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Don Douglas guides a float plane into a parking spot at the Park Rapids Municipal Airport Saturday afternoon. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Pilots discuss love of flying with public at annual Park Rapids fly-in

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Pilots discuss love of flying with public at annual Park Rapids fly-in
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Dark overhanging clouds and periodic rain weren't enough to dampen a weekend fly-in at the Park Rapids Municipal Airport.

"See? You can see the Smoky Hills and they're 12 miles away," said Don Douglas enthusiastically. Douglas heads up the Park Rapids Pilots Association, which hosted the Saturday event.

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"Today's a VFR (visual flight rules) day," he said. "We have a 2,000 foot vertical ceiling and 10 miles visibility."

Ideally, pilots want a 3,000-foot ceiling with 5 miles of visibility. So Saturday was an OK day to fly for pilots without instrument ratings, he said.

"We do this once a year, timed to the fall color change," he said. "The country is absolutely beautiful to fly over" this time of year.

On a nice Saturday, the association gets as many as 85 planes flying in, serving 300 meals.

Saturday was considerably less but pilots and the public nonetheless gathered to discuss - what else - planes and their mutual love of flight.

You could take a ride up in a plane, 20 minutes for $20. Douglas said many riders want to fly over their homes, lakes, or a colorful spot.

"There's 10 to 15 lakes just a short distance from here," he said. "Two years ago we gave 75 rides between three pilots."

A bake sale coincided with the day's event, which raises money for an aviation scholarship to a local student.

Douglas said the annual get-together is a way to educate the public and promote aviation.

The club has 20 members and 54 planes based out of Park Rapids, Douglas said. There are 10 seaplanes in the group.

"Half (of the pilots) are transitory; they comes during the summer," he said.

Don Willis is one such pilot. He flies his Cessna 182 in from Ohio five or six times a year to come to his Little Sand Lake cabin.

"I used to belong to the club," he said wistfully. Now family obligations and ailing parents keep him in Ohio much of the year. He gets away only occasionally, he said, pouring oil into his plane's nose.

"It's a good group of people," he said.

Dan Dyre, whose family operates Evergreen Resort on Big Sand lake, flew as a bush pilot in Alaska 17 summers, taking passengers fishing, sightseeing, hunting or to remote places.

"I'd take people around on floats," he said. Then he quickly ate his lunch, checked his plane and began flying sightseers.

Ken Aldrich arrived in his floatplane. The Moorhead farmer and businessman dropped in for the day.

"I saw the flyer," he said, no pun intended," and thought I'd just come over."

Aldrich and his wife fly regularly to their Ottertail Lake cabin.

"There's nothing like landing on the water," Leslie Aldrich said.

"I fly as often as I can," her husband said, grinning from ear to ear.

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