Sunday, August 11, 2013

Upgrades to increase airport's importance to Coshocton region: Richard Downing (I40), Ohio

Jim Karas fuels a visiting plane at the Richard Downing Airport in Coshocton. New fuel trucks allow easier fueling for planes, and the airport prides itself on offering some of the lowest aviation gas prices in the state. 

COSHOCTON — Improvements in the past 10 years have elevated the economic importance of the Richard Downing Airport in Coshocton County.

A new terminal building in 2003 and expansion of the runway to 5,001 feet from 4,100 feet completed in 2010 have increased traffic from about 12,500 aircraft per year to about 18,000 aircraft in 2012. Administrator Bethel Toler said a bulk of the increase has been from corporate jets.

Richard Downing Airport has always been a general aviation airport catering to small planes and private fliers. However, with the expanding global marketplace, Toler said more executives are flying to outlying facilities for business.

Toler said an economic impact study about 10 years ago had the airport responsible for about $27 million to the local economy, and he would guess that number has gone up because of increased corporate use.

“Maybe 10 to 15 years ago, (airports) weren’t that important, but now they are,” he said. “If people own a business, they’re not going to be from around here, they’re going to be out of state. That’s the way they get around. They don’t want to drive; they want to fly.”

Coshocton Port Authority Director Dorothy Skowrunski said studies show 85 percent of new or expanding businesses are located within 15 miles of an airport capable of handling jet aircraft.

She said almost all the businesses she talks with place airport access as a top priority. That becomes even more important as the oil and gas industry looks to increase hydraulic fracturing in the county in the next few years, she added.

Airport offerings

Edward Farnham, of Medina, often stops at the Coshocton airport when doing recreational flying in his Beechcraft Bonanza.

“I’ve always received great service here. I don’t mind pumping the fuel myself, like other airports have you do, but why not go somewhere where they do it for you and it’s cheaper,” he said.

Toler said the airport is usually among the cheapest on fuel prices in the state. He said they try to keep their profit margins lower than larger airports to draw in recreational fliers. Currently, gas is about $5.56 a gallon for 100LL Avgas, or standard plane fuel, at the airport, with a nickel discount per gallon for people paying in cash.

The price also is guaranteed daily on the airport’s website, which Toler said other airports don’t do. They have fuel trucks instead of stationary fuel stations, which a lot of general aviation airports don’t have, Toler said. That makes fueling quicker and more convenient, which also appeals to corporate jets, he said.

According to the website, the average price of 100LL fuel in the northeastern United States is $6.62 a gallon. Standard fuel prices per gallon at nearby airports include $6.53 at the Zanesville Municipal Airport, $5.87 at the Knox County Airport and $5.60 at Harry Clever Field in New Philadelphia. The website lists the Carroll County Airport as the cheapest nearby at $5.47 a gallon, but it’s self-serve only and has just a 4,300-foot runway.

Along with fueling, the airport also offers maintenance and repairs through Missionary Maintenance Services. The nonprofit organization trains mechanics for work on planes used in Christian missionary work. MMS leases land for its buildings from the airport.

MedFlight has a landing pad there, and Toler said the airport has a portable helicopter pad for the main apron.

Toler also gives flying lessons. He currently has two students.

Having a modern terminal building also is an attraction for pilots, he said. The terminal offers a lobby with televisions and couches, a conference room, a pilot’s lounge, a pilot’s shower, bathrooms and a kitchen area.

“This building has really added to the business aspect for the county and for (the airport),” Toler said. “We had some NetJets users in here for the first time the other day, and they couldn’t believe it. They said they thought they were coming into some little country airport. They said they’d like to come back.”

The airport offers rental car service through Mission Auto Connection. It has a car and van for general use as well for the cost of $5. The airport has four part-time workers, with Toler as the only full-time employee. There is no cost for airplanes flying in and parking.

There also is an outside deck area, which recently became home to The Depot’s Patio Grill. Owners of The Depot Restaurant & Pub in Dresden are offering barbecue and other food on weekends.

Another main attraction is the Coshocton Airport Amphitheater directly across from the terminal building. The venue is in its third season and hosts about five shows per summer. The next event will be the Crowtown Country Fest on Aug. 24, with Marty Stuart, the Kentucky Headhunters and Johnny Hiland.

