Photos courtesy of Dan Mikos.
1113 Veterans story
Air Force Fighter Pilot Dan Mikos in front of an F-4 Phantom.
From the moment he gazed out the window of the TWA Super G Constellation, a four-prop aircraft of Howard Hughes’ design, Dan Mikos knew he wanted to fly.
“I was 11 years old at the time, and I was the first person in my elementary and junior high school class ever to fly,” said Mikos, recalling his first-ever commercial trip, which carried him in 1958 from West Virginia to France, to visit grandparents.
By his freshman year, the family had relocated to Hoover, where Mikos went on to become part of Berry High School’s first graduating class. By then, his interest in flying had become more than a passing fancy, and he made plans to pursue a degree in aviation management. If there was any doubt about whether or not to follow his passion, an experience during ROTC summer camp sealed the deal.
“One of the National Guard guys took me on a ride in a T-33, and I will never forget it,” he said. “We went down to Auburn and buzzed all the girls sunbathing on top of the dorms, then we went down to Lake Martin and did aerobatics over the water. After that, I was hooked forever.”
Mikos sailed through Auburn, and in 1969, started pilot training at Craig Air Force Base in Selma. After finishing at the top of his class, Mikos began his fighter pilot career in earnest, where his F-4 expertise led the newlywed and his young wife, Kathy, all the way to Spangdahlem, Germany, where Mikos was placed over a top-secret weapon program.
The couple made the most of their time there, settling into a cozy bungalow just outside Spangdahlem, in the town of Eisenschmitt, population 250. Unlike their friends from Auburn leading more conventional lives back home, the Mikos spent weekends skiing in Austria, playing bumper cars at the Bittliche Pigfest, and driving insanely low-priced BMWs at insanely high speeds on the Autobahn.
“We were basically on a three-and-a half-year honeymoon,” he said.
The young Mikos was also coming into his own as a pilot, balancing both the swagger and endurance expected of the field’s top flight talent.
“I had no credentials to accomplish what I’d been asked to do,” said Mikos, recalling his first cross-Atlantic flight as flight lead, where he was tasked to lead five other pilots, all navigating battle-damaged planes from Vietnam to Zaragoza, Spain.
“We had all sorts of problems going into the Atlantic – it was 12 hours of sheer pain,” he said. The trip ended successfully, even if he was a little worse for the wear. “Shortly after we landed, we went out to dinner. I fell asleep before the food came, and they could not wake me up.”
After the couple’s first son, Greg, was born, they returned to the States and settled at Fort Pope, La., where for a brief stint Mikos flew the O-2 Duck. Shortly after, he joined the Air National Guard in Birmingham as a recruiter for the Air Force Academy.
“At that time, it was to make some extra money,” he said. “But I kept it up until 2007 because I enjoyed meeting all these great young people we have in this country.”
Despite the demands of family, business and civic duties (he is a past president of both the Hoover Sertoma Club and the Hoover Chamber of Commerce, among other leadership roles at the state and regional levels), Mikos has always stayed close to his first love — flying.
Today, he’s active with Civic Air Patrol and often takes on special assignments for Air Force bases around the region. One of his latest projects involved field testing of drones.
“It’s been a great job for me, especially in those early days, when things were not so politically correct,” he said, adding that, politics aside, passion for country is the ultimate driver for all who serve.
“We have a deep love for our country and feel an obligation to give something back for what a great country we have,” he said. “But it’s not just those in combat who make the sacrifice. My wife sacrificed as much as I did. I was always off somewhere — Italy, Spain, Turkey, Israel — and here was my wife, back in Germany with our infant son and no one to help her. Military families make the sacrifice together.”