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  • May 25, 2021 15:32 | Anonymous

    Rocket fuel scientist, Mary Sherman Morgan, was born in Ray, North Dakota, in 1921. During World War II, she interrupted her studies as a chemistry major at Minot State University to take a job designing explosives at a factory in Ohio. In the 1950s, she began working at the North American Aviation company, which won a contract to formulate a more powerful rocket fuel for the fledgling U.S. effort to launch satellites into orbit. Of the roughly 900 rocket scientists at the company, Morgan, the only woman, was named the technical lead of the project. Her work resulted in Hydyne, a rocket fuel composed of 60 percent unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and 40 percent diethylenetriamine. Hydyne was used for the first stage of America’s first successful satellite launch, Explorer 1, in 1958. Throughout her life, Morgan did not receive much credit for her accomplishments. At her funeral, a former coworker told Morgan’s son that his mother had single-handedly saved America’s space program. George Morgan, a playwright, went on to write a play and a book about his mother. (Photo credit: George Morgan, CC BY 3.0)

    Reproduced from, with the permission of the American Institute of Physics.

  • May 25, 2021 15:26 | Anonymous

    The city commission voted in late April to rename the Mandan Municipal Airport in honor of Jim Lawler. The new name will be the Mandan Regional Airport – Lawler Field.

    Jim Lawler was the face of aviation in Mandan for over 40 years, and passed away last October. When he first started working there as a young man, the Mandan Airport was simply a few dilapidated buildings and an asphalt runway. However, under his guidance, the airport grew to become a thriving hub of North Dakota general aviation. 

    The Mandan airfield is home to a variety of businesses, including an aerial crop-spraying company, two aircraft maintenance facilities, an aviation medical examiner’s office, and multiple flight instructors. Aircraft are housed in the five public hangars and 14 private hangars, and the runway has been upgraded to concrete with LED lights and Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI’s). Other notable additions have been an instrument approach and weather reporting station. This impressive amount of growth, all under Lawler’s direction, is the reason the airport has changed from “municipal” to “regional”. 

    To make the name change happen, the Mandan Airport Authority Board elected a committee. The members include R.D. Reimers, Tom Neigum, a close friend of Lawler, Sharon Lawler, his wife, and current Mandan Airport Manager Lindsay Gerhardt. Dr. Dale Klein, the former Mandan Airport Authority Chairman, was also a part of the committee and presented the proposal to the City Commission at the April meeting. “From the day it was suggested to the board, I was bound and determined to make this happen.” Gerhardt said. “Although, anyone who knew Jim knows he would have protested. It is a testament to how selfless of a man he really was. I’m so proud to have known him and to have had the honor of learning a thing or two from him, in the short time we had together before he passed. There is no one more well-deserving than Jim for this honor.”

    The airport name is already updated on the Mandan City website, but the official name change could take several months after submission to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Once it is approved, online airport information resources will reflect the name change. The airport identifier will also be changed from Y19 to KJLL, which are the syllables in Lawler’s name. Gerhardt explained, “We originally wanted KJIM, but FAA rules prevent identifiers from having two of the same letters within 200 miles of each other. And with Jamestown (KJMS) so near, it was not an option.” The airport identifier will take longer than the airport name to officially change, but once that happens, local pilots will need to schedule a GPS update for their aircraft. The Mandan Airport is actively working to make the transition as smooth as possible.

    Jim and Sharon Lawler

  • May 25, 2021 15:21 | Anonymous

    By Jaden Mitzel

    Last year, I applied for the Flight Training Scholarship paid through the North Dakota Pilot’s Association (NDPA). When I was notified I was a recipient last February, I was so thankful and excited to start my aviation journey. My goal is to earn my private pilot’s license through the Bismarck Aero Center. I am also attending Bismarck State College (BSC) for two years, studying for my Associate of Arts degree. After that, I hope to transfer to the University of North Dakota to continue my education as a corporate pilot. 

