HJ-ED-DHJ

Nov. 13, 2006

Winsted Municipal Airport yesterday and today

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

The Winsted Airport became McLeod County’s first municipal airport in 1962. Its story began in 1956, when four pilot enthusiasts began using a privately rented runway in Winsted.

The pilots were Leander Sterner and Lanny Fasching of Sterner Lighting, and Dave Laurence and Herman Peschken of Pure Milk.

Together, they had a total of five planes, three single-engine Cessnas, one single-engine air coup, and a twin-engine Cessna.

Kevin Kubasch, current member of the airport commission, shared this memory of Leander Sterner, one of the more influential pilots of the group.

“As a kid, I remember hearing that twin-engine coming in and then, Leander’s car would pull up in front of his house, he would leave it parked on the wrong side of the street with the driver’s door open, run in, get a change of clothes or a suitcase, and off he would go on another business appointment. He used that airplane big-time.”

The private airport, with a north/south runway, established air transportation useful to the area businesses that had reached a national level.

It was not only used for those businesses that had planes in the area, but other area operations called upon the four pilots to accommodate their businesses too, according to Dick Genty, city attorney at the time.

Once the airport proved its value, it did not take the Winsted City Council long to agree that an improved airport would be a definite advantage to the economic development of the town.

The council appointed the first airport commission Jan. 2, 1962. The commission was made up of Genty, Sterner, and Laurence.

The commission was to take immediate steps to locate various airport sites, consult with the state aeronautics commissioner, and determine the amount of funds available, Genty said.

The original airport site was agreed upon. It already had four hangars at the location, southwest of town, and it was close to the city.

However, in order to get the state and federal assistance needed, the north/south runway had to be changed to an east/west runway, Genty said.

Although the paperwork began in 1962, it took the entire year to work out a deal with the state and federal government. They agreed to pay for the construction and layout, if the land was purchased by the city.

The land was purchased from two separate owners. Eighty acres were purchased from a single man under guardianship, which required permission from the probate court to permit the guardian to sell the land to the City of Winsted.

The other 400-foot strip was purchased off of the southern portion of land owned by Louie Quast, according to Genty.

A total of $20,000 was spent, with some exchange of property taking place between Quast and the city. Some property was also sold to the Winsted Area Business Development Corporation because it was considering a supper club out by the airport, Genty said.

The runway, running east and west, is 3,200 feet long, with additional footage at each end, called the clear zone. The runway is 400 feet wide, which includes the clear zone.

Construction took most of 1963. It included the airport office, apron and connecting taxi-way, the purchase of a huge gasoline tank, gas pump, electricity, low intensity lighting, lighted wind cone, beacon, grass, and markers.

The records show a total initial expense of $46,600 (the land included), none of which was paid for with taxpayers’ money.

“This was, and maybe still is, the only airport that was built without local taxpayers’ dollars. We raised $20,000 through a bond issue and the bonds were purchased by the pilots using the airport at that time,” Genty said.

“The airport is completely self-sufficient. Whatever is spent on the airport comes from state and federal funding, or is paid for by the people renting the hangars or buying fuel at the airport,” Genty said.

The Winsted Municipal Airport was completed in the spring of 1964. The airport dedication was Aug 9, 1964, and it was a spectacular event with a crowd of 3,000 attending.

“The day of the dedication, Northwest Airlines had a training session with their pilots, and Leander Sterner knew the head trainer, originally from Silver Lake. Sterner asked if they would do a fly-over at noon,” Genty said.

“A 720 B fan jet, a big four-engine airplane came down as if it was going to land on the airport, probably less than 50 feet above the ground. The wind that came from the plane turned about three grounded airplanes up on their noses and one plane had a bent prop. That was a sight,” Genty said.

Genty also remembered Senator Hubert H. Humphrey’s appearance, an air show, a stunt flyer, and the US Army Golden Knights Parachute Jumping Team.

