Family to fly '46 Cessna from N. Dakota to Alaska

Piloting has been in the Osowski family for the past 80 years

Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

GRAFTON, N.D. - The Osowskis of Minto gathered at Grafton Municipal Airport for an impromptu family reunion with a special guest - a vintage silver-with-black-trim 1946 Cessna 140.

Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

"This is it. I can't believe it," Mary Osowski said when she arrived at the airport.

She wasn't talking about her nephews, Leon, Tom and Tony, or her grandnephew, Wes Osowski. She was talking about the Cessna.

This is a piloting family, after all. There's hardly been an Osowski born in the past 80 years who hasn't learned to fly or been involved in the aviation industry.

Edwin Osowski bought the '46 Cessna 140 in 1946, the same year he became the first manager of the Grafton airport and launched Grafton Aero Service.

So, it only seemed natural for Leon and his son, Wes, to find the old airplane and reclaim it for the family.

Leon and Wes are flying the rare old bird back to Alaska, where they live and where Wes operates Servant Air Inc., based on Kodiak Island. The trip, which started Tuesday, is expected to take three days with about 30 hours of flying time.

Mary, who soon will turn 93, showed up Monday armed with a 1936 Kodak Brownie camera.

Three of Edwin's four brothers were pilots.

Chester - Mary's husband - farmed in the Minto area and flew for pleasure.

Joe Osowski was a career pilot for Northwest Airlines. Joe's son, LeRoy, also is a retired Northwest pilot. And a granddaughter currently is a pilot for the airline.

Edwin's brother, Richard, didn't fly.

Neither did his sister, Henrietta. But Henrietta's son, Lawrence Kerrian, also became a pilot for Northwest.

Bernard was a pilot who operated the Grafton airport, after Edwin's death, until Ernest "Hod" Hutson, a World War II pilot, bought the business in 1951.

Bernard's son, Mike, is a retired career mechanic for Northwest.

Only about 7,000 of the Cessna models 120 and 140 were manufactured from 1946 to 1950, when production ended.

Wes and Leon checked over the Cessna 140 on Monday to make sure it was ready for the flight to Alaska.

Mary's husband, Chester, once owned a 1949 Cessna 140. Leon said he and Wes are trying to find that one, too.

Edwin Osowski built the first hangar at the Grafton airport.

"There was just nothing but a little grass strip here," Leon said.

Tom's earliest memories of working with his dad include helping him start an old Piper or Taylorcraft airplane in the mid-1940s.

"I was only about 5 years old," he said.

Leon was just 5 years old in 1947, when their father was killed in a car accident.

"My dad was a farmer," Leon said. "So were his brothers. But they loved airplanes. I was a flag boy for Hod when I was a teenager."

Their dad's 1946 Cessna 140 was sold sometime after his death. It changed hands several times over the years.

A few years ago, Leon and Wes started searching for it.

"All we had was old photographs, some with the tail number showing," he said.

They eventually found it on a farm in the Johnstown area. Darryl Salisbury had purchased it and restored it in the 1980s.

"My father's original pilot log was preserved," Leon said.

"My dad always wanted to go to Alaska. He used to have magazines about Alaska all over the place. But he didn't live long enough to get there," he said.

In 1969, while serving as an associate Walsh County extension agent in Park River, Leon took his family on a vacation to Alaska. A year later, they moved to Alaska.

Wes, who earned his pilot's license when he was 17, left a young airline career to become a banker. But after 12 years, he got back into the airplane business.

"Aviation's not a career," he said. "It's a disease."

Servant Air is a charter air service that also offers scheduled services and U.S. mail delivery throughout Alaska.

"It's a little small for our fleet," Wes said of the 63-year-old Cessna 140.

He has three boys, ages 16, 13 and 10, and plans to teach them how to fly the plane. The middle one loves flying.

"The other two and my wife love flying when there's fish at the end of the trip," he said.

"Well, there's another generation getting started," Mary said. "Flying is definitely in the Osowski blood."

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