    Growing up, I told my mom I wanted to be an astronaut. However, being a pilot has always been something I was also interested in. In high school, I took a couple of aviation classes and worked with a friend’s dad on flight lessons. I loved it! Having this NDPA scholarship, with the dollar-for-dollar match up to $4000, has made it even more affordable for me to reach my goals. It was so awesome being able to take classes and play sports at BSC while simultaneously earning my private pilot’s license.

    I had the privilege of working with Joshua Simmers, the Secretary/Treasurer of the NDPA, on my scholarship arrangements. I appreciate the staff at Bismarck Aero Center; Linda Davis is so helpful and encouraging when I need things, and Ray Brooks has been a fun and amazing flight instructor. I have learned so much and feel this journey prepared me for the next steps I will need to accomplish my dreams! 

    Thank you to the North Dakota Pilot’s Association and to the Bismarck Aero Center for giving me this opportunity! 

    The sky’s the limit!

    Jaden with his CFI, Ray Brooks

    Jaden with his parents.

  • May 25, 2021 15:17 | Anonymous

    by Penny Rafferty Hamilton, Ph.D.

    Using SPRING as the matrix for a quick look at our inspiring aviation history, S-Sierra stands for skilled. Captain John Owen Donaldson, ace of World War I, qualifies. 

    Born in 1897 in Fort Yates, ND, John was the son of General Thomas Donaldson. In 1878, the U.S. Army Post in North Dakota was named to honor Captain George Yates, killed earlier at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In 1917, our aviation hero joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in Canada, before America joined the war. As a RFC pilot, Donaldson destroyed four Fokker D.VII fighters and drove down three others, causing them to crash and making Donaldson an ace. 

    Eventually, the intrepid pilot was shot down and captured by the Germans. The day after his capture, he tried to escape in a German-airplane. But, an alert German sentry bayoneted John in the back. Yet, he still escaped. 

    About a week later, Donaldson was recaptured only to escape again a month later. After WWI, he continued commanding American aero squadrons. Wow. Wouldn’t this story make a great movie? 

    Next is P-Papa for passionate. Just look to the luminaries in the North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame. One passionate member is the late Robert “Bob” Odegaard, born in Kindred, ND. He was an aviation inventor, air show performer and racer, Fargo Air Museum contributor, and much more. 

    R or Romeo is next for record-setting. The world’s fastest pilot hails from Hazen, ND. On July 28, 1976, Eldon W. “Al” Joersz strapped in tightly to his SR-71A Blackbird with fellow aviator, George Morgan, to fly faster than a speeding rifle bullet, setting the world speed record of over 2,193 miles per hour. Mercer County Regional Airport-Al Joersz Field honors this decorated Vietnam combat fighter pilot and aviation legend. 

    I-India is for Inspiring. This leads to Jamestown Municipal Airport, where in 1929, newly married pilot Evelyn Nicholas Burleson landed, after earning her pilot license and barnstorming in Nebraska years earlier. Evelyn and her husband, Howard, ran a flying service at Jamestown from 1931-1937. In 1933, Evelyn became the first woman in North Dakota to earn her transport pilot’s license. She added charter flights to the services out of the airfield. She said, “I used to fly barnstorming shows in North Dakota during the Depression. We used to send an advance man to a town to pick out a field and tack up some posters. Then, we’d hit town on the weekend and put on a couple of shows for the folks. One of our tricks was to toss rolls of toilet paper out of the planes, so they’d unravel all the way down. Well, when we landed, we went back to pick up the toilet paper-but we couldn’t find any. You have to remember how poor everyone was. One lady in the audience picked it all up-a whole month’s supply.” 

