Growing up in Connecticut in the 1940s and 1950s, at the dawn of the Jet Age, Hank Galpin and his family would often summer on the coast, not far from New York City, where he could watch planes arrive and depart from one of the country’s largest airports. Those early encounters fed a lifelong fascination with aviation in Galpin, one that continues to this day.
Galpin, 73, has been a farmer, pilot, owner of a helicopter service provider, co-founded the A.L.E.R.T. helicopter and most recently served as a commissioner on the Flathead Municipal Airport Authority, the governing body of Glacier Park International Airport. Galpin stepped down in December 2018 after 22 years of service on the board. Board chairman and professional airline pilot Curt McIntyre said much of GPIA’s growth in the last two decades is the result of the hard work of board members like Galpin.
“Hank is a pilot’s pilot with a true passion for aviation,” McIntyre said. “He’s a real advocate for aviation in the Flathead Valley.”
Galpin was attending Yale University in the 1960s when he learned to fly. At the time, the school had a flying club. After college, he became an air intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy before moving to Montana and getting into real estate. Despite the career change, Galpin remained involved in flying, and over the years he’s owned a number of aircraft, including a few he built himself. In the 1970s, Galpin purchased a ranch west of Kalispell and got into farming, which he did until a few years ago.
In the 1970s, he started a helicopter business and contracted with the U.S. Forest Service to provide aircraft for firefighting efforts. He also spent one summer working as a fire patrol pilot based out of the Spotted Bear Ranger District.
In the late 1990s, Galpin was appointed to the airport board, which meets about once a month, mostly to make sure the airport administration was “crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s,” he said. Galpin said he is incredibly proud to have helped guide the airport through its growth in recent years.
Through the years, Galpin has focused much of his passion on his collection of vintage or homemade aircraft. That set him apart from his fellow farmers.
“I never got hardware disease like other farmers who have to buy the newest tractor because I was always too busy buying airplane parts,” he said.
The pride of his fleet (which currently includes four aircraft) is a six-seat Model 6000 built by the Travel Air Manufacturing Co. in Wichita, Kansas in 1928, the same type of plane that Delta Air Lines started with in 1929. Galpin’s plane was involved in two wrecks over the years, one in 1944 and another in 1964. The second occurred in Idaho when the aircraft had to make an emergency landing and bounced into a river. The wreckage was dragged out of the water and stored in McCall, Idaho for a few years before it was purchased and sent to Alaska. Then Galpin purchased the wreckage — mostly just a fuselage at that point — in 1992 and spent the next 10 years rebuilding it.
Since 2002, Galpin has given hundreds of rides in the aircraft, and each passenger gets a commemorative ticket: a reprint of Delta’s first-ever ticket from 1929 (back then a flight cost $13.25).
Now that he’s retired from the farm and the airport board, Galpin said he’s hoping to spend more time at his hangar working on his planes. Although, he adds, there are still a few house projects he needs to tend to.
“I would probably spend all day, every day (in the hangar) if I could,” Galpin said.