Cambodia. He never lost consciousness and caught on fire almost immediately. “I saw that my flight suit was all charred and black, and then I realized: ‘That’s not your flight suit, that’s your arm.’ And then I couldn’t look at it anymore.” He was rescued by special forces and flown to Okinawa, but doctors feared his condition was terminal.


Not even Shul believed he would be able to fly again. “I didn’t think I could do it for a long time. I just realized that if I pretended like I could maybe do it, it would get me through the therapy.” After a year in the hospital, he passed a flight physical with no waivers.

Shul flew for the Air Force for another 12 years, but when he was told he’d be transferred to a desk job, he knew he had more left in the tank. One way to stay in the cockpit, he knew, was to volunteer for the SR-71 program — highly classified and yet struggling to recruit pilots. Shul lobbied hard to be considered, and after numerous calls and letters, he was granted an interview. Once accepted, he spent four years flying the highly classified aircraft. “The Yankees never called me,” he jokes, “[but] I thought, ‘well . . . I did it, I lived the dream.’”

Like Shul himself, the Blackbird SR-71 was not only shaped by matters of American foreign policy but ascendant from the wreckage of tragedy.


Thirteen miles high, and faster than a rifle bullet

Around the same time that Shul was gripped by flight at his first childhood airshow, the U.S. government was resolved to rebound from the U-2 spy plane debacle by creating a reconnaissance aircraft that simply couldn’t be shot down.

At a now infamous (but then-secret) division of Lockheed, known as Skunk Works, aerospace engineers and machinists toiled for 20 straight months in a two-story, windowless building near the municipal airport in Burbank, California, working to somehow create a plane that could capture military data from foreign enemies without being compromised by missiles and radar detection.

In pushing the boundaries of what was possible, the team was quite literally inventing a new way to make a plane. The result was an aircraft that was truly built for speed — a thoroughbred that performed better the faster it went. At its unbelievable maximum speed and altitude — over 13 miles high, traveling faster than a rifle bullet — the craft’s photographic equipment was capable of honing in on the detail of a person’s name tag. Conversely, conventional navigation systems couldn’t keep up with the Blackbird as it hurtled through enemy territory, not at miles per hour, but miles per second.


The Blackbird served six presidents, capturing data, informing foreign policy decisions, and evading every missile launched at it for 25 years. Though more than 4,000 attempts were made, the titanium titan was retired without once being hit. “The Blackbird did more to help win the Cold War than you will ever know,” Shul says.

Of the 93 pilots to fly the SR-71, Shul was the only one who brought along his passion for photography. A budding amateur, he occasionally gained permission to photograph his craft, which he deems the “best subject you could ever hope for.” The nature of Blackbird missions was highly classified, but Shul’s glimpses of insider documentation give insight into what it meant to be the pilot of one of the world’s most sophisticated top-secret vessels.

Shul and the Blackbird have both retired, but remain symbolically linked as examples of human drive and persistence. Shul’s drive though has always been more down-to-earth than the design of the Blackbird: “I think you should always do stuff you love . . . that you have a passion for, and if you’re not doing that, then I always say, why not? You’re spinning your wheels, wasting life. It goes by. It goes by really quick.”



Prize Achievement

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2017 by hillermuseum

SpaceShipOne and the Ansari X-Prize
by Jon Welte

Wilbur and Orville Wright first popularized their flying machines in 1908, staging demonstration flights that stunned onlookers and silenced those who had come to doubt that they had been the first to fly. Shortly thereafter millions of people had a chance to see firsthand the astonishing work of engineering first hand at public “air meets”, including ones at Dominguez Field (Los Angeles) and Tanforan (San Francisco) in early 1910.

One of the observers of the 1910 California air meets was publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst grasped the appeal of aviation and its potential for boosting newspaper sales, and knew that the year before a prize offered by the London-based Daily Mail inspired Louis Bleriot to fly across the English Channel. Hearst developed a prize of his own for a transcontinental flight across the United States. Although the deadline expired before the prize could be claimed, it was the inspiration for Cal Robert’s pioneering cross-country trip in the Wright Model B Vin Fiz in 1911.

Prize purses remained common throughout the first decades of aviation. Perhaps the most celebrated was the Orteig Prize, which inspired teams of aviators in a quest to fly across the Atlantic Ocean between New York and Paris. In May 1927, the prize was famously won by former air mail pilot Charles Lindbergh, flying solo in his Spirit of St. Louis airplane.