The venue is governed by its own board and committees and is maintained through donations. It seats about 2,500 people.

The other main attraction bringing nonfliers to the airport is the Wings Over Coshocton Air Show, returning Sept. 21 after a three-year hiatus. Toler said public and business support and response has led to its return after the Great Recession put the event, which features numerous stunt fliers, on the back burner. He said the most recent air show, in 2010, drew about 9,000 spectators.

Coshocton County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Jan Myers said events at the Coshocton Airport Amphitheater and the Wings Over Coshocton Air Show also help to increase the facility’s profile with travelers.

“In my mind, events are a foot in the door,” Myers said of the air show and amphitheater acts. “They hopefully get people to say, ‘Hey, we need to come back here and spend some time.’ ”

Dal Donovan, retired president of Jones Metal and an aviation enthusiast, will serve as grand marshal of the air show.

“I think (the airport) is the most important thing Coshocton has. It’s a tremendous asset. There’s a lot of small towns that don’t have anything like this beautiful building or runway,” he said.

Airport history and improvements

The Coshocton County Regional Airport Authority was created in 1965. The estate of Richard Downing, a Cleveland businessman and aviation enthusiast, donated 324 acres for airport construction. A runway, taxiway and parking apron were built with a $100,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation. The airport opened in 1969.

Major renovations began in 2002, with a new aircraft apron, extension of the access road and lighting. The new terminal, gas main installation and security fencing came the next year. The runway expansion was done in two phases in 2009 to 2010. Since 1968, more than $9.7 million in federal, state and local funding has gone into the airport.

The runway expansion allows the Gulf Stream 2 to be the largest airplane the airport can accept for landing and takeoff. The old apron was able to hold only about eight airplanes, while the new apron can hold about 27, depending on size.

Toler said the next project is to build a hanger for overnight parking of corporate jets and purchase of a deicing pad. He said the hangar would be used mainly in the winter to keep planes out of the elements, and the deicer would allow them to be ready more quickly for takeoff in the mornings. He said the project estimate is about $400,000 and that the airport is looking for grant funding.

Economic Impact

Toler said some additions, such as a conference room, were done with an eye for corporations.

He said local businesses often use it for meetings with executives who fly in from out of town and some oil and gas representatives also have used it recently.

“We wanted this specifically for business because it attracts other businesses to want to come in,” Toler said.

The big drive to appeal to businesses has been the runway expansion. Toler said executives with RockTenn; AK Steel; McWane Inc., which owns Clow Water Systems; and Voltaren in Newcomerstown, among others, have started using the airport with the runway expansion. NetJets and Exec Jets also have become frequent airport users.

Toler said last year a corporate executive from Washington, D.C., flew in for a business meeting with Organic Technologies one morning and flew out to make another meeting back in Washington, D.C., by 1:30 p.m. that afternoon.

“They really couldn’t come in until we had (the runway expansion). They had to go into Zanesville or Columbus and then drive in,” Toler said of executives on corporate jets.

Skowrunski said other port authority directors in the region have expressed envy of the business potential the runway expansion offers Coshocton. She said many counties are looking to expand their airport runways to handle increased traffic from oil and gas companies especially.

“Even though we’re a small community, we want to be represented globally,” she said. “For site selection, that’s the first thing (companies) are looking at — how close are you to airports and interstates.”

Myers said corporate personnel coming in might not be considered tourism to some, but anytime someone comes in from outside the area and spends money, it’s tourism.

“Corporate tourism is huge in bigger cities. It’s a smaller piece of the pie here, but it’s still a piece of it,” she said. “If they’re spending the night here, eating here, it’s tourism.”

Myers said she doesn’t have exact numbers, but she knows many traditional tourists fly into Coshocton for festivals and other recreational activities. She said the low fuel prices encourages fliers to come in, and some will grab lunch at a local restaurant or play a round of golf at a local course before flying out again.

“Some of these pilots just fly around to different towns to eat. It’s part of the appeal of going somewhere,” she said. “Any type of transportation bringing people into our community is a positive thing.”

