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 3 of 5)
Carter joined the EAA in 1996. “I started to build a plane—a DR-109, two-seater aerobatic,” she says. “The airplane’s still in my basement.” The man responsible for her having an airplane in her basement, she says, was the late Mike Langer, a former Mohawk pilot in Vietnam. “He was the kind of person who encouraged dreams. I was living in an apartment. Then I ended up having the house built, a walkout with double doors because of the plane. Right now I have wings in the basement.”
Another thing Langer made happen was the American Wings Air Museum, at the north end of the flightline, next to the control tower. “Mike and I had worked together since the mid-1970s,” says museum director Len Burgers. “He happened to find the serial number of an A model Mohawk he’d flown a lot in Vietnam. Brought it back to a T hangar—then, in December ’85, began moving stuff here. In the meantime he’d been talking with Grumman and the Army. To restore it required more support from them. They said they’d be glad to help except we weren’t a museum. So we started doing the paperwork. Started acquiring Mohawks. We once had 14. We opened November 1997. Mike died April 1998.” Langer’s Vietnam Mohawk has been in storage since his death.
American Wings has lent floor space to the Minnesota Air & Space Museum, which has no home, to restore a 1911 Steco Aerohydroplane. The project feels more like archaeology than aircraft restoration.
The only airplane built by Stephens Engineering Company (hence “Steco”) was flown a few times off Lake Michigan, then packed away in crates and left in a Chicago garage. Three-quarters of a century later, Dennis Eggert, the president, recovery team captain, and chief mechanic of the Minnesota Air & Space Museum, came upon the remains and opted to restore the Steco.
While the provenance of the aircraft was known, its design contained some mechanical puzzles. For example, directional control came from a movable empennage, not from rudders, ailerons, or warpable wings. “We finally figured out that Stephens was trying to get around the Wright brothers’ wing warping,” says Eggert. “He wanted to compete for aeronautical patents.”
Having gained possession of the Steco, and one of Stephens’ 1909 cars, the homeless museum was forced to put the crates back in storage. Then, in 1998, the relic was lent out to be restored for the Heritage Halls Museum in Owatonna, Minnesota. When that didn’t work out, Eggert and colleagues retrieved the aircraft, disassembled it, and shipped it back to Blaine, where American Wings Air Museum offered 1,600 square feet of floor space.
That was in the winter of 2002. Since then, the Steco has been gradually metamorphosing into what the restorers believe was its original form. Last June, Eggert ran up the Steco’s Gnome Omega rotary engine half a dozen times. “It started beautifuly each time,” he says. In time, Eggert hopes to wheel the whole machine out, its “first time in daylight since 1914.”
A few businesses reside happily at Anoka-Blaine. Dan White runs a restoration shop. Today he’s winding up some work on Herrick’s Stinson Model A tri-motor, a low-wing monoplane wearing old American Airlines livery. “It took a guy seven years hauling the airplane out of the forest, using a Caterpillar and big skid,” says White.