Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

Articles written by Tom Foster


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  • Tower - Charlemagne's Empire

    Tom Foster|Nov 1, 2022

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  • MN DNR honored to have first woman helicopter pilot

    Tom Foster|Nov 1, 2022

    About 6% of the world's professional pilots are women. Surprisingly India is the country leading the way where slightly over 14% of the pilots are female. Among helicopter pilots the number is just 4%, but in all categories, the number of women in aviation is rising. In 1938 Hannah Reitsch became the first of her gender to fly a helicopter. Ms. Reitsch was a German civilian test pilot who flew the first controllable helicopter, the Focke-Achellis 61. She also flew the Messerschmidt 163 making...

  • Airport Of The Month – Grand Rapids

    Tom Foster|Aug 1, 2022

    Over the centuries many different types of pavements have been invented by humans to make travel easier and keep things moving regardless of the weather. Beginning around 300 BC the Romans built first-class roads, many of which are still in use. The Empire's engineers designed highways that were crowned for drainage, had curbing, and were often paved with cut rock or cobble stones. Later European civilizations lacked the Roman ingenuity and sometimes used corduroy for paving. Not old pants, but...

  • Airport Of The Month – Redwood Falls

    Tom Foster|Jul 1, 2022

    Internet shopping is the way to go in the 21st century. Point, click and buy means you never have to leave home to spend your money. The ancestor of "online" stores may have started in 1884 when the railroad station agent in North Redwood Falls found he was stuck with a shipment of watches the local jeweler claimed to have never ordered. Seeing an opportunity, the agent used the U.S. Mail to offer them for sale then shipped them the same way. The "North" city and Redwood Falls merged in 1996,...

  • Flight Experience Included 'Four Course Range'

    Tom Foster|Jul 1, 2022

    Back in the 1930s, the primary radio aid for navigating in airplanes was the "Four Course Range." The way it worked is the station sent out two signals which divided the world into four quadrants. You could tell which of the quadrants you were in by Morse Code for the letters A or N which merged into a solid tone on each of the four courses. Pilots navigated by listening, there were no instruments involved. Sometimes "fan markers" provided information on distance from the station. The system...

  • Airport Of The Month – International Falls

    Tom Foster|Jun 1, 2022

    Charles Lindbergh was an environmentalist. After his many accomplishments in aviation, he became an enthusiastic steward of the planet. In 1969 the proposed Voyagers National Park had his attention and Mr. Lindbergh traveled to International Falls to see for himself. He called Einarson's Flying Service to rent an aircraft. Francis Einarson took the request and said, "Who is this?" Charles Lindbergh was the reply, to which Einarson said, "Yeah, and I'm Jimmy Doolittle." That got sorted out OK, bu...

  • Travel Experience Uncovers Aviation Connection

    Tom Foster|May 1, 2022

    People used to call all facial tissue "Kleenex" because the product invented by Kimberly-Clark was so ubiquitous that the name became generic. Pilots did the same thing with flight simulators calling the devices "Links" even if they were made by another manufacturer. In 1929 Edwin Link invented his first device for training pilots on the ground. He used pumps, valves and bellows from his father's organ manufacturing company to build a "full motion" simulator. The thing "pitched and rolled" in...

  • Airport Of The Month – Fergus Falls

    Tom Foster|May 1, 2022

    Much of the wisdom imparted by the Federal Aviation Administration is contained in publications called "Advisory Circulars" or ACs. Both thorough and interesting, they cover a variety of subjects including how to build just about everything on an airport. The "Airport Series" start with 150 and the one that addresses airport lighting is 150/5340-30. Using the term "advisory" is not really accurate. Just try building something on a public airport that doesn't conform to the appropriate AC and...

  • Minnesota DNR Aviation Celebrates 75 Years

    Tom Foster|May 1, 2022

    By any measure 1947 was an auspicious year. Yes, that was 75 years ago and included some very interesting and historic events. The Brooklyn Dodgers acquired Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play major league baseball, from their AAA farm team the Montreal Royals. In Minnesota the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased its first airplanes. Back then it was called the Department of Conservation and the legislature provided funding for two aircraft. One was a variant on the...

