Leader photo/ALY GIBSON Retired pilot Dan Hamill presents information on three pilots, all born in southwest Michigan, who have been accepted into aviation hall of fames. Hamill, who lives just outside Dowagiac, is responsible for nominating the pilots he presented Wednesday evening at Sacred Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Dowagiac.

Archived Story

Local aviator keeps flying history alive

Published 9:14pm Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday evening was the first time local former pilot Dan Hamill presented information on three local pilots together. With years of research under his belt, Hamill talked to men and women interested in the subject, which included Capt. Ivan Kincheloe, Lt. Gen. Donovan Smith and Lt. Ken Porter.

Hamill, a retired Air Force pilot and commercial pilot for American Airlines, said he has always had an interest in aviation. After finding several local ties to pilots who went on to do heroic things in military aviation, Hamill nominated Kincheloe, Smith and Porter for hall of fame statuses. Wednesday evening allowed him to detail the nominations and their acceptance, as well as facts about the pilots.

“It’s a hobby,” Hamill said of his research about southwest Michigan aviators. “I enjoy doing it, and I’ll talk to anyone who’s interested about it.”

Hamill said, because he lives in the area, he’s presented in other places for fun. Porter and Smith were accepted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, both by Hamill’s nomination. He also was a volunteer pilot at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo. While some residents know about the famous pilots, Hamill said the majority aren’t aware of their accomplishments, where they’re from or what they did.

“Kincheloe was in the Air Force and was accepted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame last year…. Neil Armstrong introduced his piece,” Hamill said. “They were friends from way back when they were both test pilots.”

Hamill also told the group of listeners about Smith, a Niles High School graduate, who fought in World War II and later became advisor to the South Vietnam Air Force. Porter, who grew up in Dowagiac, was distinguished as a World War I ace, meaning he successfully killed five enemy pilots in action.

“These guys did some pretty great things,” Hamill said. “I don’t mind telling others about it.”

Hamill said, while the history of the pilots can be found in respective spots in southwest Michigan, his favorite is the Donovan Smith Veteran’s Memorial Park in Niles.

“People drive by and they don’t have the chance to read it or they don’t know why it’s there,” Hamill said. “But it’s a really nice thing to have to honor him (Smith).”

Hamill, who said the number of locals interested in the topic is slim.

He doesn’t speak on a regular basis, but Wednesday evening’s event was by request.

“Aviation is my life, so this fits right in,” Hamill said.

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