    Which brings us to the last letter in spring: G-Golf for Game Changer. In 1933, Bruce Peterson was born in Washburn, ND. He became an aeronautical engineer and a NASA test pilot. As a research pilot, Peterson flew a wide variety of airplanes and suffered many crashes. His unselfish efforts resulted in game changing aeronautical designs. Interestingly, actual film footage from one spectacular Peterson crash landing of a test flight of a M2-F2 was used in the opening credits of the popular television series, The Six Million Dollar Man, starring actor Lee Majors. Almost every week from 1973-1978, Majors portrayed a fictitious former astronaut, U.S. Air Force Colonel Steve Austin. Bruce Peterson was real and logged more than 6,000 flight hours in nearly 70 types of aircraft. 

    North Dakota skies invite you to SPRING forward and make your own aviation history. 

    Mercer County is home to world speed record holder, Al Joersz. Forty-five years ago, he clocked over 2,193 miles per hour SR-71 Blackbird. (NASA photograph)

  • May 25, 2021 15:12 | Anonymous

    Are you interested in maintaining your instrument currency via a certified flight simulator? In 2018, new regulations were introduced allowing instrument-rated pilots to maintain currency by using an Aviation Training Device (ATD), such as a simulator. Here in North Dakota, three local airports have certified flight simulators readily available to the public: Mandan Airport, Mohall Airport, and Hillsboro Airport. 

    The Hillsboro Airport simulator is the most recently completed. We were able to visit with Larry Mueller, the Hillsboro Airport Manager, about their simulator project and what it provides to the local aviation community. 

    The idea for a simulator was discussed for about two years, as interest and demand grew for more opportunities to maintain their instrument currency. “There are no other options that we know of in the eastern half of North Dakota to publicly rent a certified simulator,” Mueller said. “With the amount of demand, we thought this might be a service we could provide at the airport.”

    The simulator can cater to a variety of training needs, but is particularly valuable for instrument training and currency. The Hillsboro Airport project team looked at the population of Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) rated pilots in the region and found Hillsboro to be easily accessible by pilots in the eastern area of the state, as well as others across the Upper Midwest. Mueller shares, “Based on our research, we found no one else in our area with a certified flight simulator for public use.” This allows Hillsboro Airport to offer any Certified Flight Instructors (CFI) or flight schools the opportunity to incorporate the simulator into their training program. Hillsboro is in non-controlled airspace, making it very easy for pilots who want some extra training to practice with a mentor or flight instructor in a less congested area with very limited interruptions.

    Certified flight simulators are not cheap, but the Hillsboro Airport matched criteria that allowed the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission (NDAC) to fund 50% of the project. This included up to a maximum amount of $25,000, and ensuring they had an acceptable business, marketing, and management plans. As Mueller shared, “We had enough people commit to buying time cards locally that we felt our local share of the cost would be covered within three years.” With instrumental help from the Hillsboro Airport Authority and the NDAC, the project transitioned from an idea into reality.

    The certified flight simulator features a variety of aircraft: 

    Archer III (17 panel configurations)

    Arrow IV (17 panel configurations)

    Baron 58 (13 panel configurations)

    Bonanza A36 (13 panel configurations)

    Cessna 172R (17 panel configurations)

    Cessna 172S (17 panel configurations)

    Cessna 182S (17 panel configurations)

    King Air B200 (13 panel configurations)

    Mooney M20J (13 panel configurations)

    Seneca III (13 panel configurations)

    It can simulate com­plete startup, flight, and shut down pro­ce­dures. Pilots can also use it to perform approaches, hold­ing, intercepting and tracking as required under the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Sec­tion 61.57(1) to maintain instrument currency. Modern GPS options, such as a Garmin 430, 650, or 750, are also included.

    Pilots can customize their training with a variety of weather factors, such as varying cloud conditions at selected altitudes, rain, snow, wind, and even turbulence. Instructors can place the plane wherever they wish, and incorporate system failures in flight. The simulator also has bluetooth connectivity compatible with ForeFlight or Garmin Flight. This allows pilots to use their iPad just as they would in their aircraft, with all current IFR charts and publications at their fingertips. “It appears on ForeFlight just as if you were actually in your own airplane.” Mueller adds. “And best of all, it has a pause button. When you find yourself getting in over your head, you can stop and learn from the moment, and then backup or continue. It allows for intense training time.”

