By Francis Davis
Scholarship launches former Butte man — now Navy commander
You have to start a flight career somewhere, and the Montana Aviation Conference is not a bad place to begin.
Such was the message of Cmdr. Gerald “JR” Hansen Friday at the 2013 Montana Aviation Conference, based at the Copper King Hotel.
In his featured speech, Butte native Hansen spoke about attending the conference in 1989, as well as receiving a scholarship from the Montana Aeronautics Division as a senior at Butte High School.
It was that scholarship that paid for his first hours of flight training at Butte Aviation. And it was those hours that started a career that landed him in the U.S. Navy as a commanding officer.
“It was an honor to come back here and give a speech,” Hansen said. “Twenty-four years ago if you had told me I would have come back here to give a speech, I never would have believed it. It’s very humbling to have an opportunity to do so.”
Overall, Hansen has logged over 3,500 flight hours in 33 different types of military aircraft, including over 870 carrier-arrested landings. He has test flown such aircraft as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and has carried out aerial combat missions in Iraq. In 2004, he was named the U.S. Pacific Fleet Attack Aviator of the Year.
His story was not lost on some of the young people who attended the conference, where 14 scholarships were given in excess of $10,000.
One of those attendees, Eric Brangoccio, 21, of Hamilton, is studying aviation at Gallatin College at Montana State University in Bozeman.
“The fact that a single flight sparked a whole career was a good story,” Brangoccio said. “It’s great to come here as a young student and see what is out there — from the insurance side to how to get your license to fly an airplane on floats.”
A majority of the awards went to young people trying to pay for the cost of flight training and/or school. Hansen said flight training can cost as much as $10,000.
The annual conference, held since 1978, is co-hosted by the Montana Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division.
Debbie Alke, aeronautics division administrator, said over 500 people from as many as 15 different states are attending the conference, which ends Saturday. They include aviation managers, consultants, pilots, teachers, students, business people that deal with aviation products, and general flight enthusiasts.
“It’s recognized as one of the premier state aviation conferences,” Alke said. “It’s a great meeting ground for business and pleasure.”