With the coming of World War II, prizes fell by the wayside as the pace of aerospace achievement was largely set by government-funded military programs. Wartime requirements inspired the adoption of jet propulsion, and during the Cold War uniformed test pilots flew to the sound barrier and beyond. Yet the allure of privately-funded prizes, competed for by private-funded builders and pilots, remained compelling.

In 1996, engineer and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis rekindled the practice of offering flight-related prizes by announcing the X-Prize, which promised a purse of $10 million for the first privately-funded human spaceflight. Renamed the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 after substantial funding was provided by Anousheh and Amir Ansari, the prize rules stipulated that the spacecraft must be reusable and capable of carrying a crew of three, and must complete two separate flights beyond an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles).

One of the speakers at the announcement of the X-Prize was an eccentric aircraft designer named Burt Rutan. Rutan had worked with the United State Air Force as a civilian engineer at Edwards Air Force Base, then designed and built kits for personal aircraft before establishing Scaled Composites at Mojave Airport in 1982. He led the design and construction of a range of innovative aircraft, including the Voyager aircraft which completed the first nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world in 1986. Rutan had long advocated a larger role for private industry in the development of flight, and was intrigued by Diamandis’ idea of a prize to spur new advances in space transportation.

Rutan and a small team of engineers at Scaled Composites worked on the problem of low-cost, suborbital manned spaceflight for several years, with a particular focus on the problem of safe re-entry from suborbital space. In the 1960s the North American X-15 had been tested at Edwards. Funded by NASA and the United States Air Force, the X-15 was carried aloft by a Boeing B-52 as a mothership, igniting its rocket motor only after being dropped at altitude. The X-15 achieved altitudes as high as 67 miles, but was demanding of its pilots. Rutan was on hand at Edwards Air Force Base when Air Force test pilot Michael Adams was killed in a fatal crash in 1967. The X-15 flown by Adams entered a spin near the high point of its flight and re-entered the atmosphere in an incorrect attitude at excessive speed, disintegrating in mid-air. Determined to design a spaceplane with superior stability, Rutan settled on a unique design feature that would “feather” the wings of the vehicle at an extreme angle as it reached its apogee, increasing drag and ensuring a stable descent back into the atmosphere below.

A workable design in hand, Rutan secured funding from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and created a company called Mojave Aerospace Ventures to support construction and testing of the spacecraft. In April 2003 Rutan rolled out what he called the “first private manned space flight program” at his facility in California’s high desert. The vehicles involved were unlike any that had flown to space before, although the mission profile was similar to that used by the X-series research aircraft from the 1940s-1960s. A carrier aircraft with a narrow, high-aspect wing appeared alongside a stubby rocket plane with a split vertical tail. The carrier, named White Knight, would lift the spaceplane to a launch altitude close to 50,000’. The spaceplane, named SpaceShipOne, would ignite a rocket motor when released and initiate a near-vertical climb beyond the edge of the atmosphere.

Captive flight tests began the following month, with glide tests in which SpaceShipOne was released from White Knight beginning that summer. On December 17th, 2003—the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight—SpaceShipOne completed its first powered mission, exceeding the speed of sound under thrust from its powerful rocket motor.

On September 29th, 2004, SpaceShipOne launched on the first of two flights required to win the X-Prize. Piloted by Mike Melvill, SpaceShipOne reached an altitude of 103 kilometers and, crucially, landed safely and successfully back at Mojave. This enabled a rapid servicing and turnaround of the vehicle, culminating in a second launch on October 4th, 2004, with pilot Brian Binnie at the controls. With the successful completion of this second consecutive launch to space, the SpaceShipOne team won the Ansari X-Prize and demonstrated an entirely new means of reaching to the edge of space.

One year after its last historic free flight, SpaceShipOne was placed in the Milestones of Flight gallery at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. The molds and tooling used to construct its composite fuselage has since been used to create several full-scale replicas. The Hiller Aviation Museum is pleased to have one such replica to display through 2018. Now hanging in the Museum’s Atrium, this artifact stands in tribute to the team that designed, built and flew the world’s first privately-funded manned spacecraft.


Aviation Week & Space Technology, “Rutan Aims for Space”, April 21, 2003

How to Make a Spaceship, Julian Guthrie, 2016, downloaded 24 April 2017


Highest Step in the World

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2017 by hillermuseum

Parachuting From Extreme Altitudes
By Jon Welte

Between the end of World War II and the dawn of the Space Age, aircraft performance led pilots to ever higher altitudes and faster speeds. The stresses on both pilot and aircraft were extreme, and the consequences of a pilot being forced to eject from an aircraft were dire.

