Friday, January 02, 2015

John Klatt: Owatonna-based air show pilot wins top national award


OWATONNA — I would think that every year for John Klatt is exciting.

To be more precise — and rather blunt — I would think that every year for John Klatt would be downright terrifying. But that’s just me. Then again, I’m not one who really enjoys doing twists and turns in airplanes like Mr. Klatt does.

But to hear him tell it, 2014 was an exciting year, a fantastic year, for him and his Owatonna-based company John Klatt Airshows.

“And Owatonna played a big part,” Mr. Klatt told me on Friday.

The culmination of the successful year came last month at the 47th annual International Council of Air Shows convention in Las Vegas, when Mr. Klatt — though actually, we should say Lt. Col. Klatt because he is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard — was awarded the Art Scholl Memorial Showmanship Award, which recognizes commitment to the ideals of air show entertainment.

And he certainly had a lot of opportunities this past year to show off that commitment. In 2014, he performed in 27 airshows — 15 Air National Guard shows and 12 flying his Jack Link’s Beef Jerky planes, a business relationship that he established just this past year.

If you do the math, that’s just over one show every two weeks. And, of course, he has to travel from his base at Owatonna Degner Regional Airport to wherever the show is, plus find time to practice.

More about that practice in a minute.

Col. Klatt, who started competitive flying back in the late 1990s and began performing in airshows in 1999, said he was humbled to receive the award, which he said was the “highest honor for an air show performer.”

The award is named for Art Scholl, an aerobatic pilot who died 30 years ago this year during the filming of the movie “Top Gun” — something that speaks to the danger associated with flying stunt planes.

“It’s an inherently dangerous business,” Col. Scholl told me. “But when you’re surrounded by professionals, it mitigates the risks.”

That’s why, he said, even though his name is on the award, he regards it as a team award. And he was quick to name his team — Tim Jarvis, Jeff Boerboon, Del Coller, Mike Ganor, Ben Anderson and Scott Russell.

“It’s a great team of guys,” he said.

Col. Klatt has been training at the Owatonna airport since 2008, after he met Dave Beaver, the airport manager, during the last air show here.

The airport received a waiver from the FAA to create what is known as a “practice box” — an area in the sky that aerobats, as they are called, practice their stunts. Col. Klatt practices in very high altitudes above the Owatonna airport.

Why so high?

That way, if something starts to go wrong, he has plenty of time to correct it and pull out.

A dangerous business, indeed.

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