- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

BOTTINEAU, N.D. (AP) - May 19 was more than Virgil T. Olson’s 90th birthday. The longtime pilot and aircraft mechanic from Westhope also received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot award and Charles Taylor Master Mechanic award for 50 years of safe operations in aviation.

The prestigious Federal Aviation Administration awards were presented to Olson by Jay Flowers, Fargo, FAASTeam (FAA Safety Team) program manager, at the Good Samaritan Center in Bottineau.

Olson has also donated his homebuilt Piel Emeraude aircraft to the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot as a permanent asset, the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1WX9Oty ) reported.

Olson began his life as a licensed pilot as World War II was coming to an end, according to retired Air Force Lt. Col. Leo D. Jostad of Bottineau. Jostad nominated Olson for the awards. Olson soloed at Minot in a 65 hp T-Craft Sept. 9, 1945.

About two years later in May 1947, Olson received his airframe mechanics certification, according to Jostad.

Having a pilot’s license came in real handy for Olson during the winter of 1948-1949, the year of the big snow when Emergency Flight support operations lasted 66 days or longer.

According to Jostad, military and airline personnel flew large aircraft for Operation Haylift. Small private planes with skis flew mercy missions during what was called the Grasshopper Brigade.

“They flew mail, medicine, food, coal, hay, doctors and ambulance flights, or whatever needed delivering. Virgil was one of many ‘grasshopper’ pilots that operated in the Westhope-Bottineau area. During one of his usual drops, the stranded residents moved the drop target closer to the front of the house for ease of retrieval. While circling, he noticed one of the boys open the front door and, with a flourish, point at it. Jokingly of course! Well, Virgil delivered! The tightly bound package hit the hardened snowdrift close to target, bounced, and came to rest on the front room carpet. You guessed it the window through which it arrived had not been opened. The residents did not mind a bit they got their supplies. Often, he flew morning till dark and during January-February totaled 288 hours in 59 days.” For the missions Olson flew an 85 hp Cessna 140 with skis.

Ten or so years later, in 1960-1961, Olson built and flew a gyrocopter. When he wasn’t satisfied with his craftsmanship, he cut it up and built a second one. It flew better but there was a problem with overheating the McCullogh drone engine, Jostad said in his nomination letter. “Being a pragmatic Norwegian mechanic, he donned hat, mitts, botts and goggles, put skis on the wheels, and flew only during the N.D. wintertime. Problem solved,” Jostad wrote.

Olson, his wife Ada Marie and her mother spent time in the 1960-1970s slowly and persistently building an all wood French-designed homebuilt airplane called the Piel Emeraude, Jostad wrote.

“Sadly Ada Marie and her mother did not see the airplane finished,” Jostad said. Olson completed the plane and in 2001, he was certified as the sole mechanic for the plane. Named the “Ada Marie,” the plane “is a beautifully flying aircraft and was well done by Olson and his gal crew,” Jostad said.

Nearly 25 years after Olson soloed, in 1969 he obtained his commercial certificate.

He flew planes for business meetings, hauling plumbing parts and supplies as well as joy rides with friends and neighbors, according to the nomination.

When he was 52 in 1978 Olson got his instrument rating.

Olson continued to fly until about late 2015. Steve Heth, of Westhope, who Olson gave his first airplane ride, was along on the 2015 flight.

“Virgil always loved to share the joy and benefits of flight with others and promoted it with enthusiasm. He was very safety conscious and always ready to use his skills and aircraft to assist someone in need of help,” wrote Jostad in the nomination letter.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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