Airport History and Milestones

• 1965: The Coshocton County Regional Airport Authority was created.
• 1967: The CCRAA received 324 acres of reclaimed strip mine land from the heirs of Richard Downing. Downing was a Cleveland businessman and aviation enthusiast who founded the Downing Coal Co. in 1930.
• 1968: Peabody Coal Co. donated earthwork valued at $62,400 to level the site to be suitable for airport construction. The Ohio Department of Transportation gave a $100,000 grant for construction of a runway, taxiway and aircraft parking apron.
• 1969: The Richard Downing Airport was licensed and opened to the public.
• 1971: ODOT issued a $50,000 grant for construction of a terminal building.
• 1977: The aircraft parking apron was expanded with $230,000 in funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.
• 1983: A taxiway was constructed from the apron to the south end of the runway with $685,170 in FAA funding.
• 2001: An Automated Weather Observing System was installed with $166,667 in FAA and local funding.

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Richard Downing Airport (I40), Coshocton, Ohio

Kasey Spang serves customers at The Depot's Patio Grill at the Richard Downing Airport in Coshocton. Rick and Sherry Spragg, owners of The Depot Restaurant & Pub in Dresden, took over the space after the owners of Limburg's Patio Grill, Scott and Cynthia Limburg, decided to retire.

COSHOCTON — Owners of The Depot Restaurant & Pub in Dresden have brought their popular smokehouse barbecue meats into Coshocton County with the recent opening of The Depot’s Patio Grill at the Richard Downing Airport.

Rick and Sherry Spragg took over the restaurant after the owners of Limburg’s Patio Grill, Scott and Cynthia Limburg, decided to retire.

“I’m really surprised at how many people come up to the airport to watch the airplanes,” Rick said.

Known for their beef brisket, ribs and pulled pork, Rick said their barbecue is made using a blend of apple, cherry and pecan wood pellets.

“We cook it low and slow, the way barbecue is supposed to be cooked,” he said. “I also make my own rub and barbecue sauce, and we’re unique in that way.”

Complimenting the main dishes are Sherry’s own recipes for coleslaw, cheesy potatoes and baked beans.

The couple opened The Depot Restaurant & Pub in June 2008. Opening in Coshocton and creating three jobs, the new location exposes the Spraggs to a clientele different from those who frequent their Dresden restaurant.

“We get a lot of people just fly in to get fuel and have lunch,” he said. “No one’s in a hurry when they come up there. It’s all outside seating, and it’s just a nice relaxing atmosphere. On Sunday afternoons, we get families come up after church, and they bring their kids.”

In addition to the barbecue, the menu includes 1⁄3-pound hamburgers, ¼-pound hot dogs, salads, fries and Velvet brand ice cream.

On special steak and all-you-can-eat fish nights Saturday and Friday, respectively, the main dish is served with select sides, a drink and dessert for $14.

While not open year-round, Rick hopes the weather permits the business to remain in operation through October.

“It will be beautiful up there with the fall foliage as long as the weather holds out,” he said.

Column: More questions about medical helicopters

Some stories just won’t die. The one about $22,000 to $32,000 medevac helicopter flights since Carilion Clinic switched contractors in 2012 is one.

Every day I’m getting calls and emails and letters from readers. Some fear if they’re airlifted they’ll face huge debts they can’t pay, because the contractor, Med Trans Air Medical Transport, has no agreements with Virginia insurers and bills patients for the balance their insurance won’t cover.

Others are continuing to call and write with other questions, information and their personal experiences. So here’s some more about that still-broadening story, in a question-and-answer format.

Q: Can I refuse medical transport by helicopter?

A: There are two different answers to that one, and they don’t exactly jibe.

One come from Charles Drummond, a Vietnam vet who lives in Franklin County. It arose in April 2010, when Drummond, then 65, suffered what felt like severe indigestion while spreading mulch in his Glade Hill yard. He went to the emergency room of Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital.

Drummond still isn’t clear whether he was in midst of having a heart attack or close to having one. He said he was there for three to four hours while doctors there did some tests. They told Drummond he had blockages in some cardiac arteries, he said.

