For Danny Hamilton, most days are pretty standard. He wakes up in a Ogden, Utah, subdivision, puts on a blue blazer and button-down shirt, kisses his wife and three children good-bye, and heads for his office at Microlan Enterprises, the company he founded in 1982. Later, at day's end, after he's finished dealing with customers of Microlan's engineering services and computer equipment (sold and leased) and handling the predictable routine of staff meetings, correspondence, and payroll, the 41-year-old chief executive goes home. Monday through Friday, that's life. The weekends, however, are different.
On the weekends Danny Hamilton flies -- just like lots of other entrepreneurs. Only he flies in a different sort of plane from most. And he flies better. Much better. Last October, after a two-week-long biennial competition above the Nevada desert, the U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Command named Hamilton, a supersonic jet pilot, winner of its Gunsmoke competition -- Top Gun, best of the best. When the festivities had ended, Hamilton went back to Microlan.
Though his victory was the first for a reservist flying against Air Force regulars from around the world, Hamilton is no rookie. An Air Force Academy graduate and much-decorated veteran of Southeast Asian air combat, he resigned from active duty in the Air Force in 1979 to work for TRW Inc. While there, he started Microlan, and three years ago, as an Air Force reservist, began flying the frontline fighter F-16, the hottest, most sophisticated multirole airplane in the skies. "I knew I'd found heaven," Hamilton recalls. "There isn't a pilot alive who wouldn't give a month's salary just to do a takeoff and landing in this airplane."
If the Air Force was chagrined that a weekender had flown away with the prestigious Top Gun award, it hasn't said so. Until the next competition in 1989, it will showcase Hamilton as the ultimate lifestyle entrepreneur: a successful business builder and family man who became a Right Stuff flier in his spare time.
For Hamilton, the recognition is most of all a great personal honor. But given Microlan's client list -- aircraft manufacturers and the military -- it shouldn't hurt business much, either.