A high-flying tribute to the 100th anniversary of the first Lake Michigan flight

With a sense of adventure that can best be described as hereditary, Faith Vilas hopped into the cockpit at Southwest Michigan Regional Airport to recreate the flight her grandfather—pioneer aviator Logan “Jack” Vilas—made July 1, 1913 to become the first person to fly an airplane across Lake Michigan.

The 61-year-old pilot and scientist for the Planetary Science Institute returned to her family’s old stomping grounds in the Michigan-Chicago area to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first flight.

“He wanted to do this flight, it was important for him to do it was one of his big goals,” said Vilas at a pre-flight press conference. For Faith Vilas, a third generation pilot, commemorating her grandfather’s accomplishment has been in the works for nearly five years.

“I specifically remember one time when we sat in an old home had had in Florida, and he just sat there telling us old aviation stories, old flying stories: ‘Oh I met Orville and Wilbur,’ and did all this other stuff” recalled Vilas.

Stories of adventure, great aviators and innovation made flying “normal” for the Vilas family.

“I grew up thinking ‘why shouldn't I fly?’ I never thought it was unusual to become a pilot,” said Faith. She remembers her grandfather as a risk-taker, always testing the limits.

Jack Vilas was the sixth person in the United States to earn a seaplane pilot’s license and was only 21-years-old when he piloted the Lake Michigan crossing. But his achievements aren’t limited to this flight—Vilas also pioneered air-to-sea rescue and the use of aircrafts to spot forest fires.

The differences between 1913 and 2013 are significant. Jack Vilas piloted a 90 horsepower aircraft which handled completely different than the 300 horsepower Cessna 185 flown by his granddaughter.

According to Faith, her grandfather encountered no problems during the maiden voyage until a pipe burst and started spraying his back with boiling water. Luckily Vilas was arriving at Chicago’s Navy Pier and he was able to land safely in the water.

“What he described to me about it was, just landing in Chicago, not having a place to put his plane, then seeing hoards of people running toward the beach because they’d never seen a plane before,” recalled Faith.

Faith told NewsCenter 16 flying the same route as her grandfather gave her greater appreciation for the historic significance of the event. Although she was concerned the weather may prohibit her from landing in the water, Faith was warmly welcomed by friends and family and taxied to shore Monday afternoon.

“This is the culmination of years of work on the part of admirers of Jack’s accomplishment, and it is great to complete this effort on behalf of family and friends, and especially in honor of my grandfather, Jack Vilas.”

The 64-mile flight, accomplished under choppy conditions, marks the successful end of two years of training and preparation for Vilas, whose future goals are aimed even “higher.”

Faith is a senior scientist part of PSI’s Atsa Suborbital Observatory project. The project is working towards operating a telescope on board a reusable spacecraft, XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx.

“It will be fantastic to fly and use the Atsa in suborbital space,” she said. “Open human spaceflight is our future.” Her dreams were ignited by a jet-setting grandfather, and encouraged by a family eager to tread across new territory.


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