At the same time Wallace J. Hilliard’s Huffman Aviation was teaching a
still-unidentified number of suspected terrorists, including many, like
Souheil Seddik, who remain unknown to the general public, he was also
assembling a fleet of twin-engine turboprop Jetstream airliners for the launch
of his new start-up airline Florida Air.
“Dekkers, along with partner
Wally Hilliard, operates several air charter companies in Florida, including the
Venice-based Huffman Aviation,” reported
the Sarasota Herald
Tribune in February 2001.
“Six airplanes -- four
scheduled for daily runs, two on standby as backups --will be dispatched for the
However a recent
investigation into the current war for control of the Venice Municipal Airport
has discovered that secretive financier Wally Hilliard bought—not six—but
as many as twelve
to eighteen Jetstream
airliners, normally used in regional airline markets, which seldom—if
ever—flew paying passengers or scheduled flights.
While Mohamed Atta attended
his flight school, Wally Hilliard owned a “ghost airline” with a dozen
19-passenger Jetstreams whose use remains a total mystery.
One clue to their true use
can perhaps be found, however, in the names of the previous owners of Hilliard’s
fleet of airliners, which include individuals closely associated with prominent
military figures active in U.S. covert operations in China, in Iran Contra, and
closely linked to figures like the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
Planes not flying now. So sorry.
"Hilliard’s Air Force" was about, it wasn't about flying paying
passengers on scheduled air service. On Florida Air’s first day of scheduled
service headline read:
“FLORIDA AIR CANCELS
"There were some surprises for Florida Air on its first day of service in
Tallahassee. The airline, which was scheduled to begin service at Tallahassee
Regional Airport on Monday, was told by the airport that it could not begin
Things went downhill from there. For just a few weeks in March and April,
Hilliard’s Florida Air flew two flights a day into Jacksonville. Then, sometime
in April, the airline stopped flying.
If anything, Discover Air was even a bigger flop. Problems began immediately
with Florida Air. Discover Air didn't even get that far....
June 28, 2001 headline in the Orlando Sentinel summed it up:
“AIR SERVICE TO MIAMI FLOPS; NOT
ONE PERSON BOUGHT A TICKET, SO DISCOVER AIR HALTED PLANS FOR FLIGHTS FROM
Having "not one person buy a ticket" would seem to be hugely
embarrassing to a fledgling airline. If, that is, scheduled passenger service
was the true aim of the Enterprise.
Fly Camo Air! That's an order!
in its hopeful pre-launch phase, Southwest Florida aviation executives found
Florida Air a highly dubious proposition.
“Quite a few airlines have
tried to make money serving an intra-Florida market,” said Bill Pettit, head of
marketing at Jacksonville International Airport. “But they have all found it to
be very difficult.”
“Other start-up commuter
airlines have run into problems in the past trying to serve Florida, including
Air South and Air Florida,” said another.
The Jetstreams for Hilliard’s airline, Florida
Air, had seemed at first glance to come from an unremarkable source: Express
Air, Inc. in Page, AZ.
However, a closer look revealed Express Air of Arizona is a dummy front company.
Many of the “N” numbers (issued by the FAA, and somewhat akin to a
car’s license plate) on the Jetstream airliners registered to Hilliard leads to
the conclusion that the true provenance of Hilliard’s airliners was
Mike Brady, a
man with very close connections to the U.S. military.
Brady ran several regional jet carriers, like Chicago Express Airlines and
Express Airlines I, through a shell company in Atlanta called Phoenix
More importantly, perhaps, Brady is the founder and head of something called the
Army Aviation Heritage
It bills itself as “a non-profit organization incorporated in June 1997 that
tells the story of Army aviation to the American people. The
aircraft these men used from World War II to the present were disappearing."
Brady’s “foundation” owns 17 aircraft—including five bought
personally by Brady himself—based at Tara Field outside Atlanta.
Brady has stated that he gets his planes from the Army for free.
Shooting for the (Reverend) Moon
Brady also runs "Sky
Soldiers," billed as “the first military team with retired veterans as
rather than active-duty members. Though none of the team's members are on
active duty, their mission is to help Army recruiting efforts.”
