Jon Hansen has been a major player in the LSA movement since it was merely a twinkle in the FAA's eye. What's less well-known is that he and his twin brother Ron built their own aviation category: It's called the Hansen Family. It's a good story I've been wanting to tell for some time, so here we go.
Jon and Ron head up the family enterprise Hansen Air Group, which sells and services several quality LSA. Notable are the Sky Arrow (this month's LSA pilot report); several of German wunder designer Peter Funk's FK models (FK9, FK12 Comet biplane and the smash hit of Europe's Aero 2013—the FK-51 Mustang); and the custom made-to-order FA04 Peregrine.
I met the Hansens—and there are a passel of them, including four sons who fly—a few years back at Sebring's LSA show. Jon and Ron have been professional pilots all their lives. And it all began with a boyhood ride in a flivver.
"Ron and I come by our aviation genes illegally," Jon quips. "My dad took flying lessons in the early '30s—before they required pilot's licenses."
With his two partners, winged progenitor Hansen senior delivered newspapers in a Curtiss Robin with its Curtiss V-8 OX5 engine (390 pounds) that put out all of 90 horsepower. "Sometimes they'd land, sometimes they'd just shove the papers over the side," says Jon.
A twist of fate decreed the Hansen lineage would issue forth. Both partners were killed in a crash Jon's dad would have been a part of...if he hadn't had a date that day with his future wife.
"Dad said, 'That's it, I'm through with aviation. I need to start a family anyway,' and he backed off."
Flash-forward to Jon and twin brother Ron at four years old. Dad takes them to an airport and gets them rides in an early Aeronca Champ.
"And we really, really didn't want to get out of that plane, either one of us," Jon remembers. "We were bit with the bug."
Their boyhoods were spent building model airplanes, then early flight lessons at age 12 given by a friend of the family, Hollis Sanders, in his surplus WWII Waco UPF-7 biplane.
"Hollis went back to war in Korea, and we kept working odd jobs for Martin School of Aviation at Santa Ana Airport (now John Wayne International), sweeping hangars, things like that," Jon recalls.
"One day—we were 15—I said to Ron, 'We should buy ourselves an airplane.' He said 'Okay, that sounds good.'"
The boys asked dad for permission. "Yeah," said Dad, "if you can find someone stupid enough to sell one to two 15-year-old kids!"
The twins pooled their money and did indeed locate such a seller. He let his 1940 J4 Cub Coupe go to the boys for $350. Mechanics at Martin's school helped them get it re-licensed, and three weather-delayed days after their 16th birthdays, Jon and Ron Hansen soloed.
The twins got their commercial licenses before long and flew as crop dusters in J3 Cubs with 85 hp engines. After graduating college in '57, Jon was hired at United Airlines. He was 21.
But pilot jobs weren't forthcoming. Nobody in his training class got hired—and 200 working pilots were furloughed, too. The boys asked United how long before they'd hire again. "About four years," was the reply.
"So, I joined the Naval Cadet flight program and flew a Grumman S2F anti sub plane as a reservist," Jon says. Guess how long his hitch was? Yep: four years. He left the Navy in 1962 and was hired by Delta airlines, moving up the ladder until he was a Senior Captain flying the big jets. He retired after 33 years in the cockpit.
Brother Ron went to work for Pan American Airways because Delta had a nepotism rule: no immediate family members were allowed.
Ron stayed with Pan Am until the day it went under in 1991, then flew for Conrad "Connie" Kalitta's American International Airways (AIA), a heavy jet cargo hauler.
Now for Hansens the Younger: The family tree has another set of flying twins, Jon's sons Mitch and Mike, along with Jon's third son Mark. Ron also has one son, Jeff Hansen, and a grandson, Matt. Of the five offspring, only Jon's third son Mark hasn't made a career as a pilot...yet. He's now studying for his sport-pilot license. Meanwhile, Jeff is a pilot...for Delta.
"Delta's nepotism rule didn't extend to nephews, so we were good," Jon says with a laugh. "Jeff flew as Flight Engineer on my last L1011 flight. Kind of made me proud."
Just to add a star to the top of that Hansen family tree, Jeff's son Matt is also an airline pilot. He learned to fly with Hansen Air Group, got his instructor's license and became one of the first Able Flight instructors, along with cousin Mitch.
"We were involved with Able Flight from the very get-go," says Jon. "We helped get the first two applicants going for Charles Stites. I told him, 'We've got the instructors and the airplane, we'll cover it all.'"
Stephany Glasing was one of the first two Able Flight scholarship recipients. You can read her stirring story in a recent Plane & Pilot issue.
"Able Flight is a great thing," Jon adds. "It has changed the lives of many people."
Backtracking a bit, I ask how Mitch and Mike joined the family trade.
"They were raised in an airline family. I guess it was that exposure to flying from the beginning. When they were just six weeks old, their grandfather took them flying in his Cessna 182."
"Grandfather" wasn't Jon's dad...but his wife's dad! Enough already!
"So my boys got the bug too, built models and RC planes as kids," remembers Jon. "They soloed as teens in a Champ, and after college, Mike was recruited by the NSA. They only had one slot, 900 applicants—but Mike got the job."
Meanwhile, brother Mitch went to the Air Force, where he was given his choice to fly anything he wanted after graduating flight school. Instead of fighters, he chose B-52 bombers.
Then Mike transferred out of NSA, went through AF flight school, was also offered fighters, but he, too, chose B-52s...and was assigned to the same squadron as his brother.
"Mike flew one of those B-52s that left the U.S. the first night of Desert Storm and flew nonstop direct to Baghdad and back, a 39-hour mission," Jon remembers with pride. "The Air Force was showing everybody we could go anywhere from the U.S. We didn't need bases all over the world."
When the boys left the service, Mike went, you guessed it, to the airlines, where he currently flies with—guess who—Delta Airlines. Mitch stayed in the service longer as an exchange flight instructor at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Mike is now a Captain on the Douglas MD 88. Mitch couldn't hire on at Delta (that nepotism rule again), so he went to United, where he's an international copilot on a Boeing 767.
Mitch still teaches Able Flight students, and both brothers—along with cousin Jeff and nephew Matt—stay involved in the family LSA business that has two bases: Kennesaw, Ga., and El Cajon, Calif.
That's seven flying Hansens, and all involved with light sport.
Papa Jon gets the last word: "And now you know why we decided to call ourselves the Hansen Air Group."