    Mueller states the best training that takes place in a simulator usually involves procedures. “It’s not the same as actual flying, so it has its limitations. But for learning procedures where you want to repeat certain processes over and over, a simulator is a great tool and much less expensive than flying a plane.” Additionally, for Visual Flight Rules (VFR) pilots, it can be a great way to practice flying over terrain or areas that are new to you. 

     The Hillsboro Airport team hopes the simulator will be utilized and beneficial to pilots both local and beyond. “This could also be a great tool for incorporating young students into an aviation program at a very affordable price.” says Mueller. “STEM aviation programs are becoming more common in the area high schools, and this could be a great tool to take some of the learning from classrooms and incorporate it into the simulator.” 

    The simulator is open to the public, regardless of where they are located, and can be accessed by anyone who purchases a membership plan. Once approved, it is easy for pilots to access the simulator at their convenience. It’s as simple as reserving a time and showing up! “Keeping current is a key to keeping safe.” Mueller says. “It’s often hard to find safety pilots to ride along when you are ready to fly. The simulator is very affordable and allows you to practice and really learn every piece of your panel and GPS, as well as pausing to think things through on the ground before going up in the air. It allows for a very relaxed state on the ground before doing it in the air.”

    Learn more about maintaining your instrument currency using a local certified flight simulator:

    Hillsboro Airport

    Larry Mueller: (701)430-1642 or

    Don Hanson: (701)430-1250 or

    Mandan Airport

    Marc Taylor: (701)220-0715 or

    Mohall Airport

    Mike Nehringr: (701)263-1008 or

    For more information concerning membership 

    options and costs, go to

  • May 25, 2021 15:05 | Anonymous

    By Ryan Waguespack, Senior Vice President, National Air Transportation Association 

    Business aviation stakeholders from across the globe agree that illegal charter operations significantly increase risk to passengers and can damage the reputation of our industry – collectively making this a priority issue. In response, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) has continued its leadership in working to put an end to the pervasive problem of illegal charter operations through the formation of the Air Charter Safety Alliance. 

    Alliance leaders also concur that, together, this global coalition will amplify existing efforts by NATA and others to raise awareness among potential customers, charter brokers, and national aviation authorities regarding the use of unauthorized aircraft operators for on-demand flights. Since the inception of its Illegal Charter Task Force in June of 2018, NATA staff has met with other associations, regulators, and members on this issue and has provided proven expertise, tools, and resources through its dedicated website –, NATA has worked in coordination with the FAA to help develop and execute a comprehensive outreach strategy including webinars, social media messages, promotion of enforcement actions against illegal charter operations, advertisements, dissemination of guidance for pilots and passengers, and agency safety briefings. The Association is pleased with the progress that is being made through these efforts, but recognizes more must be done. 

    Educated customers, in addition to access to tools that help identify illegal charter operations, will assist in dissuading those seeking to compromise safety for profit. Over the coming months, the Alliance will collect best practices from member associations to create an online platform to maximize the industry’s best tools and resources. The Alliance will also develop and promote several safety programs that assist on-demand charter operators, while continuing to improve their already impressive safety performance. Industry-led programs focusing on Safety Management Systems, flight data recording and safety reporting, along with a focus on safety culture, have aided in bringing greater value to charter operators. 

    Ultimately, the success of NATA and the Air Charter Safety Alliance depends on every operator, aircraft owner, passenger, and governing entity, everywhere. Visit websites such as to find out how you can do your part to stamp out illegal charter operations in North Dakota and elsewhere. 

