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Airport Archives: Airmotive Began Life in Barnstorming Days

Airmotive began life in barnstorming days
By JIM SLOAN
Staff Writer, Brainerd Daily Dispatch

You wouldn’t know it from its modern office at the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Airport, but Airmotive Enterprises began life as an old-time barnstorming outfit.

The firm, one of the oldest residents at the airport, is actually the end product of four companies, the first of which began at the end of World War II.

John Riedl Sr., the man who began it all, said the business began with State’s Flying Service, Inc., in Minneapolis in 1936—a company endowed with one airplane and a novel idea.

“When we were still State’s Flying Service we had a sign that said ‘Bar Harbor Tonight,’ a neon sign mounted under the wings on an old monoplane,” Riedl said. “I flew that every night.”

During the day, the sign was detached, and the plane was used for other student instruction and “air rides,” Riedl said.

“We barnstormed,” he recalled of those early days. “If we couldn’t pick up enough business, somebody would fly the plane to some farmer’s field and we’d give people rides,” he said.

Chartering—the modern term is “air taxi”—was also done, but only informally, he said. “If somebody wanted to go someplace, we’d fly ‘em,” he said.

Riedl next formed Heywood Gull Lake Airport Corporation in 1946 at the private field in Nisswa. “I had three partners, two Northwest Airline captains and a lumberman from Minneapolis, who had purchased it while I was in the service, and I was in on it,” Riedl said.

That firm, Riedl said, held the original contract for pipeline patrol with Minnesota Power and Light Company.

When he moved to Brainerd in 1954 and became airport manager here, Riedl formed Crow Wing Aviation and also operated Mid-State Air Taxi, both out of the Brainerd airport.

The three companies, he said, eventually became Airmotive Enterprises in 1960—a firm which is now owned and operated by Riedl’s son, Assistant Airport Manager John Riedel Jr., who purchased it from his father in 1981.

When John Riedl Jr. joined the firm in 1966, it consisted of two pilots, himself and Morris Wareing, who had joined Crow Wing Aviation in 1957. Today, Airmotive Enterprises boasts five planes, two full-time and two part-time pilots, two line service personnel and two mechanics.

The firm leases two offices and a maintenance shop at the airport, along with a ramp area and fuel dispensing equipment, Riedl said.

Among the services offered by the firm are air taxis, flight training, power line patrol, fire detection, agricultural photography and aircraft maintenance.

The firm leases two offices and a maintenance shop at the airport, along with a ramp area and fuel dispensing equipment, Riedl said.

The firm is known as an aviation services company. The old name, Fixed Base Operator, had its roots in the days of the barnstormers.

“Most of the flying was barnstorming, and nobody really was at one place,” Riedl said. So, when companies were formed that had permanent bases, they became known as “Fixed Base” operators.

At one time, he said, the company flew about 20,000 miles each year of pipeline patrol. Flying with an observer at about 200 feet, the pilot searched for the telltale mark of a pipeline running below ground in a field, marked by an area of greener grass due to the line’s warmth. The observer looked for construction on or near the line, leaks (visible because they killed the grass), downed marker posts or washouts near river crossings.

Power line patrol, Riedl said, is done by the pilot alone. At a scant 25 to 50 feet above the power line, the pilot looked for shot-out insulators, burned power poles, loose guy wires and even woodpecker holes.

The firm now does only about four hours of such work annually, Riedl said, on an emergency standby basis.

Airmotive pilots also fly fire detection for the DNR forestry department in the spring and fall, flying an assigned route and radioing in the location when smoke is spotted.

The firm has a Cessna 310 twin-engine craft and a Piper Turbo Arrow single-engine plane for air taxi, and three planes available for pilot training and rental, a Piper Warrior, Piper Tomahawk and a Cessna 152.

Airmotive trains about 25 pilots a year, and provides training for private, commercial and instrument pilots, in addition to certified flight instructor training and multi-engine rating.

The mainstay of the business, however, is air taxi, under which about 30,000 miles are logged each year. The firm is licensed to operate in the continental United States and Canada, but does most of its charter work in the five-state area.

And, like most businesses in a tourist area, the firm does most of its business in the summer months.

“In the winter, we sit here and there won’t be one plane on the flight line,” Riedl said. But, he said, “The air traffic in the summertime, for three months, is 15 times greater than in the winter months.”

Flying is becoming “more and more popular,” Riedl said. Airmotive charges a fee for overnight parking of transient planes, and serves commuters who fly in on weekends to stay with families who live here during the summer, corporate personnel flying in for conventions and meetings and race fans here for a weekend at Brainerd International Raceway (BIR).

“There will be 15, 20 cars left in the parking lot here for running back and forth between the airport and summer cabins,” Riedl said.

 
 
 

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Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport
16384 Airport Rd, Suite 5 · Brainerd, MN 56401-5852 · 218-825-2166