Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame 2020 Inductee:
JAMES G. BAKER 1925 -
April 1, 2020
James "Jim" Baker is a native of Mankato, MN. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the age of 18. He learned to fly at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona. He conducted his solo flight in a Stearman. After earning his wings, Jim was assigned instructor duty in the Stearman at the Air Training Command. In 1945, Jim completed training in the B-25 Mitchell bomber and was awaiting deployment orders when Japan surrendered. After his transition from active duty in 1947, he returned to Minnesota and joined the Air Force reserve flying P-51s and F-80 jets based at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Force Reserve Center.
Later the Air Force Reserve units were reorganized and reassigned. The Continental Air Command assigned C-119 cargo aircraft to the reserve unit. In 1963, the unit was designated as the 934th Tactical Air Wing. Jim operated both the C-119 and C-130 cargo planes on support missions for troop transport, paradrops, cargo, and supply deliveries worldwide. He was recalled to active duty briefly during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
As a civilian, he worked at Hamm's Brewery and when they purchased a Beech 18, he became their corporate pilot. In 1969, he was hired as an aviation representative for the Minnesota Department of Aeronautics, responsible for licensing of commercial operations and inspections of airports.
When the Department of Aeronautics was combined with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) in 1976, Jim became the chief pilot. He provided air transportation to all state agencies, as well as the governor. There was such a demand for air transport that he established a twice weekly schedule, running the department almost like an airline. During his time with MNDOT, he was awarded two pilot aafety awards from the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA), one for 4,500 hours and the other for 5,500 hours of safe, accident-free flying while serving as pilot in command of state aircraft. He retired in 1987 from MNDOT.
Baker is considered part of the "greatest generation" of pilots with a career spanning from WWII military propeller and jet aircraft to civilian propeller planes. He retired a Major as an active reserve officer in 1971. As a key member of MNDOT Aeronautics, he built a positive reputation for the department making it the very best. Under his supervision, the air transport section became a model for other state aeronautics divisions throughout the U.S. ''