    If you suspect an illegal charter operation, please report it by calling the hotline (888) 759-3581 or by using the online reporting form at 

  • May 25, 2021 14:52 | Anonymous

    By Ryan Thayer, CEO/Executive Director, Fargo Air Museum

    Hello! My name is Ryan Thayer and I am the CEO/Executive Director at the Fargo Air Museum (FAM). I have been part of aviation since birth, received my solo license at 16, and my private pilot’s license at 18 from UND. My father was my aviation mentor. He was a flight instructor and charter pilot when I was born and transitioned into Air Traffic Control in Fargo, ND. From there he went on to a career in commercial aviation with Republic Airways, Northwest Airlines, and most recently he retired from Delta Air Lines as a 757/767 Captain. Through my father, I found my love and interest for aviation flying, as we were always dreaming and talking about our flying stories.

    Early on in my childhood, ever since I learned to talk, I dreamed of being a pilot. From going to the Fargo and Grand Forks air shows, to flying with my dad, to riding along with him on his Northwest Airlines flights, and even trips to the maintenance hangars, it created an excitement and passion in me for our amazing industry!  

    After high school, I chose to attend the University of North Dakota (UND) to earn an Airline Transport Degree and ratings. Shortly after receiving my private pilot›s license, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place and the airlines stopped hiring and fought just to stay in business. At that point, I decided that it was not the career for me at that time. I transitioned into the Entrepreneurship Program at UND and graduated with a bachelors in Business and a private pilot›s license. Ever since then, I have kept my eyes open for future opportunities to become involved in aviation again. After starting and running many businesses through my career, I found an opening at the Fargo Air Museum looking for a business and marketing specialist to run the Museum as the CEO/Director. It was finally my way back into my love and my passion – aviation!


    Vultee BT-13 Valiant

    Aviation is such an amazing industry, where anyone can come from anywhere and be successful. We need doctors, maintenance technicians, pilots, technology experts, engineers, business and marketing professionals, to name a few. Almost any degree can be a fit for the aviation industry. Education is a large part of what we do at the FAM. From our free camps to our highly interactive Intro to Aviation courses, there is something always going on at the FAM to continue sharing our love and passion for aviation. 

    Our Drone Cage

    Finding a passion in a career is not an easy task for most of us. I was very lucky to have the experiences with my father while growing up. If I were to offer any advice to future students, I would say to follow your heart and your passions and do something you truly love! The path is not always easy, but it›s truly the challenges that help make us who we are in the end. I highly recommend having a goal and a plan to accomplish what you are seeking, but be ready for pivots and changes along the way; it makes the journey exciting and fun. 

    Here at the FAM, we are always looking for ways to engage our guests and to create interactive and memorable experiences. We are hard at work planning a very busy and exciting summer. The events we are hosting include: 

    The First Annual Aviation Career Expo in partnership with the NDAA - May 14

    An Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Fly-In - May 15

    Our annual Golf Tournament - June 21

    The Fargo AirSho - July 24-25

    Our monthly Veterans Coffee Hour - the second Wednesday of each month

    Our Youth Camp - three times each month

    Lastly, we have also been working hard on securing new aircraft into the museum with a potential North American F-86 Sabre, Northrop F-5E, Stinson Reliant Gull-wing, Pietenpol Air Camper, and a Grumman J2F Duck. 

    We are also adding interactive exhibits with a Drone Flight Experience Exhibit, where guests fly drones at the FAM as well as in an advanced virtual reality-based Flight Simulator Lab, modeled after the UND’s lab. FAM guests can try their hand at one of the most realistic flight experiences out there. 

    Stinson Gull-Wing Project

    For more information about our upcoming events or to check out the museum, visit

  • May 25, 2021 14:43 | Anonymous

    By Nicole Ingalls-Caley, Northern Plains UAS Test Site

    As the build out of Vantis’ key site locations nears completion and the first stages of testing are on the horizon, it is important to make sure North Dakota’s statewide Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) network is understood and supported by the communities it hopes to serve. In February of this year, we hosted several events in Williston and Watford City to answer questions from local manned aviation pilots, as well as community members. 

    Vantis is designed to open the sky to North Dakotans with safe integration of manned and unmanned aircraft. We want to make sure that our friends and neighbors understand its value to them, and we want to give them the opportunity for input. 

