Retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Dan Filer has a big heart, and a love of flying. The veteran, who spent 18 years in the Navy, currently owns Unknown Aircraft Company out of East Texas. These days you can find Filer putting smiles on the faces of people anywhere from 14 to 90 years of age.

Filer flew attack aircraft from aircraft carriers, including 47 combat attack missions in the first Gulf War. His love for his country and flying, though, started at a much younger age.

Filer was born in upstate New York and grew up on a farm in an old Colonial brick house built in the late 1700s, the youngest of four. At the age of fifteen, filer went flying for the first time with a friend of his father’s in a small propeller plane.

Filer recalls the thrill of the flight but also the uphill battle to pursue what he knew, at that moment, was his dream.

“At the end of the one-hour flight, my cheeks were so sore from smiling I then knew this is what I wanted to do,” said Filer. “But not having the money for flight training, I did some research and realized I could pursue my goal in the military.”

Filer went on to earn a ROTC scholarship with the Navy and went to college immediately after high school. Following college he went to flight training and earned his “Wings of Gold.”

Filer served ten years active duty followed by eight years in the reserves before retiring as a Lieutenant Commander.

“I am grateful for the time I served in the Navy and all the friends I have made in that journey,” said Filer.

While still living in New York, Filer took a course with the Make A Wish Foundation in hopes of becoming a wish provider. He was soon contacted by Make A Wish for Seniors. That is when Filer met 84-year-old Tom, his Wish of a Lifetime was to ride in a fighter jet and accomplish a goal he never thought was possible.

Tom served in the Korean War and was Captain of the Norwich Volunteer Fire Department until he had to retire after a severe fire left him with a hearing impairment. It was when Tom was stationed in Korea in 1951 that his fascination with fighter jets came about.

On Aug. 5, 2012, Tom served as co-pilot to Filer and actually got to fly the jet for a portion of the flight, making his wish come true.

Shortly after, Filer had the opportunity to move to Texas with his family. Of the move, Filer said, “As the bumper sticker says, ‘I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as soon as I could!’”

Filer said after his military service ended he became interested in flying former Soviet military jets at Airshows and as a hobby.

“This led to my eventual acquisition of up to 19 Soviet jets, most being the Mig-23 fighter jets called the ‘Flogger’. At this time I have the only privately owned flying Mig-23 in the world which is capable of flying over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.35,” said Filer.

What started as a hobby, later turned into the business he owns now, Unknown Aircraft Company.

“Some of the military jets I acquired were not stored properly and would take an enormous amount of resources to get them flying again. I chose to donate six of the Mig-23s to nonprofit charity organizations like air museums so these historic aircraft still have a useful purpose,” said Filer. “The Historical Aviation Memorial Museum in Tyler was the first to receive a donated jet.”

Filer is currently in the process of having a large hangar built in Longview to better accommodate his planes.

“Construction of a new large hangar is almost complete at the East Texas Regional Airport in Longview which is where I will restore, flight test and service the aircraft I have and will allow me to train other pilots wishing to fly the Mig-23 fighter,” he said. “I chose Longview for its 10,000 long runway which can accommodate an aircraft like the ones I operate and the airport was already in the process of dividing up lots for future hangars.”

In September, Filer was back in the air again. This time it was with Rusk High School freshman Jack Thornton. Filer took Thornton on a flight from Lufkin Airport to the Longview Airport in an A-6E Intruder attack jet. Thornton, only 14 years old, was able to co-pilot part of the flight.

“We love Jack. He’s a great kid and we wanted to do something special for him,” said Filer. “He showed an interest so I wanted to surprise him.”

Thornton said it was the experience of a lifetime.

“We did a lot of flips. It was really exciting but scary at the same time,” said Thornton. “The experience made me feel really special and I hope I get to do it again someday.”

Filer said he is thankful for the life he has led and it means a lot to him to give back.

“I’ve had some wonderful experiences and I am very grateful. It feels good to give others a neat experience and see the smiles on their faces,” he said.

Filer now lives in Alto with his wife and two daughters. During his time of service Filer was awarded four Air medals and the “Combat V for Heroism and Valor”.

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