Then, “they told me that they were going to airlift me to Roanoke. I told them, ‘No, I did not want to go by helicopter.’ ”



Michigan State University to Federal Aviation Administration: All university money is 'public money'

A State of Michigan-owned Beechcraft Super King Air worked on in a hangar at the Michigan Department of Transportation Aeronautics Administration Air Transport Terminal facility near the Capital Region International Airport May 20, 2013.   (Lansing State Journal| Rod Sanford)

Documents MSU sent to FAA 

In assisting with a federal investigation into how Michigan’s state-owned planes are used, finance officials at Michigan State University say all money held in university accounts — even if it comes from self-funded, donor-heavy programs such as athletics — is considered “public money.”

MSU’s explanation was revealed in documents it sent the Federal Aviation Administration last month, which were obtained by the Lansing State Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Since early June, the Federal Aviation Administration has been investigating the Michigan Department of Transportation after the State Journal published articles about the state planes, how they’re used and who rides in them. One story explained how MSU head men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, head football coach Mark Dantonio and other athletics officials use the planes for recruiting trips. MSU is not a target of the investigation.

Federal Aviation Administration officials don’t comment on open investigations, and their review was still ongoing as of Friday. The FAA is responsible for all civilian aviation in the United States, including safety regulations and certifying the use of aircraft.

MDOT documents sent to the FAA in early July suggested the FAA has two concerns: that the MSU Athletics Department isn’t eligible to use the state planes because it is a self-sustaining division of the university and doesn’t use general fund dollars, and that MDOT erred by not obtaining a certificate to provide services for hire outside state government.

MDOT aviation officials deny any wrongdoing. However, MDOT said it is denying any flight requests from universities, pending the outcome of the FAA’s investigation.

MSU officials assisted in the probe by providing explanatory information about the university’s financial operations and nearly 200 pages of invoices, passenger lists and canceled checks, documents show.

The paperwork covered nearly 70 flights taken by MSU employees between January 2012 and April 2013. Although the majority of flights were taken by officials in the Athletics Department, the documents show the university’s central finance office paid for each trip.

“As a public body, all money held in the university’s accounts is considered public money,” MSU Treasurer and Vice President for Finance Mark Haas wrote in a letter to the FAA.

“The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is not separate from the institution nor does it maintain its own accounts,” Haas added. “Checks used to pay for all travel on MDOT planes are the same, regardless of the department of the university initiating the travel.”

MSU spokesman Jason Cody said last week the university has not had any further correspondence with the FAA since providing its response on July 10. He said the university doesn’t expect to hear anything more from the federal agency but will continue to assist it if needed.

MDOT makes its four passenger planes available to all state employees and employees of Michigan's 15 four-year public universities who can justify the cost of traveling in them for work purposes. Any university, or state department for that matter, that uses the planes, including MSU, reimburses MDOT for the expense of operating the flights, a practice which conforms with federal regulations.

But state-owned aircraft, such as Michigan’s passenger planes, cannot — under federal law — be used as transportation for hire outside government. Aircraft used for commercial purposes must have certification.

If the FAA were to find that MSU is outside the scope of state government, it would would make the university’s flights “commercial” in nature and require MDOT to have proper certification.

Documents MSU sent to FAA

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Airport plans promotion: George R. Carr Memorial Air Field (KBXA), Bogalusa, Louisiana

Bogalusa Airport Manager Louis Busby shows off the new runway lights that were just installed to replace the old, less efficient halogen lights including the one under his foot.
Photo Courtesy/Credit DAILY NEWS/Marcelle Hanemann

Business is picking up at Bogalusa’s George Carr Memorial Airport, and now the city is working to attract others by inviting aviators from hundreds of miles around to stop in for breakfast so it can show off some recent improvements with a demonstration of hospitality. 

A Flapjack Fly-In will take place from 8 a.m. through noon on Saturday, Aug. 31. Pilots and passengers will be treated to a breakfast of pancakes, sausage, red gravy and biscuits, and beverages.

While they’re on-site they can check out the recently renovated terminal, which includes a pilot’s lounge complete with satellite TV and recliners, plus a weather computer, maps and more. They’ll also see the just-completed taxiway and the recently installed landing lights.

While they’re in town, the visitors will additionally get a heads-up about Bogalusa attractions and events.