    Vantis Lunch-and-Learn at Roughrider Center

    Community Lunch and Learns

    The goal with these community outreach events was to provide a basic overview of what Vantis actually is, in technical terms, but also to discuss the less technical hopes and aspirations we have for Vantis. 

    In simple terms, Vantis is a network of technologies that allow a UAS pilot to “see” the remotely piloted vehicle even when it’s left their physical line of sight. More than that, it will allow pilots to see from the vantage point of the UAS, or drone. Currently, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights are not allowed without a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which can be both time and resource intensive to obtain. 

    But when we think about the ways in which UAS can improve our lives – improved prescription delivery to elderly, rural residents; faster, more efficient emergency response and search and rescue efforts; faster turnaround on medical tests from larger labs, leading to more immediate treatment; the return of electric or internet services following a blizzard or thunderstorm; infrastructure inspections that are safer for the inspectors and keep life and commerce running smoothly – most of this requires BVLOS flights. 

    By obtaining a waiver for BVLOS flights on Vantis, we provide a single network for multiple users to access many of these life-changing use cases with a lower barrier of entry. In terms of UAS capabilities, Vantis is the holy grail.  

    We wanted to make sure community leaders in Williston and Watford City understood that while Vantis is being heralded as a major technological advancement and a driver of economic development, its value comes from what it enables for North Dakotans. 

    In Williston, our Lunch and Learn was graciously hosted by Williston Economic Development at TrainND Northwest, a division of Williston State College. In Watford City, we were hosted at the Roughrider Center by McKenzie County Economic Development. Both events garnered interest from community leaders, as well as members of the community looking to learn more about Vantis. We were impressed by the range of questions we received and how excited everyone seemed about Vantis’ potential.

    Vantis Pilot Meeting at Overland Aviation Hangar

    Manned Aviation Community Discussions

    The community discussions were designed to be open conversations between manned and unmanned aviation professionals. We are aware that UAS innovation and integration into the National Airspace System (NAS) can create a lot of questions for manned aviation pilots. We were looking to explain how UAS would function in this region once Vantis is complete, as well as to get feedback from manned pilots on how we can ease this transition. 

    We shared a bit about how Vantis works on a technical level, and then dove into how UAS flights on Vantis would affect manned flights in the region. We received questions about how manned pilots could make themselves aware of unmanned flights in the area on a given day and about a dedicated frequency that could be used to communicate with UAS pilots flying in the area. As is common in the aviation industry, safety was the top concern on everyone’s list. 

    One of the biggest things we wanted to communicate was that Vantis aims to be as non-disruptive to manned aviation as possible. UAS flying on Vantis will give way to manned aircraft. We are responsible for being aware of manned aircraft in the airspace in order to detect and avoid. So even if a manned pilot is unaware of flights on Vantis, we are aware of them, and we are ensuring that manned and unmanned aircraft can share airspace safely. 

    It is important to note that receiving a waiver from the FAA allowing BVLOS flights on Vantis will be predicated upon making an impeccable safety case. We have a number of internal criteria that must be met before any flights on Vantis can take place, and they must be met through a rigorous testing process before we move forward. 

    We are building what amounts to public infrastructure; we would never sacrifice public trust in that infrastructure in order to move a bit faster. Like our manned aviation counterparts before us, we are committed to pairing innovation with unwavering safety protocols. 

    In Williston, this meeting was held at Overland Aviation, while in Watford City we were once again at the Roughrider Center. 

    Vantis Radar Install at Williston Basin Airport

    More than Just a Network 

    Since the Northern Plains UAS Test Site was entrusted to administer the creation of Vantis with a significant state investment in this technical infrastructure, we have spent a lot of time talking about what Vantis is. How does Vantis work? Is it like a highway or like a cell phone network or a little like both? Why is it necessary? Why can’t drones fly beyond visual line of sight anyway? Who will use Vantis? What will be the benefit to the state in terms of economic development? Why invest in UAS at all? 

