The People and Planes of Anoka County
Denizens of a small Minnesota airport: bombers, ones-of-a-kind, T-6s, Cubs, a 1938 Stinson SR10 once owned by the governor of Pennsylvania, and a veritable hive of homebuilders.
- By Carl Posey
- Air & Space magazine, May 2005
(Page 2 of 5)
The first tenant was Daniel F. Neuman, who in 1953 bought a hangar on the southwest side of the field. After 37 years of flying for Northwest Airlines, seven of them as a Boeing 747 captain and instructor, Neuman retired in 1978. Now, at 86, “I still pass my physical, still fly, I’m still doing what I love to do.”
Neuman does what he loves in an old hangar filled with neatly filed books and blueprints. Occupying much of the space is a 1929 Waco 10 fuselage frame, freshly sheathed in Irish linen. “It’s the third one I’m rebuilding,” Neuman says. “I’ve rebuilt a number of planes. Usually when I get through I sell them.” At the moment, he flies a 1980 Beechcraft F33A, a Buhl Bull Pup, and a 1938 Stinson SR10 Reliant.
Anoka is also home to Greg Herrick’s Golden Wings collection, which comprises about 40 of aviation’s rarest craft. Herrick settled on the Golden Age of Aviation as a pilot and collector, but his interest goes far beyond owning and using a priceless work of flyable art. For example, he doesn’t see the Fleetwing Seabird as just a shining amphibian with a big radial engine atop its high wing. He sees a relic of an era when manufacturers were choosing a metal with which to cover aircraft. The Seabird is all stainless steel, built for imperviousness to rust, even in the sea.
The collector values the back stories of his airplanes as much as the machines themselves: the Arrow Sport designed for the 1930s Bureau of Air Commerce’s Everyman’s Airplane competition; the 1935 Waco Wind Harp, considered the Learjet of the 1930s, that ferried gamblers to Havana; the replica of Amelia Earhart’s Avro Avian biplane; the Kreutzer tri-motor retrieved from a mountain strip in Mexico. The only thing Herrick likes better than telling their stories appears to be flying them (see “The Magical History Tour,” Aug./Sept. 2003).
The unwritten rule at Anoka County-Blaine: If you see a car outside a hangar, you’re free to go in and visit, borrow a tool, seek some advice, and, if the hangar is Dan Neuman’s, have a cup of tea. On this day, Neuman hands a bulky case to the visiting Greg Herrick. Inside is a set of World War II-vintage Japanese naval binoculars. Herrick is clearly charmed by the gift, but protests. Neuman waves away the objections: “You’re always giving me stuff. Thought I’d reciprocate.”
At Anoka-Blaine, homebuilts constitute a large part of the mix. Gary Specketer, a noted crafter of homebuilts who is active in the EAA chapter and a principal in the Anoka County Airport Association (basically a hangar owner’s group), has built a Dragonfly and a GlaStar, finished a Van’s RV-4, and helped colleagues with GlaStars and Glasairs. He flies a Glasair III he built 16 years ago that looks as fresh as one of Herrick’s Golden Agers. “You build a homebuilt either to get performance you can’t buy, or an airplane you can afford,” he says. He says his rocketship gives him 295 mph cruise—southern Florida is five and a half hours away, he says, and five more to the Virgin Islands. But now he’s thinking about selling it and building a Van’s RV-10.
He also employs his expertise as a technical counselor for the EAA. “The big question when you haven’t built before is: What do I spend time on? The counselor gives shortcuts, warns of misdirection. There are 500 to 600 EAA counselors. The FAA won’t inspect a plane if you haven’t had a counselor inspection.”
Nancy Carter, current president of EAA Chapter 237, presides over the airport’s weekend pancake breakfasts, chatting with colleagues and accepting the occasional $20 dues from new members. “We’re very active,” she says. “We have about 50 builders in our group. Some are on their third plane. Most of them have at least a couple of airplanes.” At the EAA Christmas party, plaques are awarded to members who have completed projects. Most years there are three or four, some years as many as 13.