One of Delaware's most recent Aviation Hall of Famers considers himself born into the Air Force
One of Hans Reigle’s early memories is watching F-106 Delta Darts flying away from Dover Air Force Base into a darkening sky.
“I’d see them taking off at dusk on full afterburner,” he said. “I was totally mesmerized by them.”
Forty years later, he still sees that boy standing at the Dover AFB runway, admiring aircraft flying away on a pillar of flame. More than anything, Reigle wanted to be the man in the cockpit.
He still admires the now-obsolete aircraft that was retired in 1988.
“The F-106 is still my favorite airplane of all time,” he said.
Reigle set a course to put himself into an airplane cockpit, a path that has led to his October induction into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame.
Born into the Air Force
Born in Mississippi, Reigle, 53, considers himself a Delawarean through and through.
He came to the First State at age 3 when his father, William, was stationed at the air base.
“I was born into the Air Force and raised in the Air Force,” he said.
As one might guess from his first name, Reigle has deep German roots. His mother, Erika, met his father when the elder Reigle was stationed in Frankfurt. He was steeped in German culture growing up.
“German was my first language,” he said. “My mom taught me and I still speak it today.”
Reigle got his education in the Caesar Rodney School District, graduating in 1982.
“Wyoming was a small town with a community feel to it,” he said. “A lot of kids I knew and grew up with were associated with Dover AFB or had parents in the military. It was a great place to grow up.”
After graduating, he joined the Air Force Reserve at Dover and began his career as a C-5 loadmaster.
“I was 18 when I learned I could become a crew member on a C-5, fly out of Dover, go around the world, go to Germany and get paid for it,” he said. “When they told me I also could go to college at the same time, I was sold.”
While living in Wyoming, Reigle took flying lessons at nearby Jenkins Airport, and received his pilot’s license at age 19.
After a few years with the Reserves, Reigle switched services to fly UH-1 Hueys with the Delaware National Guard. In a reversal of normal protocol, he received his commission as a second lieutenant before receiving his degree. Having gained his pilot’s rating, a few years later he returned to the Reserves, earning himself the left-hand seat in the same C-5s he once flew on as an enlisted crewman.
“I loved them both,” he said. “With flying helicopters, it was the best camaraderie of my military career and I still am great friends with the guys I flew with.
Reigle retired as a major from the Reserves at 38, and in 1997 was hired as a United Airlines pilot, where he still flies regularly.
“Air Force flying was a little more exciting on the international level,” he said.
Hall of Fame
Reigle was nominated for the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame by his former boss, retired Brig. Gen. Ronald B. Stewart, former assistant adjutant general of the Delaware Army National Guard and a 2006 inductee.
“Right off the bat I saw he was a young, energetic and enthusiastic individual who really loved the military,” Stewart said. “I recommended almost 100 people flight training in my career, so I had a sense of whether I could see that drive and desire in a person.
“He really displayed some leadership talents that were unusual for the average person, and he became not only a pilot but a leader.
“I felt he was well deserving of the nomination,” Stewart said. “He had all the correct credentials and he far exceeded many of his fellows already in the Hall of Fame, myself included. He really exemplifies what we’re looking for.”
During Operation Restore Hope in 1992-93, Reigle flew a 28-hour mission airlifting M-1 tanks from Savannah to Somalia after the events depicted in the film “Black Hawk Down.” The flight included four mid-air refuelings.
“That was really neat,” he said. “It was a great way to put all of my training to use and to do something for our country.”
Reigle was recognized not only for his contributions to military aviation but also his role in uncovering some unknown history at Delaware State University.
While working as a DSU instructor, Reigle learned about 30 black aviators who had trained there before World War II. He discovered there was very little information on those men, including their names. His research uncovered their identities and a treasure trove of additional data on a forgotten aspect of the school’s history.
Reigle also worked with the Federal Aviation Administration reworking safety regulations and testing protocols.
In the meantime, he jumped into politics, serving first as a Wyoming town councilman and then mayor. He was chairman of the Kent County Republican Party, once hosting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and made a run for Congress in 2016.
Reigle’s military background has been a big benefit in the political world.