Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

Airport of the Month: Wadena


Tom Foster

Wadena Airport

Wadena means "Round Hill" in Ojibwa. It's also the name of a well know leader of that Native American tribe who's band lived along the Crow Wing River in Central Minnesota. The first community named Wadena was a trading post located where a ferry on the Otter Tail Trail crossed the river. In 1873 Wadena County was incorporated and the name was transferred to the platted town and court house site on the Northern Pacific Railroad about sevem miles west of the original settlement.

Wadena, both the town and the Chief, first had brief aviation fame in 1938. Otto Dallmann, the Wadena High School art teacher, designed a stamp with a likeness of the Chief to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the US Air Mail service. A more lasting aviation connection came in 1946 with the dedication of the first Wadena Municipal Airport.

The original airport was located just east of the city and featured two turf runways, but by the 1980's a paved and lighted runway was needed. Land use and environmental considerations made developing such a facility on the old airport site difficult, so after the usual exhaustive studies a new airport was built three miles west of the City.

The new airport opened in 1998 and is now home to a dozen aircraft. It has a modern storage/maintenance hangar with an attached Arrival/Departure Building. "Tee" hangars are available for based aircraft, as is space for private hangars.

The 4,005 foot long paved and lighted runway has Runway End Identifier Lights (REILs) and Precision Approach Path Indicators (PAPI). It also has GPS approaches with LPV procedures that feature vertical guidance similar to an Instrument Landing System. Having this all-weather facility has kept Wadena involved in "air mail" business. It's now at the end of one of the long spokes in the United Parcel Service air freight and package delivery system. Wadena has a UPS sort center and on work days one of their aircraft comes and goes with high priority stuff.

Flight training was featured at both Wadena airports. In 1972 veteran pilot Frank Pothen moved to Wadena from Murdock, Minn. with a pair of Piper Colts. Frank had already been flying for 40 years when he came to Wadena and instructed until he was well over 80 years old. One of his students was a dairy farmer named Darrel Janson. Darrel decided to give up agriculture for flight training and now operates "Janson Flying Service" at the new airport. Darrel has also constructed more than 200 model aircraft, many of which are displayed at his flight school. Wadena has another interesting art display called the "Murals of Minnesota". Over 100 individual paintings on downtown buildings illustrate 1,000 years of Minnesota history. There are both group and self-guided tours of downtown and the murals available.

Another Wadena aviator with an artistic nature is Paul Sailer. He is a Vietnam veteran who flew the UH-1 Iroquois and OH-58 Kiowa, aircraft more popularly known as the "Huey" and "Loach". But Paul made his mark in aviation circles with the pen not the sword.

He's the author of "The Oranges are Sweet", the biography of Major Don Beerbower. Major Beerbower grew up in Hill City, Minn. and lived briefly in Wadena as a child. He was the highest scoring "Ace" in the US Ninth Air Force. Don Beerbower died flying combat in France not long after D-day. Fortunately for us, Paul Sailer came home from his war to tell the story of another Minnesota Aviator who didn't return. Paul also made it a mission to get Major Beerbower inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, which he was in 2000. Paul in turn was named the 2012 Minnesota Aviation Writer of the year at the annual Hall of Fame Convention.

Wadena has plenty of parks, including 80 acres at "Black's Grove" right next to the Airport and Sunnybrook near the old airport. "Pheasants Forever" has restored some habitat next to the park on part of the old airport, so there's still some flying going on there. The new Airport has an annual wings and wheels celebration the last weekend in June. It features breakfast and an Airshow.

For visitors who fly in on more mundane days there's a courtesy car to get you to town to do business, go to the parks or see the murals. You could sign up for flight training with Darrel Janson or maybe get an autographed copy of Paul Sailer's book, then use the self-service fuel system so you have plenty of gas to get you to your next destination. It's a trip that's well worth making.


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