Did Wally Hilliard Run ‘Ghost Airline’ for CIA?

Rev_Moon_crownedAt 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 new service.” 

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.

flair2-13Whatever "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: 


"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 operating.” 

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….   

A June 28, 2001 headline in the Orlando Sentinel summed it up:


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!

Army Aviation Heritage FoundationEven 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 Airlines Services. 

More importantly, perhaps, Brady is the founder and head of something called the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation.

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 pilots, 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)

efeed1As 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 domake 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 doing—seemingly—nothing.

He pointed to a pilot firing up a Jetstream on the apron next door to his facility’s hanger.  

“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?

Winsor 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 becauseWally 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."

choose-reality-1-300x150The 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 life.

And Wally Hilliard owned jets that flew at least 39 weekly flights into Orlando carrying drugs.

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.

Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.