Q&A: Jon Welte of Hiller Aviation

Hiller Aviation Museum’s president and CEO shares the job that required suspenders and a bow tie, which historic pilot he admires most and his go-to spot for watching takeoffs and landings.

What’s one of your fondest memories involving planes?
My elementary school was near the approach to the main runway at Long Beach Airport. Pacific Southwest Airlines was still around, and I vividly remember standing on the playground and watching the planes, each with a friendly smile painted on the front, fly past during recess. It never got old.

What’s your top flight-related film?
It’s hard to find, but the film adaptation of The High and the Mighty, which starred John Wayne.

How do you recharge your batteries after a long day?
A walk through the College of San Mateo campus on a clear evening works wonders.

Is there a Hiller event you particularly enjoy?
During the warmer months, our Kids’ Carnival gives young people the chance to paint a retired Cessna airplane in our collection. Being able to walk up to an airplane and touch it makes a remarkable impact on kids.

Where’s your go-to spot in the museum?
Our outdoor observation platform. Folks can hang out there and have a ringside seat to airport operations. On a busy weekend day, San Carlos Airport can have well over 300 takeoffs or landings. It’s a blast.

What is your most cherished possession?
My wedding ring.

What was your first job?
I had a summer job as a ride operator at the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park in Orange County. The suspenders and bow tie that came with the uniform are still seared into my memory.

What’s a fun behind-the-scenes insight about Hiller?
Rainy days drive attendance. Especially on weekends. Seriously. If they don’t teach this stuff in museum school, they should.

What’s a quote you love?
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.” –The Blues Brothers

Which historic pilot do you admire most and why?
It’s a hard call, but I often fall back on Louise McPhetridge Thaden. She was a contemporary of Amelia Earhart and in many ways was the more successful pilot in terms of records set and competitions won. The Travel Air biplane that she used to set an endurance record over Oakland in 1929 is among the aircraft we have on display.

What’s the most unusual or unexpected thing you’ve had to do for your job?
I hadn’t been on the job for even a month when I got a call that I had to come help “bring a yak into the museum.” Five minutes later, I was helping to push a beautiful Yak-9 fighter plane through our hangar door for an event. Even now, I am never quite sure what surprises each day will bring!