Keep it short? You sound like an editor!

by James Hanson

Few of us have been lucky enough to do exactly what we wanted to do for a living. Even fewer have been lucky enough to make our play into our work—without turning it into work. If I hadn’t worked at the airport all my life, I would have been thinking about it while doing some other job.

That being said, aviation is unique in that we are dependent on good health to be able to remain employed as pilots. An old axiom of aviation is that “We’re only one medical away from a career change!” People in most professions can have an illness or injury, and continue working at their job. Think about it – how would most people feel if they were faced with suddenly not only losing one of the most enjoyable activities they’ve ever done, but suddenly found they could no longer do the job they had prepared for during their entire working career.

I decided that I would like to be a writer. Wouldn’t you know, I picked the ONE profession that pays even LESS than aviation! I didn’t do anything about it until Buzz Kaplan of Owatonna, Minnesota, and I were returning across the Atlantic from Europe with the Caravan. Buzz asked me, “What am I going to put in my museum (Heritage Halls in Owatonna)? I replied, “I would have thought you would have thought of that before you spent $6 million on the building!” He asked for my help: “You go to more museums than anyone I know…Would you give me a hand with this?” We met with the architects and a graphic designer three days after returning. I proposed 106 subjects for the museum; we ended up doing 103 of them. In addition to designing the general layout and displays, I researched and wrote the text – over 660 pages – plus captions – the equivalent of three books. Dick Coffey from Minnesota Flyer asked if he could publish our accounts of our trip to Europe and Africa. It took 16 issues to get it all in (and you want me to do this in a couple of minutes?).

I’m a voracious reader and there is something magical when reading the works of someone that captures the essence of an activity. Ernie Gann was able to do that….I can’t….but that’s never kept me from trying! A real writer can make up entire fantasies — settings, dialogue – but not me. Ernie Gann could weave his own thoughts and observations into a story. I’m not a writer…I’m a storyteller. I write about my own experiences, but like Ernie Gann, I sometimes interject my own observations into the story.

It’s been said, “everybody has at least one book in them.” I’ve been lucky enough to have enough experiences for hundreds of columns and thousands of pages.

People often ask about the process of writing. I tell them, “It’s easy…just sit down at the computer, and open a vein…….”

One of the board members of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame (a friend) said, “We can’t give the award (“Best Aviation Writing by a Minnesotan”) to you…you don’t write books, only magazines.” I reminded him that those magazines – with monthly circulation and over a period of years probably reach far more people than most books – and that magazines are able to shape ideas because they are topical. That same friend, in nominating me, told the board, “Well, we can always give it to Jim…he may not be the best author, but he certainly is the most prolific!” He was just joking – I think – I hope!”

I will end by thanking the editors of Minnesota Flyer, Midwest Flyer Magazine, and EAA magazines for allowing me to indulge myself as an aviation writer dilettante. I’d also like to thank my wife, Maryalice, for proofreading my work. Being a retired school teacher, and a wife of (almost) 40 years, she gently “suggests” changes – and being a husband of 40 years, I’m smart enough to accept them! I’d like to thank the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame for this award, a recognition that I can do something other than fly!

Most of all, I’d like to thank the readers, without whom I’d just be one more moron spouting his opinions into thin air!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The forgoing was Jim Hanson’s speech in accepting the “Best Aviation Writing by a Minnesotan Award” for 2013. The award was presented at the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame investiture ceremonies, April 20, 2013. Hanson is the airport manager at Albert Lea Municipal Airport. Emails are welcomed at, as are telephone calls at 507-373-0608.

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