    Those are important questions, of course. But we also think it’s important to talk about the very real impact expanded UAS capabilities will have on the lives of people who have never given aviation, much less drones, more than a second thought. 

  • May 25, 2021 14:36 | Anonymous


    Scott Nelson’s art of an Israeli 109, signed by Leon Frankel.

    By Scott Nelson

    As Leon Frankel sat strapped into the German fighter airplane, he thought to himself, “What’s a nice Jewish boy from Minot, ND, doing here?”

    Leon had been in the service during World War II and came back a decorated U.S. Navy pilot. After spending some time in Minneapolis, MN, after the war, Leon jumped at the opportunity to open a car and truck dealership in Minot, ND, called Capital Motors.

    After the war, everyone wanted to buy a car and with the booming post-war farm economy, the farmers needed trucks. Frankel would order trucks and put grain boxes on them. Red trucks were the most popular, Leon remembered. Business was good, Leon was making lots of money, had his own place and several girlfriends. Life couldn’t have been better.

    It was then that Leon got “the phone call”. The man on the phone identified himself as Steve Schwartz. Would Leon consider coming to the aid of Israel in their time of need? The new country of Israel was in desperate need of trained combat pilots and was reaching out to the veterans of the just-ended war. Leon told Schwartz he would have to think about it. After several days of thinking about the holocaust and the death camps that had come to light in Germany, Leon thought if he didn’t help, he would never be able to live with himself. Leon asked Schwartz what kind of plane he would be flying. Schwartz said he couldn’t tell him, but they would be just as good as what the enemy had. This, as it turned out, was a big lie!

    The U.S. government frowned on its citizens going to Israel to fight; in fact, it was highly illegal!  

    A story was concocted that Leon had to get to Italy to stop the marriage of his brother and bring him back home. Once out of the country, Frankel diverted to Czechoslovakia to learn to fly fighters being sold to Israel.

    There was an arms embargo against the newly formed state of Israel, in an effort to avoid another full-blown war. Israel’s Arab neighbors were well-equipped with aircraft. The only country Israel could find to sell them fighter aircraft was cash-starved Czechoslovakia, who bought them at highly inflated prices.   

    During World War II, the Germans built a factory in Czechoslovakia to produce the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter plane; however, the war ended before production could begin. The Czechs were left with the factory as a spoil of war and decided to produce the plane as their own, renaming the Avia S-199. There was a problem, however: the warehouse that contained the Daimler-Benz DB 605 engines was destroyed by a fire. Another warehouse contained Junkers Jumo 205 engines, plus props destined for the Heinkel HE 111 bomber. The ill-suited Jumo engines and large paddle propellers were fitted onto the 109s, which was like putting a truck engine into a sports car and resulted in extremely poor handling.

    Leon had flown the Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber in the U.S. Navy. Flying the 109 was a whole new ball game! The Czechs nicknamed the 109 the Mezik, meaning Mule, because it was such a stubborn machine to fly. These planes didn’t even have a fuel gage, just a red light that would turn on if you were running low on fuel. If the light came on, you may have only had five to 15 minutes left. They didn’t have the right machine guns to go with this plane, so they mickey-moused another type under the cowling. Every time they were fired, the pilots prayed they didn’t shoot off their own propeller. They also had 20 mm cannons in pods under the wings.

    The fighters were dismantled, loaded into Douglas C-54 Skymaster transports, flown to Israel, and reassembled just in time.

    When Israel declared independence, they were immediately attacked by their Arab neighbors. Egyptian leaders had told their army that Israel had no military aircraft. The Egyptian Army was within miles of overrunning the Israeli capital, when the newly arrived 109 fighters strafed the column and so demoralized the Egyptians that they were forced to turn back.

    The Egyptians were flying Supermarine Spitfires, bought from the British, and the rumor was that some were flown by ex-German pilots. The irony was not lost on the Israeli pilots. Jews flying German 109s against Germans flying British Spitfires.