“The air show and a beef dinner at the dedication was only $1,” Genty said. “Floyd Sneer, owner of the Winsted Journal at the time, knew pilots from Mountain Lake: Carl Franz, Fritz Goosen, and Carl Rahn. They cooked the beef in a huge tank that was lowered into a charcoal-filled pit. They turned large pieces of beef with pitch forks.”

Shortly after the airport was completed several influential Winsted men including Ben Weinbeck, Dick Sterner, Don Biske, and Dick Genty became pilots and organized the Winsted Flying Club.

The same group became the second airport commission along with Herman Peschken.

Winsted Airport today

The Winsted Municipal Airport has been in operation for more than 40 years.

It currently has a 10-member airport commission that is appointed by the city council.

The commission is continually evaluating the needs of the airport, making recommendations to the city council regarding improvements that will benefit the airport as well as its users. Its main objective is keeping the airport a modern, viable asset to the City of Winsted.

“As Winsted grows, this airport has the opportunity to be part of that growth, part of that economic engine. The natural growth of the metro coming this way – it aids in the growth of Winsted,” Kubasch said.

Kubasch also felt that too many people look at the facility as a big toy box for rich men and ladies that have airplanes as their big toys.

No matter how the airport is viewed, as a playground with big toys, or as a unique and ideal form of transportation for personal and business use, it’s important to remember the airport is run entirely on its own profits.

A great percentage of the funding comes from state and federal grants.

In addition, the 38 hangars located at the airport are all privately owned. Each hangar owner pays rent on the property the hangar is built on, per square foot. With the rent from the hangars and aviation fuel sales, the city is reimbursed for all of the airport expenses that are not funded from grants.

The sale of aviation fuel is a good example of how airport funds are used to upgrade technology available at the airport. A computer system credit card reader was added about a year ago establishing a much better system for selling fuel.

Until that time, each pilot had an account from the city, and put a deposit of $35 down for a key to allow him to get fuel for his plane. It was based on an honor system, and according to Deb Boelter, Winsted city clerk-treasurer, there really were not too many problems with the old system, just more work.

The Mn/DOT office of aeronautics provided a state grant to pay for 50 percent of the funding. The $30,503 cost included a credit card reader and a new gas pump.

With the sale of fuel at the airport, the city’s portion of the expense for the card reader and gas pump was paid for.

The 2006 Winsted Municipal Airport Improvement Project is the most recent upgrade, and is almost completed.

The project comprised of paving the airport access road, expanding the paving of a parking lot, extending a taxiway, installing a security gate at the entrance of the east road, and constructing a taxi lane for future hangar development.

The total project cost (including construction and engineering) was approximately $175,000 of which the FAA paid 95 percent. The city of Winsted’s responsibility was 5 percent.

Installed at about the same time as the credit card reader system, was the Data Transmission Network (DTN) Weather System. All installation expenses were paid for by Mn/DOT Office of Aeronautics.

DTN supplies weather information, including radar images, current weather conditions, forecasts and many other weather statistics that are continually updated and available 24 hours a day, 7-days a week.

A future plan for the airport might be a tarred runway to alleviate the seasonal soft turf problems of the existing runway.

Although the city has looked at the possibility of a tarred runway before, there were a number of obstacles including the expense that made it impossible to consider previously.

However, there have been compromises made by the federal government, the city, and the pilots themselves, and it looks like there might be the possibility of a tarred runway sometime in 2008.

The airport continues to grow. “Winsted’s airport has more landings than Glencoe or Hutchinson,” Kubasch said.

There is a waiting list for additional hangars to be built, possibly as many as nine next year, according to Boelter.

Besides keeping up with an active airport by evaluating its needs, sharing concerns and updates at monthly meetings, and offering advice to the city council on airport improvements, the airport commission includes an annual chili feed as part of its yearly duties.

This year’s event is the 11th annual chili feed and is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 13, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Last year, 90 planes flew in for the fundraiser. With the funds from the chili feed, a new furnace was purchased for the airport office as well as new carpet and paint – little things to improve the airport office.

Everyone is invited to attend the chili feed, pilots and non-pilots alike.


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