These two Montanans were raised in the little timbered town of Trout Creek, along the Clark’s Fork of the Columbia River as it heads northwest to Lake Pend Oreille in north Idaho. Their families were in the logging business, where Becki “Pete” and Dan picked up their work ethic and resourcefulness. Dan absorbed an acute interest in mechanical things, and learned equipment skills essential in the woods.
They share a passion for the outdoors and enjoy camping, hiking, fishing, and did a lot of cross-country touring on their Harley. A head-on encounter with a deer resulted in eight broken ribs for Dan. “We got banged up pretty bad,” he said. The accident was clearly a sign to find a safer form of recreational travel.
The Normandeaus never intended to become pilots. Dan, at age 50, thought he was too old to take up flying. He was having lunch with some local pilots, one of whom was easily in his eighties. “The fella told me that I’d only have thirty years of flying ahead of me, so I came home and told Pete I was going to buy an airplane.” For the same price they’d have paid for a new Harley, they bought a Pietenpol Air Camper. Dan started taking lessons in the two-seat open cockpit homebuilt in November. “My flight instructor was frozen. He was pretty motivated to solo me.”
They acquired a yellow PA 11, and a red and white PA 18. Pete wanted to be a safe backup pilot, so she got her private pilot license, and enjoys flying both aircraft. Dan was eager to try flying into the backcountry, but was appropriately wary. He’d read all the warnings. “I took my dad into Moose Creek in Idaho. I was still fairly green. My heart was racing a hundred miles an hour. We landed and I said, ‘This is fun!’ ”
The Normandeaus enjoy flying and landing in the backcountry throughout the West – Washington State, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado. Pete’s son lives in Grand Junction, and they fly there. “We’ve landed at Leadville, the highest public use airport in North America,” Pete adds. Their blue heeler wears a “thunder shirt” and rides tandem behind them. When the mission requires, they each fly one of the Cubs. “Between the two of us, we have that Cessna 180,” Dan jokes. “It just takes two planes for us to haul passengers and camping gear.”
“Friends give us a hard time about our slow pace,” Pete says, but she replies, “We’re never in a hurry.”
Pete and Dan were camping at Moose Creek and met RAF President Bill McGlynn, who explained the RAF mission and invited them to the Ryan Fly-in the following weekend. “Planes were lined up all along that nice airfield, and we met the best people,” Dan said. When John McKenna learned the Normandeaus had dump trucks, an excavator, Cat, and trailers, he got them involved in all the renovation at Ryan Field. “It was quite the adventure — at first I wondered ‘What did I get myself into?’ We got treated great, and have ever since. We really like the RAF mission. It’s our cup of tea,” Dan says. They’ve pitched in at nearly every work party there since.
When they’re not flying, Dan and Pete enjoy touring the nation in their restored 1930 Model A Sedan. “Our first adventure in it was driving to Pikes Peak – a higher elevation that we’ve taken our planes,” Pete says.
You may spot Pete and Dan adventure touring scenic byways or backcountry airstrips in their pristine Ford, or one or both of their fetching Cubs. It should be no problem catching up to thank them for all they’ve contributed to the RAF mission.
Submitted on December 14, 2023
By Carmine Mowbray