In 1958 the United States Air Force launched Project Excelsior. The mission plan for Project Excelsior was outwardly quite simple: launch a helium-filled balloon to extreme altitude, and have the pilot within exit by parachute. Parachutes had been used since the 1780s, but a jump from 100,000’ or more is daunting. At altitudes above 60,000’, air pressure drops to a point at which water boils at human body temperature. Depressurization results in unconsciousness in seconds, and death in minutes.

The pilot for Project Excelsior was Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger. Kittinger traveled to altitude in an unpressurized balloon gondola, wearing a pressure suit and multiple layers of insulating clothing. The first jump, from 75,000’, took place in November 1959. A series of mishaps during exit caused Kittinger’s drogue chute to open early. The chute tangled around Kittinger’s neck and he entered a spin of over 100 rpms. Kittinger lost consciousness in the 20 g spin, and the tangled drogue was unable to extract the main parachute aas planned. Kittinger survived only through the automatic deployment of his emergency parachute. Many modifications were made, leading to an uneventful second test just one month later.

Excelsior III was the final jump in the series, and intended to reach the highest altitude. Riding the balloon to an officially recorded altitude of 102,800’, Kittinger stepped out into the void—Air Force crew had emplaced a plaque at the foot of the balloon’s egress port helpfully stating “This is the highest step in the world”. Kittinger fell for over four and a half minutes, reaching a speed of Mach 0.9 – nearly the speed of sound – in his rapid descent.

The Excelsior III gondola held its billing as the world’s highest step for over half a century. Earth’s atmospheric pressure at 100,000’ is about the same as the mean atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars, and accidental depressurizations proved fatal for two would-be record breakers in the 1960s. This altitude—some 20 miles above sea level—is well below the internationally-recognized line at 62 miles considered to be the boundary to space, or even the 50-mile limit at which NASA and the United States Air Force issue astronaut wings to pilots and flight crew. Nonetheless, the low atmosphere pressure poses many of the same challenges faced by astronauts working in space.

It was not until 2012 that Joe Kittinger’s record was finally broken. Professional skydiver Felix Baumgartner joined the Red Bull Stratos project in 2010 with the goal of breaking the altitude record. Unlike Project Excelsior, Stratos involved an ascent in a pressurized balloon gondola. This added complexity to the balloon system, but meant that the pressure suit need only provide primary life support for a span of minutes, not hours. The concept was demonstrated successfully in a pair of test jumps in early 2012. In October 2012 Baumgartner successfully jumped from an altitude of 127,800’. During nearly 4 minutes of free fall Baumgartner reached a maximum descent speed of Mach 1.25—jumping without a drogue chute to stabilize his descent allowed a faster free fall. Despite some stability problems early in the jump, Baumgartner maintained control and landed safely.

While the Red Bull Stratos project was under development, Alan Eustace became intrigued with the concept of exploring the stratosphere by balloon and descending via parachute. Eustace partnered with Paragon Space Development in Roswell, New Mexico, to develop a system capable of supporting a record-breaking launch and descent in a new project named StratEx. Unlike Excelsior or Stratos, StratEx did away with the balloon gondola altogether. Like Kittinger, Eustace would be protected by his pressure suit for the entire mission. Unlike either Kittinger or Baumgartner, Eustace would not need to exit a gondola. Suspended directly from the balloon, just beneath the balloon’s avionics bus, Eustace would start his descent by simply firing explosive bolts to separate his pressure suit from the balloon assembly. This simplified the mission profile and removed appreciable risk: in 1962, Soviet test pilot Pyotr Dolgov was killed in a jump from over 90,000’ when his helmet faceplate impacted part of the balloon gondola during exit, causing a lethal depressurization of his pressure suit.

Eustace’s flight began at dawn on October 24, 2014, as he was lifted in a face-down position from a launching platform. It took over two hours for Eustace and the StratEx balloon to rise to the mission’s maximum altitude of over 135,000’, nearly two miles higher than Baumgartner’s previous record and more than six miles higher than Kittinger’s mark from Project Excelsior. Following separation, Eustace returned to Earth in just 15 minutes, free falling for over 120,000’.