“We’re trying to get more activity here at the airport, more activity with general aviation,” said Airport Manager Louis Busby. “Pilots can come in and talk to one another and get to know what we have here. Even if there’s not a big turnout, this is how we start. Then it’s word of mouth. They go back home and talk about us.”

Busby said he sent email invitations to flyers within a 300 mile radius of the airport, and that Louisiana Aviation, a hub for aviators, put the information on its website and Facebook page, where it got close to 800 likes in just a couple of days.

The Bogalusa airport has been gaining attention for a while, Busby said.

“Word is already out,” he said. “People come in and say they love our terminal building and compliment our runway.”

A new courtesy car enables pilots to run into town to have a meal, shop or even find a place to spend the night, thus helping the local economy while assisting tired, curious or weather-weary flyers. Busby said the car has already seen considerable use.

In one case, four planes from a Texas college flight school touched down while on their way “up north” for a competition.

“They were battling the weather,” Busby said. “I told them they could stay here, take the courtesy car and go to a hotel. I don’t want pilots to feel they have to go when they’re tired or the weather is bad.

“They taxied out and the bottom fell out. They came back in, checked the weather computer and said it was a short band and they’d wait it out, then go.”

By then it was late, and as Busby headed out the door he gave them his card and told them to call if they changed their mind.

“I just got home and sat down when the phone rang,” he said. “I went back, gave them the car key and the address of a hotel. They stayed the night and left very early the next morning in good weather. They left a note. They’d tried to pay me for coming back in, but I told them I was happy to come back and help.”

Such beyond-the-call-of-duty assistance is surely noticed. So are the airport’s increasing material attributes.

The latest changes include two pairs of LED Runway End Identifier Lights that were just installed to replace old halogen lights at the north and south ends of the runway, Busby said. A new digital radio controller allows pilots to turn the lights on, or to adjust their intensity, from their planes, he said.

Busby is ready to tout the airport to anyone who will listen. To check his initial success, look to the skies on the morning of Aug. 31.

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Diabetic pilot flies high for his cause: Participates in flight to raise awareness

Jason Harmon inspects the controls of the airplane he recently flew to and from Wisconsin to attend an airshow. 
Photo Courtesy/Credit  Bill Green

When a lifelong dream could have come to a halt, Monrovia resident Jason Harmon would not let it happen.

Harmon, now 41, wanted to be a pilot ever since he was a young child. He said he specifically hoped to be a military pilot. At age 16 he started taking lessons at Frederick Municipal Airport and he got his private pilot’s license at 17.

It was shortly after he graduated high school that the symptoms started — constant thirst, blurry vision and frequent urination. All of these led to the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, which at the time meant no piloting a plane under any circumstance.

“I was pretty devastated. ... You’re told, ‘You’re not a pilot anymore and you never will be,’” Harmon said.

When it came to his “plan B” career, Harmon turned to another interest: computer programming.

At young age, Harmon was able to start working for the Discovery Channel as a network engineer, where he said he stayed “until the beginning of the dot-com era.”

Harmon then moved on to the company USWeb prior to starting his own healthcare software company, Get Real Health, in 2001.

He said the company works on software to help patients manage chronic conditions including his own.

During all this time, Harmon said the thrill of flying left neither his heart nor his mind.

“I always had a longing to fly again and a hope that someday I’d be able to. It’s a bug that once you get it in your system, it’s hard to get out,” he said.

In the late ’90s, Harmon said he read an article that said pilots with well-controlled diabetes could receive a third class medical certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA.

This would allow these diabetic pilots to be able to fly recreationally or as a flight instructor, but not as a commercial pilot.

“I was surprised and very happy,” said Harmon, who received his certification in 1999.

From there, Harmon said he flew as much as possible and even received instrument ratings that allowed him to fly in inclement weather and in planes with multiple engines. Though he owned a plane at one time, Harmon said he now rents from the Frederick Flight Center.

Under his certification, Harmon said he has to follow specific procedures under the FAA. These procedures involve testing his own blood sugar no more than 30 minutes prior to take off. The results cannot be below 100 or above 300.

Once he takes off, Harmon said he has to re-test every hour while in flight and if his levels drop below 100, he has to take glucose and re-test again in 30 minutes.