    Frankel flew against Arab air and ground forces as his targets. He also flew very dangerous aerial reconnaissance missions over enemy fortifications in Egypt and Jordan, all alone with no escort.

    On his last mission, over the Negev desert, Frankel saw another 109 pursuing an Egyptian Spitfire. The pilot was Rudy Augarten, a former World War II Republic P-47 Thunderbolt pilot. They were flying toward Leon as Rudy was shooting big junks off the Spitfire. Leon then saw another Spitfire below him, heading his way. Frankel flipped over and chased it, but it had gotten too far ahead of him.

    At this point, the red light came on. Leon was lucky to catch sight of a friendly airfield at Ekron and landed. As they were refueling the plane, Leon noticed some oil dripping from the engine. He pointed it out to one of the mechanics who tightened some screws, declared it fixed, and gave the thumbs up sign. Frankel took off and headed back to base.

    After several minutes, the engine started to run rough and Leon noticed the oil gage was reading zero. He tapped the gage, in case the needle was stuck, but the needle did not budge. Soon, the cockpit started filling with smoke and Leon looked for a place to put down. Bailing out of these planes was not a good idea, so he decided to crash-land. Frankel hit the ground hard, but other than some scrapes and bruises he escaped uninjured. 

    Leon started walking, not knowing if he was in Israel or Jordan. In the distance, he saw a truck loaded with soldiers headed his way. Surrender was not an option. Other pilots shot down behind enemy lines had been tortured to death. Frankel had a 38 pistol with six shots. He planned to fire five shots and save the last for himself. As the truck got closer, he was much relieved to hear them hollering in Hebrew. Frankel was rescued! When Leon got back to his base, there was a 109 burning on the runway. The pilot, one of Leon’s close friends, had been killed in a landing accident. 

    The next day, at the funeral, Frankel lost feeling in his legs and arms and collapsed. He was hospitalized for several days and recovered, but decided to pack it in. New pilots were coming in and the crisis was over. It was time to go home. Frankel had flown 25 missions for Israel, ironically the same number of missions he had flown in the U.S. Navy.  

    Getting home to the U.S. was not easy for Leon, as fighting for Israel could mean losing his citizenship. He was stopped at passport control in New York and interrogated all night. Leon claimed he had been going to school in Italy, but his suitcase was full of pictures of him standing beside airplanes in Israel. Finally, by morning, the authorities told him to tell the truth or he was going to jail. Leon replied, “Go ahead, put me in jail, at least I can get some sleep.” With that, the authorities told him to get the hell out of there and released him.

    Leon Frankel ended up living in Minnesota, was married, and had two children. He passed away in 2015.

    Author’s note:  

    I had the opportunity to talk to Leon several times on the phone and once in person at the Fargo Air Museum. He had flown with Stew Bass in the U.S. Navy and had come to Fargo, ND, to see Stew for the first time since World War II. Leon flew the Avenger torpedo bomber and like Stew, received the Navy Cross for helping sink the Japanese cruiser Yahagi. Stewart Bass volunteered many years at the Fargo Air Museum, and also passed away in 2015.

  • May 25, 2021 14:22 | Anonymous

    Congratulations to the North Dakota winners of the 2021 International Aviation Art Contest.

    The theme for this years contest was “A Friendlier World with Air Sports.” Information for the 2022 contest will be posted on the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission website in the fall. Youth ages 6-17 are encouraged to submit artwork.

    1st Place Intermediate

    Kate Barnick, Edgeley Public School

    2nd Place Intermediate

    Esther Sprenger, Elgin - New Leipzig Elementary

    3rd Place Intermediate

    Mckenna Cook, Edgeley Public School

    1st Place Junior

    Afton Olson, Elgin - New Leipzig Elementary

    2nd Place Junior

    Martina Prudente, Elgin - New Leipzig Elementary

    3rd Place Junior

    Daisy Sabin, Elgin - New Leipzig Elementary

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