Despite its apparent daredevil aspects, extreme skydiving has had the practical effect of boosting access to the stratosphere for both scientific and commercial purposes. Paragon Space Development has leveraged its experience with StratEx to support World View, an organization focused on providing high altitude balloon flights for both research missions and private sightseeing flights. With operational flights planned for later in 2017, World View expects to offer missions to 100,000’ in gondolas containing two crew and up to six passengers. During recovery, the entire gondola will separate from its balloon, descending to land beneath an enormous parawing parachute.

Resources , downloaded 2 February 2017 , downloaded 1 February 2017 , downloaded 1 February 2017 , downloaded 2 February 2017


Flights of Mercy

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2017 by hillermuseum

Captain Valerie Andre

Helicopter Medical Evacuation
By Jon Welte

In April 1944, Japanese forces in occupied Burma shot down a Stinson liaison aircraft that had been carrying three wounded British soldiers to safety. The pilot and all three passengers survived the downing, but their location behind enemy lines in remote and rugged terrain would have permitted little opportunity for their rescue—except for the presence of a new technology at the front. Flying an experimental Sikorsky YR-4B helicopter, pilot Carter Harmon of the US Army’s First Air Commando Group flew to the crash site to rescue the downed pilot and soldiers. The early helicopter’s performance limitations, combined with hot-and-high conditions at the crash site, limited Harmon to carrying only a single passenger at a time. Over two days Harmon, who later received the Distinguished Flying Cross, ferried the men one by one to a nearby landing strip where a larger fixed-wing aircraft flew them out to safety.

These pioneering flights were the first use of a helicopter for medevac, or medical evacuation. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, aviation promised a solution to a vexing problem—transporting injured soldiers and civilians from combat zones and accident sites to medical facilities. Rapid advances in medicine meant that casualties provided with prompt attention were far more likely to survive, but all too often help was a long and difficulty journey away.

Shortly after World War II, Captain Valerie Andre, a doctor serving in the French Army, faced much the same situation in her efforts to treat soldiers in French Indochina (modern day Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). An experienced airplane pilot, Capt. Andre realized that the helicopter provided a ready solution to the problem of medical evacuation. She returned to France to earn a helicopter rating and arrange for the purchase of two Hiller 360 helicopters, which she had shipped to the front lines. Over a period of 3 years Capt. Andre flew over 100 combat missions, some under enemy fire, to insert herself into areas with wounded soldiers in need of treatment and/or to evacuate casualties to proper medical facilities that might have been hours or even days away by surface transportation. Andre chose the Hiller 360, manufactured at the Menlo Park factory of the Hiller Aircraft Corporation, for its simplicity and reliability. The aircraft was easy to maintain in the field and, crucially, could carry stretchers mounted externally for the transport of seriously wounded patients. Valerie Andre was ultimately promoted to general and received the National Order of Merit among other decorations in recognition of her service to France.

Elsewhere in Asia, the United States further developed the role of helicopters for medevac operations. During the Korean War the US Army and Marine Corps were similarly bedeviled by rugged terrain and poor roads. Helicopters such as the Hiller UH-12 (derived from the Hiller 360) and Bell 47 were tasked with transporting wounded soldiers to medical facilities. These helicopters evacuated an estimated 20,000 wounded servicemen during the war. By the end of the Korean War the fatality rate for casualties wounded in battle had been cut nearly in half compared to World War II due largely to developments in medevac procedures and technology.

Helicopter technology continued to advance, and when the United States joined the Vietnam War some ten years later the mission had been largely taken over by the new Bell UH-1 Iroquois, universally known as the “Huey”. Powered by turbine engines and able to carry heavier loads than earlier piston-powered Hiller, Bell and Sikorsky aircraft, the UH-1 could carry patients internally rather than strapped to the helicopter’s exterior. This made it possible for medical personnel to begin basic treatment while the patient was in the air prior to reaching the medical center. Over one hundred thousand US soldiers were evacuated via medevac during the Vietnam War, and the ability to provide treatment in the air caused the fatality rate to fall in half again compared to the mid-1950s.

By 1969, soldiers wounded in action in Southeast Asia had lower mortality rates than drivers and passengers involved in serious automobile accidents on American highways, suggesting that a medevac program could provide lifesaving support to civilians in peacetime. A pilot effort to evaluate helicopter medical evacuation services was introduced that year in Mississippi. Three Fairchild Hiller FH-1100 helicopters were purchased and operated to transport patients to medical facilities in cases of extreme need. The program was deemed a success, and throughout the 1970s medevac helicopters and helipads at major hospitals grew increasingly common.