“Safety is maintained because we have to test it well before it would get to a dangerous range,” Harmon said.

He said the actual test takes 10 to 15 seconds and takes place while the plane is at a stable cruise.

Harmon said compared to other piloting factors, “Diabetes really is the easiest thing to manage.”

With the success of his career in the software world, Harmon said being a career commercial pilot is no longer a personal goal. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hope for it for those in similar positions of having well-managed Type 1 diabetes.

“I’d like to see that opportunity for those who have shown that they can [fly] safely,” said Harmon, who said he controls his disease through frequent blood sugar testing; managing his diet; getting exercise; and managing his insulin dosage.

To raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or JDRF, and to give hope to other diabetic pilots, Harmon recently participated in the Diabetes Formation Flight for the second year in a row.

The flight involved four pilots — all with well-controlled diabetes — flying in a formation out of Omaha, Neb., to Madison, Wis.

Harmon said they met in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on July 25 and did practice flights over that weekend. The formation flight took place on July 29 and Harmon flew home the next day.

“We were trying to raise awareness of what pilots with well-controlled diabetes could do,” he said.

For the formation flight, Harmon said he had to stay only two wing-spans from the plane he was following. He said they established a speed record of about 115 nautical miles per hour — the equivalent of 131 to 132 land miles per hour.

He said donations for JDRF are still being accepted at

Harmon said he was joined in a Diamond DA-40XLS by co-pilot Taylor Verett of New Jersey, who Harmon said was recently Type 1 diagnosed and awaiting his certification.

Harmon said he was hoping to show young pilots like Verett that “diabetes does not need to limit the scope of your dreams and ambitions.”

He said he expects to see either a cure for Type 1 diabetes or for the FAA to recognize the impeccable safety records of diabetic pilots following FAA medical certificate guidelines.

Harmon said there were about 500 pilots with this certification and many of them would be able to maintain a career as a commercial pilot.

“You can very effectively manage the condition,” he said.

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Coast Guard veteran Larry Rogers loves flying

Larry Rogers, now 66, and his oldest grandson, Ethan, age 4, sit outside an abandoned barn on the prairie-like property near his house. Said Ethan: “When I grow up, I want to join the Coast Guard like you.” 
Photo Courtesy/Credit:  Jennifer Rogers Spinola, Butte County Post

Branch of Service: U.S. Coast Guard 

Years of Service: 1967-1971

Locations Served: South Carolina, Alaska

Quote: “We were flying by the seat of our pants and moonlight on water.”

It was love at first sight.

Many of the folks in Belle Fourche know U.S. Coast Guard veteran Larry Rogers for his gunsmithing skills and jobs at local gun shops like the Buckstop and former Triggers operation, but not everybody realizes his long-standing love affair with planes and flying.

“I worked at the local airport when I was in high school,” said Rogers, a Virginia native who’s been smitten with flying and aircrafts since childhood. “I was the kid who washed and fueled airplanes and traded my money for flying lessons.”

Rogers rented a Piper Colt, among other planes, and was hooked for life.

So hooked, in fact, that when he received his draft notice at the start of the Vietnam War, he joined the Coast Guard instead — and landed a front-and-center spot in the SAR (search and rescue) crew because of his flight experience.

“I liked the mission of the Coast Guard,” said Rogers. ‘They sink ‘em, we save ‘em.’”

Rogers went to New Jersey for boot camp and served a short time in South Carolina in communications, dispatching boats to disabled ships.

He then trained at the Naval Air Training Center in Tennessee, learning both piston engine maintenance and jet engine maintenance — unlike Navy recruits at the center, who were only required to learn one.

After training, he was sent to a remote base on Annette Island, Alaska, which many Coast Guard recruits considered barren, cold, and mind-numbingly isolated.

Rogers, on the other hand, loved the raw, pristine beauty of mountainous Alaska, with its fire-orange sunsets and breathtaking snowcaps — and what he called the “wild, untamed” spirit of the place.

“I spent a lot of time hunting, camping, hiking, and exploring,” he said. “There were no cigarette butts, soda cans, or trash. You’re the only one who’s been there in a hundred years.”

