Jim Hanson

For a fellow who’s flown every sort of aircraft, and has landed all over the world with the late Hall of Famer, Buzz Kaplan, Mr. Jim Hanson of Minnesota still finds complete joy in flying low and slow, and sharing the joy with others. He loves flying his Lake Amphibian among what he claims are more accurately Minnesota’s “over 11,000 lakes.” His latest flight of note was over the U.S. Capitol in a King Air through our nation’s most complex airspace with AOPA’s commemorative formation celebrating our freedom to fly.

Fascinated with all types of aircraft and the people who fly them, Jim finds aviation folks and issues, and writes about them for several aviation publications, including Midwest Flyer, and Minnesota Flyer. As a pilot, Jim has flown 392 unique aircraft types, and has accumulated over 32,000 hours in his 63 years as a pilot. From his Kolb ultralight on floats, a Zenith 750 STOL, to Falcons and Sabreliners. Following 2 1/2 hours flying NASA’s Space Shuttle simulator, he was approved by NASA to land the King Air on the Cape’s 15,000-ft shuttle runway—the first civilian to do so. Describing the experience, he said, “I fly gliders, jets, and King Airs, and after flying the Space Shuttle simulator, I was confident that I could match the Shuttle landing profile — but in order to match the approach speed of 235 kts and 6,600 fpm rate of descent, I asked to land downwind”.

He is the oldest of six kids, and his parents had never been out of the Midwest. As a young teen, he announced, “I’m going to learn to fly!” He paid for his training himself, laying drainage tile in local swamps. “I soloed on my sixteenth birthday; I had a pilot license before I had a driver’s license, then my dad asked, ‘Do you suppose I could learn to fly?’ We bought a Cessna 120 (that I still own), so I had an airplane before I had a car.” Jim earned his private pilot license at age 17, and his Commercial on his 18th birthday.

He and his wife, Maryalice bought and operated the FBO at Albert Lea, MN in 1980, and have operated the FBOs at Owatonna, Austin, and Faribault, MN. His series of logbooks include 83 countries around the world – plus a unique flight to Antarctica – many of them in a Cessna Caravan on amphibious floats.

It’s obvious he and Maryalice love for pilots and their passengers to enjoy a destination, and the couple welcomes all to their variety of fly-ins. They host glider regattas, Flying Farmers, type-clubs and others, and created amenities seldom found at other FBOs. There is water and power at campsites on the airport, and oversized bathrooms with shower. They don’t charge for using the facilities. Restaurants and shopping are within walking distance, and they have crew cars.

Jim became involved with the RAF while working on Minnesota legislation to provide airfield landowners a level of protection for recreational use. Since then, Jim has been a true proponent of the RAF, its mission and its methods. “I have to say that RAF is a ‘bottom up’ organization, instead of ‘top down.’ The RAF deals in person-to-person relationships … When RAF sees a potential problem, they simply go right to the source, and offer to get involved to help solve the problem. That low key approach has been part of their success,” Jim says.

Jim has been inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, and says his most valued honor is the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for 50 consecutive years of flying without an accident or violation.

Watch for Jim’s expressive writing in Minnesota Flyer, Midwest Flyer, Flying Farmer, and other aviation magazines.

Submitted on July 10, 2024
By Carmine Mowbray

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