July 12, 2024 Donate

Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Saline

Saline Pilot Retires After 28,000 Hours and 51 Years of Flying

By Trevor Sullivan 

Michael Petraszko of Saline officially retired from flying, accumulating over 28,000 flight hours across 51 years. His pilot uniform resides in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Unbeknownst to him, that first fight he took would spark a lifetime of adventure. 

Michael joined the Air Force in October 1972 after graduating from Penn State, where he remained for 28 years. Over that time, he was on active duty for eight, working around the globe. He spent three and a half years flying out of the Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, along with another three and a half years in the Yokota Air Base, located in Japan. While deployed, he conducted many missions, including flying over and monitoring North and South Korea’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and the famous Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, which led to the liberation of Kuwait. 

“When the air war started around January 18 of 1991, we started flying a bunch of army troops from Saudi Arabia to a little place along the Iraqi border,” Michael recounts. “We brought the 5th Corps, probably 20,000 army troops, there in order to encircle the Iraqi Army. A C130 was taking off and landing every ten minutes for three weeks. What I finally understood when I went to war was the camaraderie, the teamwork you have with everyone in your squadron to get the job done and do it safely, and being able to come back alive. It’s a family. It’s a way of life.” 

After his active duty assignments, Michael spent 14 years in the reserves and an additional six and a half years in the National Guard, where he eventually retired as a Lieutenant Colonel at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in 2001. During this time, he started working at People Express Airlines, which was one of the first companies to get certified under the new deregulation in 1981. At age 33, he was one of the youngest 747 Captains in the country. He flew a variety of planes across his five years at the company, flying a 737 for two years, a 727 for one year, and finishing up his time at People Express as a 747 Captain for two years.  

After hearing from a friend about the possibility of donating their flight uniforms, he contacted the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He ended up donating his People Express uniform, which was a highly requested item, in 1986. It has been on display since 1987, but Michael “didn’t even know about that for 20 years,” until he visited the museum and was surprised to find it there. 

Michael says, “That was the most unique pilot uniform in the history of commercial aviation,” due to the fact that they wore no hat, stripes, or wings but rather just a nametag. His uniform remains on display today. 

From there, Michael joined Northwest Airlines in August of 1986 and continued to fly commercially for them until the company merged with Delta in 2008. He was a Captain for them for eight more years, retiring in 2015.   

This retirement lasted only 35 days, as he then started working for Pentastar Aviation, which manages the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers airplanes. Michael initially got hired as a contract pilot but quickly moved to full-time after three pilots were fired by the teams for poor landings.  

He flew for eight Tigers seasons and nine Red Wings seasons, with his last flight being in March of this year. After his final baseball trip in September, Detroit Tigers Legend and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera met and thanked him personally, even signing a baseball. “These past eight years have been the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that was my 51-year aviation career.” Michael finished his 51-year career with 28,000 total flight hours.

Michael Petraszko taking a selfie with Miguel Cabrera
Photo courtesy of Michael Petraszko