  • Airport Of The Month – Duluth International

    Tom Foster|Apr 1, 2022

    In 1929 the city of Duluth purchased 640 acres to build an airport. It opened in 1930 with two, 2,650-foot-long turf runways. Scheduled airline service to Duluth started in 1940. After the beginning of World War II, three paved runways were constructed in the classic "triangle" of that era. Each was 4,000 feet long. Runways 9/27 and 3/21 were extended to 5,700 feet in 1945. Runway 9/27 was later extended twice, reaching the current length of 10,151 feet in 1956. Runway 13/31 was closed in 1973...

  • Former DNR Chief Pilot Was Avionics Use Pioneer

    Tom Foster|Apr 1, 2022

    Forty some years ago an aviation revolution was occurring, one of the biggest changes since Jimmy Doolittle flew without seeing outside the airplane. Point-to-point navigation using VORs and NDBs was being replaced by "area navigation." It more or less began with Long Range Radio Navigation or "LORAN." Use of LORAN by aircraft goes back to World War II, but the hardware was two large "black boxes" and it was mostly used on big transports for over water flights. A couple of avionics manufactures...

  • Minnesota Musician-Aviator Served in South Pacific

    Tom Foster|Apr 1, 2022

    Guadalcanal is not a waterway like "Panama Canal." In Arabic the name means "Valley of Stalls," or "Markets." It's also the name of a city in the Spanish region of Andalusia, and thanks to a homesick Spanish sailor who went to the South Pacific in 1568 the largest of the Solomon Islands has the same name. Andalusia is a bucolic place. The Solomon Islands are hot, wet, and populated with poisonous critters. One member of the U.S. Marine Corps once said, "Guadalcanal only looks good from the poop...

  • Airport Of The Month – Winsted

    Tom Foster|Mar 1, 2022

    When runways were invented, they were mostly grass, at least in Minnesota. A strip of land was graded and rolled until it was fairly smooth and flat, then grass was planted and a turf runway came into existence. Not much engineering was involved and the quality was pretty variable. Winsted Municipal Airport had a turf runway, but the subsoil was rather poor and the turf surface would get rutted and have a "washboard" effect. The drainage needed some work and the lighting system became badly out...

  • Flight Experience Includes Marinated Meat

    Tom Foster|Mar 1, 2022

    In the 1960s having a "draft card" was a mixed blessing for human males in the United States. The Vietnam War was escalating to a crescendo meaning you were likely to be conscripted by the so-called Selective Service. On the plus side, it was absolute proof of being 18 years old and in the State of New York entitled to legally purchase alcoholic beverages, hence the phrase "being carded." I spent my teenage years in a New York town called Binghamton. After turning 18 my favorite watering hole...

  • Airport Of The Month – Two Harbors

    Tom Foster|Feb 1, 2022

    There are two Two Harbors. One is an unincorporated village on Catalina Island, the other is a major city on the north shore of Lake Superior. Catalina Island is an enclave of the rich, famous and those who service their whims. California's Two Harbors is primarily for pleasure craft. Minnesota's Two Harbors has some yachts, but is mostly a working port where freighters are loaded with ore from the Iron Range. Catalina Island Airport is mostly used to bring in perishable supplies that are in too...

  • Airports Of The Month – Carlton County

    Tom Foster|Jan 1, 2022

    Carlton County is a great place no matter what you like. There's plenty of public land for outdoor recreation including the spectacular Jay Cook State Park. Less strenuous recreation is available at a casino/hotel/restaurant complex. Unusual tourist attractions include the only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Cloquet and world's largest agate in Moose Lake. The aforementioned cities are the county's biggest and are served by two general aviation airports with all the facilities...

  • Airport Of The Month – Little Falls

    Tom Foster|Dec 1, 2021

    Little Falls/Morrison County-Lindbergh Field is exactly what a General Aviation facility ought to be. Runway 13/31 is 4,000 feet long with all modern lighting systems and the customary RNAV approaches. A well-appointed Arrival Departure Building is open 24/7 and fueling is available on the same schedule. Rental cars and taxis provide ground transportation. After landing, the drive out of the airport is pretty cool. The entrance road is a tree-lined boulevard with a grass median. The icing on...