Brady has an illustrious military pedigree. His father, listed as
chairman of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, is “Major
General Morris J. Brady, U.S. Army (Retired), who served in Korea in
the mid 7o's under Major Gen John Singlaub, of Iran Contra fame.
While he was chief of staff of U.S. forces in South Korea, Singlaub was forced
to resign for defying the President, overstepping his bounds and failing to
respect the President's authority as Commander-in-Chief.
Singlaub is the former President U.S. Council for World Freedom, the US
affiliate of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s World Anti-Communist League.
The Rev Moon was Jerry Falwell’s biggest financial backer. And Wally Hilliard
lent Falwell a million dollars Falwell never felt the need to repay.
We’ll take a closer look in an upcoming story at Jerry Falwell, who was active
at the Venice Airport in ways which have never surfaced.
Money for nothing.
(Chicks for free)
we began to look into it, the only rationale for Hilliard’s various “airlines”
seems to be having provided a rationale for the presence of a dozen British
Aerospace Jetstreams to sit poised at the Venice and Sarasota Airports within
easy reach of Caribbean hot spots.
“Sometimes when things don’t make business sense,” a former Huffman Aviation
executive told us darkly, “its because they do make sense...just
in some other way.”
During our first investigation a half dozen years ago into the terrorists that
trained at the Venice Airport we remembered hearing intimations that things
might not be what they seemed at Hilliard’s “airline.”
An aviation executive at the Venice Airport, reluctant to go on camera told us
some strange things about pilots Hilliard kept on payroll who were
He pointed to a pilot firing up a Jetstream on the apron next door to his
“They’ve been paying them,” he stated, in a voice filled with wonder, “all this
time, for at least six to eight months… Even though the airline is not flying,
the pilots are getting regular paychecks. And they’re continuing to pay them!”
But it hadn’t sunk it. It seemed too strange to even contemplate that someone
might announce the start-up of a new regional air carrier… as a “front”
for something else.
Wally's in Havana? Again?
Brown is a former Vietnam fighter pilot and career aviation pilot and
executive. “I was contracted by Wally to put together his airline that was in
trouble,” he told us.
“Sunrise Air. We were trying to run six Jetstreams out of Nevada. Wally had a
board meeting that I was invited to... and here’s what I saw: the board was a
real board. The airplanes were real airplanes. The people were real people.
“The person who wasn’t real was Wally. The FAA didn’t want him; the FAA didn't
trust him; and they were not going to certificate him to do anything anywhere.”
Another disgruntled career aviation executive who rued the day he accepted a job
helping Hilliard launch Florida Air spoke angrily about his experience.
“I used to look at Wally and Rudi and wonder what made them think they could
start an airline. I mean, I was on the executive team and here they were,
trying to start an airline, and from August 2000 to the time I left we had all
of four business meetings.
“Wouldn’t you think you would have at least weekly meetings if you were trying
to start a f-ing airline? And then, when you could get a meeting scheduled,
somebody would tell you that it had been canceled because
Wally is in Havana.
“I have never seen a business run like that in my life. It was like they were
only pretending to run a business.”
"Pretending to run a business."
Venice airport— where Mohamed Atta's hijackers made their base in the U.S. – has
been home to spooks and spies for at least a generation.
And according to rental car company owner Brad Warrick, who rented Atta and
Marwan three separate cars in August and September 2001, Mohamed Atta somehow
found it necessary to return to Venice Florida home of Hilliard's
aviation facility on three separate occasions during the last six weeks of his
And Wally Hilliard owned jets that flew at least 39 weekly flights into Orlando
The National Commission on Terrorism, it seems safe to say, did not leap at the
chance to explore any of these “discrepancies.”
For more than six years, we’ve been reporting facts more or less like these,
about the people who surrounded Mohamed Atta in Florida. But their real import
to our understanding of what happened on Sept 11 2001—what the words really
mean — leaves us, even today, almost speechless.
But not for long. Stay tuned.