Flying friends

Group meets regularly at the Little Falls/Morrison Co. Airport

Although there are few things that are as much fun for a pilot as being up in the air “living the dream,” there is one that comes close – gathering with other pilots who speak the same language. Dennis Kahlhamer, of Pierz, decided about five years ago to host pilot gatherings.

“I like visiting, and I like giving people a reason to take their airplane someplace,” he said.

A group of active and retired pilots and their families gather during the warmer months at the Lucky ‘Leven hangar belonging to Dennis and Kathy Kahlhamer at the Little Falls Airport. People of all ages come to talk planes over a potluck meal. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

The gatherings are held once a month from May through September at the “Lucky ‘Leven” hangar at the Little Falls/Morrison County Airport. Dennis and his wife, Kathy, named the hangar after a painted design on the nose of a World War II fighter place. The logo features a pair of dice with the number 11. The logo is featured in several places around the hanger, from wall hangings to the tile on the counter. It is even etched in the cement outside the building.

Email “blast” notices are sent out prior to the gatherings by a flight instructor at the St. Cloud Airport to local pilot groups such as Chapter 551 of the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA).

The Kahlhamers provide a main dish such as chicken on the grill, spaghetti, sloppy joes, pizzas or burgers and hot dogs. Guests brings side dishes and can contribute to a freewill basket to help defray the costs. The September menu always features chili and sweet corn.

“The first people here for the night help push out the planes and set up the tables and chairs,” said Kathy. “I put the coffee on. I love having these.”

The group used to meet six times a year but that seemed a bit too much for people to fit into busy schedules.

“We’re trying four now – May, June, August and September,” said Dennis.

The largest number of planes that came for a gathering was about 22, with probably 80-90 people that night. Usually, the number of guests is anywhere from 30 to 60. Most folks come from the general St. Cloud area, with some from Holdingford and Staples. A few have come from as far away as Duluth, Cloquet and Siren, Wis.

Dennis Kahlhamer is pictured next to his plane in the “Lucky ‘Leven” hangar at the Little Falls Airport. The hangar is outfitted with a kitchen (lacking only running water) and hosts a gathering of pilots and families once a month during the summer months. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

“I love having these things,” Dennis said. “People just like to sit and visit – and talk about airplanes.”

A number of retired pilots often join the gathering as well, bringing grandchildren. There are fun activities for the kids.

“Dennis thought we should have bikes here for the kids to ride,” Kathy said. “Last year, one person attending took the kids for rides on their golf cart.”

Retired air traffic controller Carl Rydeen and his wife, Liz, attend nearly all of the gatherings. Since they live in town, they drive rather than fly. Carl used to commute by plane daily to his job at the Minneapolis Airport.

“The aviation community is kind of close-knit one,” said Carl. “It’s fun to hang out with people of different experience levels. It’s cool that people fly in – this airport is such a great resource. Anything that draws people in is a good thing, and Dennis brings such energy to the airport.”

Kent and Donna Nordell, of Staples, fly in to most of the gatherings, only driving once due to really bad weather. They like the social aspect of the gatherings.

“The general aviation community likes to socialize with other like-minded people,” said Kent.

For many pilots, their interest in flying started as young people. Kent dreamt of flying for as long as he can remember. Owning his own plane didn’t actually become a reality until 14 years ago.

“Flying lets me disconnect from earth – flying is a three-dimensional world,” he said. “I fly maybe two to three times a week, typically logging about 160 hours per year.”

“Most people get about 50 hours per year,” said Mark Priglmeier, a flight instructor in St. Cloud. “For Kent and Donna, their plane is their station wagon.”

The Nordells have flown many places around the central United States. They just returned from a flying trip to Kentucky.

Carl became interested in flying during high school. He earned his pilot’s license shortly after college and then drew Liz into a flying life, taking her up on one of their first dates. They now fly about six times a year on average.

“We’ve been all over the country on family vacations. It’s a great time to read,” she said with a grin.

Although not every pilot’s interest is passed down to the next generation, that has happened in the Kahlhamer family. Their son, Max, is a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota. Time will tell if the next generation picks up the flying bug as well.

Flying airplanes is more than a hobby – it’s a lifestyle. Visiting with other pilots is simply a fun and satisfying way to spend an evening. In the words of Carl Rydeen, “we’re living the dream.”

#Kahlhamer #LuckyLeven #PilotGathering

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