  • Minnesota B-17 Pilot Had Unique War History

    Tom Foster|Nov 1, 2021

    Frank Valesh had a career in military aviation that was brief, interesting, and frequently violent. From September 1943 until August 1944 Valesh flew B-17s for the U.S. Army's Eighth Air Force in Great Britain. His bombers all had the same nose art featuring a human female with an impossibly exaggerated anatomy and the name "Hang the Expense." Valesh was born in Graceville, Minnesota. In the middle of the "Roaring 20s" his family moved to a house on Dayton Avenue in St. Paul's Merriam Park. His...

  • Airport Of The Month – Mora

    Tom Foster|Nov 1, 2021

    Swedes are famous for being persistent. That's a trait that comes in handy with airports and revolutions. Emigrants from Sweden were the earliest settlers around Mora, Minnesota. Folks there are proud of their heritage. Downtown has a large statue of a "Dalecarlian" horse and other flavors of the "old country." Mora Municipal Airport was established right after World War II replacing a "flying field" at a different location. At first there was a single north/south turf runway. In 1956 a second t...

  • Airport of the Month – Moorhead

    Tom Foster|Oct 1, 2021

    Downtown Moorhead is having a renaissance. It's a welcoming place featuring some great artwork. The Ace Hardware Store on Main has added to the ambiance by sponsoring a mural of Florence Klingensmith. The Moorhead native was one of 99 women aviators who banded together to promote aviation for the female gender of the human species. Not surprisingly, the organization is called the "Ninety-Nines." They started in 1929 with Amelia Earhart as the first president. Among her claims to fame, Klingensmi...

  • Minnesota DNR Aviation's 'Go-To Guy' Retires

    Tom Foster|Oct 1, 2021

    John Heineman retired from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division's Aviation Unit in early July. His next move was to go fishing. Since that outdoors season is when DNR pilots are busiest, Heineman's move from aircraft to boat was probably long overdue. Heineman was the "go-to guy" within Minnesota DNR aviation. His most recent boss was Capt. Christopher Lofstuen who said, "We all strive to be like John." Lofstuen also said supervising DNR pilots was "a lot like...

  • DNR's First Female Pilot Has Historical Counterpart

    Tom Foster|Oct 1, 2021

    Cora Fuller trained in a Stinson "Detroiter" to become the first Minnesota woman to receive a pilot's certificate after 30 hours of instruction at the Fairmont Airport. The Detroiter was a rather sophisticated airplane in an era when most training was done in open cockpit biplanes with two seats. The aircraft was a four-seat monoplane with an enclosed cabin. Ninety years later, Jessica Holmes became the first female pilot to fly for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Fuller was an...

  • Airport of the Month – Thief River Falls

    Tom Foster|Sep 1, 2021

    When the telegraph put the Pony Express out of business, Morse Code was the medium for transmitting electronic messages. Later it was used by ship's radio operators and then by aircraft. Until the early 1950s, a radio operator and telegraph key flew on many international flights. Amateur Radio (or Ham) was the last stronghold of Morse Code and Ham operators were required to be proficient as recently as 2002. Aviation is the vestigial user of Morse Code where navigation aids still broadcast their...

  • Airport of the Month-Runway Development

    Tom Foster|Aug 1, 2021

    Fertile Municipal Airport is built on the shore of one of the Earth's largest lakes. Unfortunately, the lake went away a few millennia ago. Lake Agassiz was formed by melting glaciers and the famous Sand Hills around Fertile were once the beach. That bit of geological history means the immediate neighborhood belies the name. Mostly oak savanna and prairie, the soil is not good for growing crops. The Sand Hills do provide unique recreational activities and a spectacular natural area called the...

  • Airport of the Month-Operations Spotlight

    Tom Foster|Jul 1, 2021

    Independent flight schools had their "golden age" in the 1960s and 70s when there were four training operations at Crystal and the sky all-around was never still. Two of those operations also had busy aircraft charter services. There were some colorful characters too, including Lee Gilligan, who owned Crystal-Shamrock Airways. Shamrock was a Cessna Pilot Center and one of the last operators to offer passenger service in the DC-3. In the 21st century, most flight training transitioned to large...

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