Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 24, 2000

Big wind at Winsted

By George Erickson

Erickson is a St. Paul pilot whose book, "Northern Odyssey: On the Wing with Bernoulli and Friends," will be released this fall.

Winsted ­ July 31, 1966

By the time that the wheels of our Beechcraft Bonanza settled onto Winsted's wide grass runway, it already was bordered with rows of aircraft parked on either edge of the strip.

Like bees returning to the hive, dozens of additional light aircraft continued to arrive as my 4- and 6-year old sons and I waited for the show to begin.

The first event, a parachute jump, seemed routine until the skydiver suddenly fell away from his open parachute and began a long fall to earth.

As the crowd gasped, I realized that he had performed a "cut-away" to tease the audience and that he soon would open his second chute ­ but he did not. Down he plummeted, disappearing behind an obstruction, still without a parachute as the crowd watched open-mouthed.

As I searched for words to calm my worried sons, Sherm Booen, the editor of the Minnesota Flyer and the fly-in's master of ceremonies (who had an unobstructed view), announced that the second canopy had opened just in time to break his fall.

The second skydiver, apparently having learned from the first, stayed with his primary parachute, circling toward the runway as if planning a midfield touchdown. Then, either from a lack of experience or a change in the gentle wind, he began to drift toward the aircraft below.

Landing directly on top of a newly restored Cessna, he rammed his foot through its fabric wing ­ and I again explained to my worried sons that no one had been hurt and told them that the airplane would be repaired.

Sherm Booen than announced the next event, a fly-by of a Boeing 727, one of Northwest's newest jets. Within minutes the jet swept by, well above the crowd, engines roaring, as I told my sons, "You see, there's nothing to fear."

Then Booen announced a surprise. Spence Marsh, Northwest's director of flight training, had arranged for a Boeing 707 on a training flight to make a pass for the crowd.

When Captain Aspeland asked, "How low do you want me? A 1,000 feet? 500?"

Spence simply had replied, "You're the captain."

The big Boeing was easy to spot as it banked toward the airport while dropping its flaps and gear.

"It's just a fly-by," announced Booen. "He isn't going to land."

But as the big jet settled below 100 feet, he began to change his tune.

"Well, folks," Booen said, "maybe he is!"

Sweeping across the end of the runway, the Boeing descended to within 10 feet of the sod. Leveled off, the 707 tore down the runway with its engines thundering, trailing tornadoes from the tips of its wings.

I snapped a quick photo, grabbed my boys and dived beneath the Beech. The big jet roared past in a blast of heat and dust, scattering the crowd as my Bonanza quivered and shook.

In the silence that followed, I was surprised to see people running toward me. turning around, I gaped at several tailwheel aircraft that the Boeing's wingtip vortices had tipped vertically onto their props.

Fortunately, one had been damaged, and by the time that I had calmed my crying sons, all of the taildraggers had been carefully lowered back to a three-point stance.

As Spence Marsh later remarked, "I was amazed at how gracious the owners were. One even told me, 'Don't worry, she's been up on her nose before.'"

A year later, when I asked my boys if they were ready to go to another fly-in, the older one quietly asked, "Will the big airplane flip the little ones again?"

"I don't think so," I replied.

"Oh," he said, "Well, I guess I'll go anyway."

Reprinted with permission of Minnesota Flyer Magazine.


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