Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fred Lutz receives prestigious pilot award

Fred Lutz had to get his mother's signature to fulfill his dream of flying.

The young Lutz had friends with student pilot licenses and he wanted to take lessons at the old Mankato Airport near what is now Minnesota State University — something he couldn't do without mom's signature for a form from the then Federal Aviation Agency.

Since then the 73-year-old North Mankato resident has logged 2,600 hours of private pilot hours — and done it without a single mishap or flight violation.

That record has landed Lutz in an elite group of pilots. As a result he received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, given to pilots who've flown for at least 50 years and have a clean flight record.

"It's rewarding. There are just over 2,000 in the country and only three of us from Mankato."

The other two are former banker George Sugden and the late John Roberts, who was a longtime flight instructor at MSU.

Recently, the FAA delivered Lutz's award during an event at the Mankato Regional Airport that drew 180 of Lutz's fellow pilots, local dignitaries and well wishers.

Lutz had forgotten about his mom's signature on the old document from 1960 but revisited it along with a detailed history of his flying life, thanks to impeccable record keeping by the FAA. When he qualified for the 50-year award, the FAA combed through all their records of his career, which included details of all his physical exams, inspections, licensing requirements, a Western Union telegram telling him he got his first license and his lifelong flight history — all of which he received copies of.

"People talk about the NSA. It's amazing the records a big agency like the FAA kept all these years," Lutz said.

While many of his young friends went on to become commercial pilots, he only flew for himself — for pleasure and for business when he ran the North Mankato soft drink bottling company that long produced 7Up.

The tail number of his Beechcraft Bonanza still carries the 77UP license number. "I tried to get 7UP, but someone in the parent company already had it," Lutz said.

Lutz said his only brush with a problem while flying was one incident where the engine killed in flight due to a failed fuel pump. "I just switched on the (fuel) boost pump and it was fine."

The Beechcraft that Lutz still flies was purchased with a partner in 1970 for $41,000. The plane's been completely reconditioned over the years, including new paint, new engine and updated controls. "That plane today costs $700,000 and it doesn't do any more than this one," Lutz said.

He said the biggest changes he's seen has been the advent of modern controls. "All the GPS and weather and traffic and maps, the communications systems all make it a lot safer."

And he's seen dramatic changes at the Mankato airport as it grew from a small local air strip to a regional airport.

"We have a great airport out there. The city has really done a lot and the (local) sales tax has done a lot for it. There is a lot of activity out there."

Lutz said his long flight career has been aided by good health. "I have to get a physical every two years. A lot of guys get grounded because of their health."

Lutz still flies fairly often, usually around Minnesota and neighboring states. "I go to Omaha, Chicago, down to St. Louis. I don't go a long ways too often anymore."

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