Reprinted from Pro Pilot Magazine July 1987
A 70 Year Salute

 Late this month, there will be a birthday party at Ft Lauderdale for Captain Harvey N. Hop who will celebrate his 70th milestone event with many long-time friends and former students in attendance.
Harvey N. Hop, a 37,000-hr pilot with perhaps more jet pilot-in-command time than anyone else, turns 70 this month. President of Hop-A-Jet, he runs a two-Learjet charter service at Fort Lauderdale FL and still flies about 1000 hrs a year.

We might measure his time on earth at 70 yrs but that wouldn't be accurate. He has spent more than four yrs of his life in the air and may have more jet pilot-in-command time than any other pilot in this country-or in the world. Coming up on 37,000 hrs TT, he just passed logging 21,000 hrs in the left seat of Learjet's and has an additional 2500 hrs as captain in other types of jets.
Hop is president of Hop-A-Jet Inc, a profitable two-Lear charter company that serves North, Central and South America and occasionally, Europe. He is a tough, hard working, jogging septuagenarian with a reputation as a hard-nosed boss who insists on perfection and on doing any job above and beyond. He has been in the jet charter business since 1967, first with one Lear and now with two (a 25 and a 35). During these two decades he has had an indelible influence on the lives of about 250 young pilots whom he has brought into the business and taught some valuable lessons about working, flying and getting along.

"I’m not a religious man," Hop says. "I think we must do the best we can while we're here and the only thing that lives after us is what we contribute to the future through helping others."

Although he operates only the two Lears, he has welcomed young pilots with about 600-1000hrs, and a commercial license and instrument ticket in multi engine piston aircraft, to come aboard and learn to fly jets-an expensive proposition if they had to pay for it. He hires these young aspiring pilots at $4.00 an hour to sweep the hangar floor and perform mundane, uninspiring duties around the office and hangar to check out their attitude about working long and strange hours at boring but necessary tasks. They must realize that flying Lears is only 15% of the job, Hop says, and that 85% is before and after any flight. Those who prove themselves to Hop's satisfaction are offered the opportunity to take charter flights as third pilot observers. "Admittedly, some drop out," Hop says. "I want to see who is willing to gamble some hard work on the ground against the opportunity to get into jet flying. We don't spoon feed anybody.


Those with the right attitude toward the job and who pass Hop's tough continual scrutiny are rewarded by flying co-pilot, building up right seat time and following Hop's personal instruction course which many would consider tougher than any on the airlines or in the military. He insists on not only thinking ahead of the airplane but also thinking ahead of the passengers' situation and the need of the folks in the back. Those who hit the books, pass their ATP exam, learn Hop-A-Jet's procedures to perfection and survive his "chewing" (or learning experiences," as one pilot called them) are given the opportunity to fly in the left seat and build up captain time.

"Of course, I know I'm going to lose them some day," Hop admits, "but I like to think I'm making a contribution to the future of aviation by doing this for deserving young people. There is no way young pilots can get a type rating and experience as a captain in a jet today for less than about $12,000 or get a co-pilot rating for less than about $6,000-and then they still don't know anything. That's why the Lear accident record is so bad." Many of his "graduates" are now flying for the airlines or corporations at higher pay but they remain forever grateful to the man who gave them an unprecedented opportunity for a piloting career. Many of them will visit Harvey and Miriam, his wife of 46 years, at "Hop Inn" and say "thanks" to their mentor on his birthday.

Hop is known in many different aviation spheres. He entered naval cadet training in 1939, graduated and was assigned to fly PBY patrol boats in the Pacific. He was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and watched helplessly as all of his squadron's planes were destroyed. Ordered to the Dutch East Indies in January 1942, the squadron he joined had 42 aircraft when he had arrived but only one by April. His most terrifying experience was evacuating political exiles at night in the open sea off Surabaya, Indonesia. "The takeoff was really 15 separate crashes," Hop recalls, "as we plowed into wave after wave. I was totally blind because it was night and I had no horizon and no way I could see the next swell coming. We got off but the severe pounding popped rivets all through the hull. We broke pencils in half, sharpened them and jammed them into the holes to stop the leaks."

   Pat Blank

If this was Hop's most terrifying experience, then the rest of the war must have been anticlimactic. He took part in the Battle of Midway, locating and directing the pickup of 33 Japanese survivors in a lifeboat. Later, flying giant four engine Liberators (PB4Ys) he flew patrol missions in the Gilbert, Marshall and Marianas Islands campaigns where he and his crew were credited with shooting down four aircraft and one they had to share with another aircraft crew. Proof of one victory is a photo Hop took from the cockpit showing a Japanese Betty bomber going down in flames. On seven consecutive missions, his aircraft had fires, engines out or other serious malfunctions. One night, Hop's aircraft was peppered by ground fire that struck the cockpit and splintered the instrument panel. Hop was wounded but got the aircraft home despite the fact that it was at night in deteriorating weather. Besides the Purple Heart for this experience, Hop came out of the war with the Distinguished Flying Cross with a gold star and the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters.