Today, modern medevac operators continue the tradition of using helicopters to quickly and safely transport individuals with serious injuries or critical illnesses directly from incident sites to medical centers able to provide life-saving treatment. Stanford Life Flight, a local operator, embodies the best practices in use for civilian medevac helicopter operations. An Airbus Helicopters EC-145 allows operations in all weather conditions. The aircraft’s raised tail boom and rear clamshell doors permit stretcher loading directly into the rear of the aircraft. Specially-trained flight nurses provide in-flight emergency care comparable to or better than what a ground-based emergency medical technician could provide, and medical centers around the San Francisco Bay area train to operate with Life Flight to receive patients requiring urgent and immediate attention. The Bay Area also hosts medevac resources of the uniformed services, with United States Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco operating its Eurocopter HH-65 helicopters from San Francisco International Airport, and the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Field in Mountain View flying Sikorsky HH-60s along with fixed-wing Lockheed C-130 tanker aircraft.

The Hiller Aviation Museum’s collection preserves glimpses of the early development of medical evacuation flights, while San Carlos Airport supports medevac operations in the present day. A Hiller 360 similar to those first flown by General Andre is displayed in the main Gallery, and a Hiller H-12 configured as a US Army medevac aircraft is suspended from the Gallery’s ceiling. San Carlos Airport serves as an essential waypoint for modern medevac aircraft, with Stanford Life Flight and the US Coast Guard frequent visitors for both training and operational missions.

The exploits of General Andre feature prominently in the Museum’s new Women in Aviation exhibit, which documents the exploits of female aviators from the early 20th century through the modern day. On Saturday, January 14th the Hiller Aviation Museum will dedicate this new exhibit and open it to the public. Come join the festivities and celebrate an important dimension in the history of aviation.


Andre, Valerie. Madame le General, 1988., downloaded 1 November 2016., downloaded 1 November 2016.

Whitcomb, Darrel, Call Sign Dustoff, 2011.


The Fokker Dr. 1

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2017 by hillermuseum

The Fokker Dr.1 is beginning to be a work in progress. We officially have 2/3 wings assembled for the replica aircraft. Head over to the Hiller Aviation Museum to check it out!


Aviation Dreams – Michelle Tripp

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2016 by hillermuseum


The following remarks were delivered at our recent Aviation Dreams Gala on November 12, 2016. Three young people whose lives intersected at Hiller Aviation Museum—participating in and delivering programs—spoke to an audience of Museum supporters about their experience. Installment 3 of 3. Thank you for your support of Aviation Dreams!

I feel like I have been pursuing my aviation career since the late 1990s when I told my kindergarten class I was going to fly a spaceship and be a pilot like my dad.

During middle school and high school, there were many times when my peers would tell me that women aren’t pilots. Women are flight attendants or they work the ticket counters, but they aren’t pilots, I was told. Unfortunately, statements like these can be a deterrent to young girls who want to enter STEM fields like aviation. To be honest, I didn’t let these opinions phase me, because, if my dad can fly a plane and a helicopter, why couldn’t I?

After I graduated high school, I began attending my dream school, Embry – Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. I had never wanted to go anywhere so much in my life. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for a short while, and when I had to leave due to financial reasons, I was absolutely devastated.

For a while, I set my aviation ambitions aside and focused on other interests. I went back home to Southern California and pursued teaching and music. However, even after getting three Associate Degrees, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to be a pilot. With that in mind, I packed my bags and headed off to study Aviation Operations at San Jose State University. My move to the Bay Area also signaled my arrival at Hiller Aviation Museum.

I am eternally grateful for how Hiller Aviation Museum allowed me to grow as a young professional. Starting at as an Assistant, an Instructor, Assistant Camp Director, and this fall as a Program Manager, I know that my experience at Hiller has given me more opportunity than I could have ever dreamed of. I also came to realize that my father, who is a retired army helicopter Vietnam pilot, flew Hiller helicopters during his training. For me, that is an amazing connection in and of itself.

I’d like to share with you just a few of the many things I have learned at Hiller Aviation Museum.

First, everyone learns differently. When trying to explain concepts like aerodynamics and how things fly, it is good to know how to explain something more than one way. Hiller Aviation Museum has increased my knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math. In return, I am able to impart that knowledge to visitors and program participants no matter their age or learning style.

