Hettinger airport celebrates 85 years

The airport in Hettinger started with one hangar and a grass runway, somewhat humble beginnings to one of the oldest running airports in the region.

TOP: Hettinger residents stand around a plane while the pilot, named Mamer, refuels. The photo was dated June 1930 and refers to the building as the ‘new airport.’ According to records the airport was opened in 1930. BOTTOM: The same airplane hangar as it looks today.
TOP: Hettinger residents stand around a plane while the pilot, named Mamer, refuels. The photo was dated June 1930 and refers to the building as the ‘new airport.’ According to records the airport was opened in 1930. BOTTOM: The same airplane hangar as it looks today.

By COLE BENZ | Record Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

The airport in Hettinger started with one hangar and a grass runway, somewhat humble beginnings to one of the oldest running airports in the region.

Since its inception in 1930, the airport has expanded to a campus that includes multiple hangars, storage facilities, a fueling station and a hospitality space for pilots coming and going.

A gentleman by the name of William Odu was instrumental in getting the airport established. Odu, a veterinarian and aviation enthusiast, was a Hettinger resident who previously operated drug stores outside the area before becoming a vet.

A picture dated June 1930 of a pilot stopped for refueling is one of the earliest displays of the airport. According to records, that pilot formed a company that was the early beginnings of the large company Northwest Airlines.

At the time, the Hettinger airport was one of the only facilities in the area. There was an airport near the Mobridge, SD area and there was a facility in Miles City, Mont.

According to Jay B. Lindquist—Chairman of the Adams County Airport Authority—the airport was very active up until the start of World War II, by this time the grass runway was fully formed and used often.

As the traffic subsided during the war, the hangar was purchased by Cecil Melby. Under Melby’s ownership the hangar served as a night club and was operated by the Legion Club. The hangar, which was the only privately owned building on the airport grounds, was eventually sold to Lindquist who kept ownership of it until the early 1970s, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approached the airport with a proposal.

At that time the FAA had instituted a small fee for passengers on airlines, called a Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). The money this generated was designated in a special fund for airport improvements, and it would be distributed according to need around the country.

•The Runway

For the longest time, since the beginning of the airport in 1930, the Hettinger Airport operated with a grass runway, something common to airports of smaller communities during that time. But during the early 70s the airport moved to a more modern runway thanks to the FAA.

In 1972 the FAA approached the Hettinger Airport to gauge their level of interest in laying down an asphalt runway, but the contingency was that there could be no privately owned land on the airport. ‘Through the Fence’ is the term they used and it basically states that with in the bounds of an FAA sponsored airport there can be no privately owned land.

So to pave the way for a new runway, Lindquist sold the building to the airport authority. The asphalt runway was laid in the early 70s, it was then rebuilt in 1978 and resurfaced almost 20 years ago.

More recently Lindquist and the airport authority have been working with the FAA in an attempt to redo the current stretch of runway. Since it has been nearly two decades since the last repair, the runway could use a facelift.

Lindquist said that even though they have started the process there are still multiple hurdles that need to be surpassed before shovels can be pressed into the ground.

•The Hangar

The airport’s main hangar was just the beginning of what has turned into the airport residents of the county see today. The fact that it is standing today, after 85 year of use, is a true testament to those who have taken great care of it, though over the years there have been quite a few improvements.

Since 1930, improvements have included new doors, full insulation, added heat and an addition to the right side of the building. The addition to the original hangar has made it more economical to use during the winter, because only a small portion of the entire structure needs to be heated.

Though the original hangar still stands, the airport is now home to 14 hangars that houses nearly 30 airplanes at any given time.

•Airport Authority

The Hettinger Airport Authority was founded in 1973 as a city authority. A few years later in 1976 North Dakota passed legislature that allowed airports to expand their coverage. The authority then decided to utilize the new law and expanded to include the entire county, the Adams County Airport Authority was formed.

There are five people who sit on the authority and are appointed to five-year terms by the county commission. One person is appointed each year.

•Updates

Over the past 10 years the authority has added to the airport some extra conveniences. One of the more modern conveniences was installed about 10 years ago, according to Lindquist. A small structure that sat next to the original hangar was removed to make way for a refueling island. Previously when an aircraft needed fuel, they had to taxi up and get serviced by an attendant at the airport during regular business hours. With the installation of a refueling island, pilots can come in pay for fuel and take off, no matter the time.

The station is a credit card based operation that operates all hours of the day and night, and it is equipped with both aviation and jet fuel. Lindquist said it has been interesting looking at this activity of the station some mornings.

“I was just totally amazed, over a period of time, as to how many airplanes land, taxi up, take on a load of gas, use the bathroom, and go fluttering off,” Lindquist said.

Two years ago another building was added that houses their snow removal equipment, but it also serves as a resting place for fellow pilots.

Attached to the large garage that holds a plow and other snow removal equipment is a little room that aviators can use to get a little rest and relaxation. The room features wi-fi, a table and chairs, a couch and a television set.

•Future of the Airport

So what does the future hold for the airport in Hettinger? Though they are in the process of gathering funds for runway repairs, Lindquist said the authority still has other improvement projects in the plans. Lindquist said five or 10 years down the road, if there is proper funding available, he would like to see the taxi ways improved. One stretch is still a part of the original paved runway and Lindquist said the wear and tear is taking a toll. But Lindquist also added that future improvement will depend on one thing, need.

“It all depend on what the need is going to be,” Lindquist said.







GAMES