by Brian Thuringer
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2017
General aviation has made the first 65 years of my life both meaningful and rewarding. It has provided fun, richly filled imagination, and the fulfillment of adventurous dreams for a young boy, a father and a grandfather.
Growing up, I lived a short bike ride from the
St. Cloud, Minnesota airport when it was located on the north side of the city. That bike ride transported me from the daily tedium of summer, to a place that was ripe for investigation and wonder. Bob Leader operated the airport at the time, and it had an active general aviation flying community. I spent many a warm summer day with my neighborhood buddies under Bob’s foot at the airport. I am sure he would not look back on it as fondly as I do.
General aviation turned any ordinary work-day into a day filled with challenges and immediate rewards. My mind would be totally consumed with executing a crosswind landing, for instance, then challenged to do better the next time.
My son, Ben, was a witness and student of my passion for flight, and my daughter, Abbey, was curious. As they grew up, I spent half of my time dodging questions I could not instantly answer, as I was just learning myself. When Abbey became distracted with her interest in horses, that left Ben and I at the hangar.
Ben has been by my side since he was old enough to walk. When he was 3, he would start screaming with joy when he saw or heard an airplane. He is now 37 and both of us still get excited when we are around airplanes. But we have limited our screaming somewhat, because our flying buddies say it is unnerving.
Ben spent the first 10 years of his life staring at an instrument panel because he was not tall enough to see over the glare shield. When he was 13, he was a competent instrument pilot and had logged 10 years of actual instrument time. By 12, he had a full understanding of the instruments and how to use them. Ben’s oldest son, Beau, is following in his father’s footsteps, riding right seat in Ben’s Twin Comanche.
Aviation helps a young person to put all of what they learn in school to immediate use. Math makes sense when we apply it to creating a flight plan. Aviation made Ben’s and Beau’s education relevant, as a tool to be used. You can’t master the science of flying without using all of your basic educational skills.
Ben and Beau’s enthusiasm over aviation is a reflection of what Charles Lindbergh must have felt throughout his career. It is a spirit and camaraderie all aviators share.
Our family is in the resort business…we own and operate “Madden’s on Gull Lake,” and aviation is very much a part of our business. Madden’s has both a 2600 ft. grass airstrip (9Y2), and a seaplane base (M16) in East Gull Lake, west of Brainerd. Pilots out for breakfast or lunch, or a day of golf, will likely visit Madden’s often or on occasion.
Our turf runway is one of the best in the state. The soil drains quickly and is firm. Many new owners of turbine-powered seaplanes bless our docks and shores during their training. Local instructor, Mary Alverson, trains pilots in her Super Cub for their Seaplane Rating, while their families enjoy all of the amenities Madden’s has to offer, from golf and watersports, to fine dining. There’s something for everyone.
Minnesota is a seaplane mecca in the United States with nearly 15,000 lakes, and aviation companies like Wipaire at South St. Paul Airport in the Twin Cities. Wipaire manufactures floats and sells seaplanes. The Wiplinger family is to the seaplane community, as Mayo is to the medical community…world class! Also, Brainerd native, D.J. Dondelinger, is making a name for his company, “North Point Aviation,” which provides sales and maintenance for the Kodiak Quest turbine aircraft, equipped with wheels, floats or skis.
There is not enough space in this article to explain what general aviation has meant to our family, and the great friends we have made as a result. It has helped shape our lives and our characters.
Through this process, I have discovered a mysterious transition that happens in most aviation families. It is magical and quick. It starts with you, the parent in the left seat, and looking over at your son, daughter or grandchild in the right seat with love, pride and appreciation. It all ends before you can snap your fingers, and hopefully, they will share the same enthusiasm!