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Winsted pilot retires after nearly 60 years in aviation
Dec. 5, 2016

By Starrla Cray
Associate Editor

WINSTED, MN – The past 57 years have flown by fast for Winsted’s Glenn Weibel.

That’s how long he’s been in the aviation industry, a career he retired from Oct. 31.

“I’ve had some very high highs in aviation,” Weibel said. Some included attending jet school at age 62, serving on numerous airport advisory boards, and flying to places like Paris, Germany, Alaska, and Acapulco.

“I can’t describe the adrenaline, sitting at 45,000 feet, looking down at mountains and vast valleys – it’s fantastic,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate; better than I deserve.”

Weibel’s aviation career didn’t take off easily, though.

He joined the military at 17, with dreams of becoming a helicopter pilot. However, when he turned 21 (the earliest age for helicopter training at that time) and took the flight exam, he was denied due to his need for eyeglasses.

Undeterred, Weibel pursued a different path in aviation, and was hired by North Central Airlines Nov. 1, 1959 as a station agent, loading and unloading aircraft.

“When I started, they had 32 DC-3s and three Convair 340s,” he said. “When I left the airline, they were into turbo props – Convair 580s, and jet aircraft – DC-9s.”

His next job involved managing an international travel office for AAA. In 1970, Weibel signed up as an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He was later promoted to a supervisor position there.

“Then, one day at work, I got a phone call that my brother had been killed here in Winsted in a farm accident,” Weibel said. “That’s when I said, ‘I’m going to quit the FAA and I’m going to try to get a flying job . . . . I’d always wanted to do it, so I was going to do it.”

He became the operations manager of the flight department for US Bank, which had three crew bases and about 13 pilots out of St. Paul.

Weibel later worked for a company called S&T Food Specialty for about seven years, until the company was sold. The airplane was taken over by a flight management company, and Weibel flew with them for about four years.

“From about 2007 to 2016, I flew out of Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie,” Weibel said, adding that he also flew part time at airports in Anoka, Crystal, St. Paul, and Lakeville.

Grounded in service

When Weibel wasn’t flying, airplanes were still on his mind. He served as chairman of the Reliever Airports Advisory Council (RAAC) for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, advising six airports in the metro area.

“Now, I’m vice chair of that group,” Weibel said. “I also chair the Downtown St. Paul Airport Advisory Council for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and the City of St. Paul.”

Along the way, Weibel served as treasurer of Leon Township in Goodhue County for 17 years, as well as mayor and city council member of Cannon Falls. He was also chairman of the Cannon Falls Hospital District for several years, was co-chair of the Minnesota Association of Townships, served as an auxiliary police reserve member, and was a training coordinator for the volunteer ambulance services of Goodhue and Wabasha counties.

“I was a certified EMT, and also helped run ambulances,” Weibel said, adding with a laugh that he also “took vacation occasionally.”

Weibel makes time for faith, too, and he has served on numerous church boards.

“I wanted to go to the seminary high school, and my parents at the time said, ‘no, finish high school, then go to seminary,’” Weibel recalled. “But by then, aviation bit me.”

Although Weibel never became an ordained minister, he has been asked to give mini sermons at funerals and community events.

“I did a sermonette for my former mother-in-law when she passed away,” Weibel said. “When it was over, I was asked if I was ordained and on the call list.”

Sadly, Weibel has had to attend funerals for many family members through the years. An especially difficult one was that of his son, Sean, who was killed in a helicopter accident June 23, 1994.

“It was a terrible summer,” Weibel recalled, explaining that in April that year, his wife suffered a stroke that nearly took her life.

The one silver lining later that summer was the birth of Weibel’s grandson, who was named after his late father.

Weibel describes his grandson, Sean, as a “carbon copy” of his father, in features and mannerisms. Both blonde with blue eyes, Weibel said it’s virtually impossible to tell their high school graduation pictures apart.

Staying young into retirement

Weibel is looking forward to spending more time with his kids and grandkids now that he’s retired.

“It’s a full-time job,” he laughed.

He’s also looking to buy a plane, but he’s not rushing into anything. In the meantime, he’s content being part of various aviation clubs, and hopes to do more flying for people who need planes transported to different states.

“I’ve enjoyed aviation immensely, and time went by so fast,” Weibel said.

Despite his decades of life experience, Weibel has managed to stay surprisingly young.

He noted that he hasn’t turned 60 yet, explaining that “I recently celebrated the 19th anniversary of my 59th birthday.”

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