Joey Jet "On the Davenport" with Harvey

After a brief respite in the States where Hop hoped to get into test flying, he was returned to the Pacific war zone with a specially built deluxe Liberator to fly VIPs such as Herbert Hoover, Admiral Nimitz, actor Robert Montgomery and other "names" of that era. In the succeeding years, Hop had a number of Stateside assignments and was stationed overseas in Panama and North Africa. At Patuxent Naval Air Station MD, he test-flew many types of jets in preparation to fly and skipper a P6M, four-engine jet seaplane. Unfortunately, the tails came off two aircraft and the program was scrapped. At age 42, he became carrier qualified and flew 30 different types of aircraft while at Patuxent. Not an academy graduate and with only three years of college, Hop decided to retire from the Navy in 1959 as a Commander because there didn't seem to be much future left for hi in uniform and the pay was too low for him to support a wife and five children. He was selected for Captain but declined in favor of a position as director of flight operations for Collins Radio, Cedar Rapids IA where he spent seven yrs helping to develop and test the Doppler radar, autopilots and flight directors in wide use today. He flew all over the country in a Twin Beech demonstrating the flight director to government, airline and corporate decision makers, making over 2000 hooded approaches to touchdown.

In 1966, he accepted a Learjet dealership in Oklahoma. He bought a Lear 24 to fulfill a one-yr contract to fly 600 hrs at 70 cents a mile. "But I found it cost me 82 cents to operate it," Hop recalls. " However, I sold it at a profit to a gentleman in Florida on the condition that I would teach him to fly the Lear and I could use it for charters when he didn't need it." Hop concluded that arrangement , made the same deal with another owner under the title of Southeastern Jet, all the time learning the do's, don'ts and pitfalls of flying charters. In 1977, he formed Hop-A-Jet Inc under an arrangement whereby the company pays him a salary as president and a commission on sales.

Joey Jet 1990

"We have no desire to get bigger," Hop said. "We had only one Lear until four years ago. When you add aircraft, you add problems. Several of my pilot associates formed their own charter companies and soon had five or six aircraft. All went bankrupt because they tried to grow too fast."

Hop-A-Jet has only four full time salaried employees in addition to Hop: Pat Blank, who handles all the records, coordinates flight schedules and is the ever-present Jill-of-all-trades; Chief Pilot Don Torres; and two co-pilots. In addition, there are five reserve captains, two reserve co-pilots and five pilots in training. Reserve captains earn $200 a day minimum when on call, plus $50 an hour for all flight hours in excess of four. Reserve co-pilots earn half that.
Although Hop will occasionally make contracts to allow companies or individuals to place demands on his aircraft, he judiciously guards his right to refuse. "Those who want to make a contract always want a reduced rate and priority," he said. "As long as we get enough business 'off the street, 'I don't want the aggravation."

And the off-the-street business keeps coming. Hop's reputation for safe, thoroughly dependable flying has kept people calling Hop-A-Jet without letup. He has flown hundreds of patients, famous personalities and high rollers who can afford the fees he charges and want the special attention he gives at any hour of the day or night. Most emergency calls seem to come at the small hours of the morning and he will have an aircraft and crew ready to go in less than an hour, if necessary. The seats can be taken out and a medical interior installed which may take a few minutes longer but normally no more than an hour.

The variety of missions and cargo taken on by Hop-A-Jet is mind-boggling: Prisoners from a drug bust in Panama; escorting a jet fighter to Brazil to provide navigational assistance; organs for transplants between hospitals; parts for space vehicles and airliners; gamblers to Las Vegas; honeymooners to Bermuda; VIPs who want to escape public view; airline passengers whose flights have been canceled; federal marshals on a manhunt; mental patients in strait jackets; foreign political figures escaping from possible incarceration or assassination; government dignitaries who prefer not to have their itineraries generally know; cardiac and injured patients who cannot travel any other way. The Who's Who list of passengers he has flown includes Nancy Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Mia Farrow, Harry Belafonte, Yogi Berra, Jack Nicklaus, Hubert Humphrey and numerous current and former newsworthy national and foreign officials and celebrities.

As with most charter operators, Hop must have payment up front or guaranteed by American Express. There are con artists out there, as any charter operator knows, and no operator can afford the loss of the thousands that it costs to fly even a Lear. Hop admits he has been "taken" several times although he always checks out a callers credentials as best he can before a flight.

How does Hop-A-Jet stay profitable? "By watching costs, ( our average fuel cost so far this year is $1.13 a gallon), flying each aircraft 100 hours or more a month to spread out the fixed expenses. Keeping the overhead down and using Lears, which have probably the lowest operating cost per mile."

Reprinted from Pro Pliot Magazine July 1987


Another of Harvey's Parties