Second, adventure rules. You have probably taken the time to read some of the history of the early aviators, and their whole life was an adventure! If you were an early pioneer of aviation you may not have even lived long enough to see your aircraft sustain flight. Being at Hiller has encouraged me to find my own sense of adventure in aviation and to be creative and innovative when looking at some the more relevant issues our aviation communities face, such as noise abatement, air traffic congestion, airport safety, general aviation airport closures, proper integration of UAVs, etc.

Third, aviation is a real world wide web. It allows us to travel to new places and it fosters relationships impacting business, family, and friends. It is a network of airlines, airports, air traffic controllers, and organizations that link the major cities and small communities of the world, 24 hours a day with very advanced aircraft. With this in mind, my personal aviation goal is to further the cause of aviation in all of its branches and to instill in the public mind a confidence in aviation and in the aviation industry.

This May I will graduate college with a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Operations. While I have been in school, I have immersed myself in the aviation industry by getting involved with different SJSU organizations, internships, volunteerism, and all the while increasing my aviation knowledge with my experience at Hiller Aviation Museum. Once I have finished my private pilot license, I will continue to get my ratings and gain the further pilot training and experience needed to one day be a medevac, search and rescue pilot, and later on a missionary pilot.

My name is Michelle Tripp, and I’m a future helicopter pilot. Thank you for supporting Hiller Aviation Museum and its STEM education programs.

Michelle recently became the Education Program Manager at Hiller Aviation Museum. When not completing her degree in Aviation Operations at San Jose State University, Michelle is developing and overseeing the Museum’s public programs and special visitor activities that incorporate science, engineering, and technology, particularly involving the Museum’s Invention Lab and Drone Plex on the weekends.

Visit to make a gift today and help inspire the next generation of aviators.


Aviation Dreams – Jake Jacot

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2016 by hillermuseum


The following remarks were delivered at our recent Aviation Dreams Gala on November 12, 2016. Three young people whose lives intersected at Hiller Aviation Museum—participating in and delivering programs—spoke to an audience of Museum supporters about their experience. Installment 2 of 3.

I don’t exactly know where my passion for flight originated. No one in my family was a pilot or even in the aviation field. And yet even before my age reached double digits I was giving grade school speeches on Charles Lindbergh and on the difference between the Thunder Birds and Blue Angles.

I do know that Hiller Aviation Museum is a place that fosters passion for aviation, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the education department teaching summer aviation camps and after school programs. I hope I was able to share my passion for aviation and pass it on to the children I got to work with through this Museum’s programs.

During my time here, when I was still an engineering student, I found the diversity of technical achievements to be incredibly intriguing. I would routinely look up at the AR-5 and think about building my own small plane and how I would build a component or layout a configuration of my own.  I would point out to kids some of the things I found most interesting like the oblique wing of the NASA AD-1 and encourage them to test the concept with the balsa gliders we would fly. I would show them all the different configurations Stanley Hiller Jr. made like coaxial rotating blades, no tail rotor helicopters, and tip jet rotors, and encourage them to think outside the box, experiment, and to try anything.

In a way, my career so far, has been the grown-up version of a Hiller Aviation Camp. In camp I would build and launch rockets with children. In my career I have built and tested full-size rocket motors for the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo at Scaled Composites. In camp I would help kids figure how to build balsa rubber powered band airplanes. In my career I now figure out how to build airplanes. In camp I would teach kids the basics of flight in the Flight Sim Zone and tell them where to go. In my career I now get to be a flight test engineer and tell the pilot where to go to collect the data I need.  All of this is a testament to authenticity of the aviation experience that this Museum provides for so many kids.

For me, flight is something that never loses its wonder. It doesn’t matter how many calculations I do, how many wind tunnel experiments I perform, or flights I go on, I still find flight fascinating and magical. I still stop and watch an airplane take off with a sense of wonder that an invisible fluid is able to lift thousands of pounds into the air.

Hiller Aviation Museum is a place that can plant that seed and develop a child’s interest in aviation. Just like myself having no major event, but rather a handful of small encounters, this museum provides those encounters with aviation and allows visitors and program participants to gain a sense of wonder, experience the excitement, and interact with people who inspire them to consider aviation as an avenue worthy of their exploration. Those interactions can propel a person for the rest of their life.

My name is Jake Jacot, and I’m a Design Engineer at Epic Aircraft working on the certification effort of the E1000, a six-place all carbon-fiber turboprop aircraft. I want to say thank you to Hiller Aviation Museum, and thank you to you for making Aviation Dreams possible.

Visit to make a gift today and help inspire the next generation of aviators.