The weather was tough, yes, and the isolation sometimes difficult, but Rogers said, “You learn how to cope.”

“You learn how to dress, how to have fun,” said Rogers. “You make your own fun. I learned to entertain myself there. I read a lot and started a gun collection. It’s what you make of it. Alaska is still the Last Frontier. It’s beautiful. It’s free.”

Rogers served as search and rescue air crewman and co-pilot to begin with, and volunteered for extra air time. “All aviation duty was volunteer,” he said. “I just liked flying so much that I signed up for every airplane going out.”

In between medevacs, searching for lost hunters, and resupplying light houses, Rogers flew search and rescue in what he and others have labeled “the worst weather in the world.” His flights were often in a Sikorsky HH52-A helicopter or an HU16-E Grumman Albatross.

“There’s wind. There’s snow. There’s rain, rain, rain, and you’re flying at night," he said. "The weather changes in a moment from bad to worse. And when people get injured or sick, it seems like the weather’s never good.”

As far as memorable search and rescue missions go, Rogers said he recalls several.

There was the one where a Russian sailor had broken his back, and after making the 60-70-foot hoist, the litter was taken under the deck, leaving the boat still tethered to a helicopter.

There were the calls for “a boat on fire,” which quite often turned out to be nothing more than the midnight sun just over the curve of the horizon, sparkling deep orange-red through the boat windows.

But the one Rogers remembered the best was a medevac on Prince of Wales Island, one of a series of remote islands off the Alaskan archipelago.

The call came in from a new logging camp that Rogers said “wasn’t even on the map.”

A pick-up truck had badly wrecked, leaving a father and two boys (around age 8 and 10) with head injuries and unconsciousness.

And before that, they still had to pick up the local doctor at a second location. That pickup was at the Indian village of Metlakatla on another separate island.

The mission meant taking all of the passengers to the hospital in Juneau. That was a good 200 to 300 miles up the coast.

“And we had to find this place at night,” said Rogers. “It was all visual. Through the clouds, with no aids to navigation. No GPS. We were flying 200 feet off the water and electronic navigation devices on aviation didn’t work at that altitude.”

Rogers called it, with a laugh, flying by “the seat of our pants and moonlight on water.”

The helicopter crew headed to Metlakatla, picked up the doctor, and then started on the west side of Prince of Wales Island to work their way up the heavily-forested coast.

“We came around the point of a mountain and could see another mountain coming up out of the water on the left,” said Rogers.

“On the right, we could see moonlight on water and came up on three pick-ups with their headlights illuminating a man-made gravel bar they had pushed out of the water just so we could land. We landed on that gravel bar. And again, all of this at night,” he said.

After the father was sedated and both unconscious boys stabilized, the mother and grandmother wanted to go along to the hospital, too. That meant that Rogers and the crew had no time for last-minute weight calculations whatsoever. They just had to take off and pray.

Rogers spent his time in Alaska doing similar calls: boats that had sunk, body retrieval (“the worst,” he said), taking mail to lighthouses. They carried people like lighthouse maintenance crews to “little spots of land where they stayed there for a year, nothing else around for a hundred miles, and the rest ocean.”

He left the Coast Guard in 1971 and obtained a degree in forestry. He worked for International Paper for five years and the U.S. Forest Service for 30 more as a timber sale administrator.

Rogers transferred to Spearfish with the Forest Service in 2004, retired in 2007, and decided to stay in Belle Fourche. He earned a B.A. in history in and started a master’s degree in 1987.

Rogers married Doris Lambert in 1972 and was widowed in 1996. He has two grown daughters, and more recently, two young grandsons, both of whom also live in Belle Fourche.

He is a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church. He is a member of Disabled Veterans of America because of hearing loss from the close proximity of jet engine roar to the helicopter cockpit. He’s also an NRA-certified firearms instructor and part-time gunsmith. He enjoys raising chickens and riding his Harley, an ’04 Dyna Wide-Glide, for bike aficionados.

When he’s not out riding, it’s a safe bet you can find Rogers flying balsa wood model gliders or hiking the ridges and pastures behind his cabin with his two dogs and four-year-old grandson by his side—almost like he used to in Alaska.

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