Record-holding pilot shares memories from the air
Wadena-Deer Creek High School graduate of 1976 finds love for flying at Wadena Airport.
WADENA — Mark Anderson was 14 years old when his future was charted in the clouds and written in history books.
Sitting in a Piper J-3 with his father, the late Don Anderson, he took a hard look at the ground that appeared to be waiting for a hard hello, and “screamed his head off.”
Mark’s father was a seasoned pilot and member of the Civil Air Patrol squadron that was based in Wadena during the 1970s. The squadron assisted in search and rescue efforts, but that particular flight was about character building.
Mark recalled the flight was to be a simple “touch and go” at the Staples Airport, but on the way back, around Verndale, the engine stalled.
“I’m thinking we’re about to die,” he said, noting his father corrected the plane, but shortly thereafter it stalled again.
What Mark didn’t know, at the time, was that his father stalled the engine on purpose. In reality, an engine stall is a commonly practiced maneuver for pilots. Still, the experience created a fear in Mark that he would have to face as an adult while earning his license.
While Don created an obstacle for his son, he also gave him the fortitude to hurdle it. And, that is what Mark did with spectacular measure.
He passed his licensure test and went on to take acrobatics classes and fly high-performance airplanes while in flight training at the University of North Dakota.
After graduating and between career moves, Mark continued following in his father’s footsteps by becoming a role model for teenagers. He reflected on how his dad having the means to provide flight experiences created a goal for him, and a whole new horizon of opportunities. So, he began working with high-risk youth in north Minneapolis in 1993, offering the same insight he found in the air, at his father’s side, sans the engine stall.
“Aviation can be a great motivator,” he said, noting he took several youths up in his plane and showed them life from a different vantage point. With the teens, he talked about life choices and opportunities.
“After three or four weeks the teachers asked me why the students wouldn't swear in front of me,” he said. “They did. But, after the first week, I just said, ‘C’mon you don’t have to use the f-en-hiemer in every sentence.’ Then I bet them they couldn’t last two hours. That got them to stop.”
When investing in the youth, the result may not be known for years. Mark learned the impact the flight class had on one of his students about four years ago. A man with a familiar name contacted Mark through social media.
“I remembered him,” he said. “He was one of those boys with his pants halfway down to the floor and wearing all the chains to look cool. He told me he grew up, was in his 40s and wanted to learn how to fly.”
While those he mentored were reaching out to achieve goals, Mark did the same in December 2003.
He set out with a friend in a private jet to break the record flight time to go around the perimeter of the U.S., which was eight days and 10 hours.
“We put together a mission and linked up with Toys for Tots (for a fundraiser),” Anderson recalled.
They started in International Falls, Minn. and circled the U.S. with a plan to land at Kitty Hawk on the 100-year anniversary of the world’s first powered flight.
“The weather was really crappy and we had a bunch of people with us in the back of the jet,” he said. “We decided to forgo the landing. But, later I was told we flew over the top of Kitty Hawk in an hour of the 100th anniversary.”
When the crew landed back in International Falls, the air control sent them data of the new world record. The flight took a day and 21 ½ hours total, or 17 hours of flight time.
“We took our time,” he said. “To beat that time, you need a jet.”
Missed flight lands late
Mark always wanted to fly as a career, and applied to a military academy as a way to obtain the necessary flight hours for a commercial aircraft career. He was told his application was selected for review.
“Around that time I thought, I don't want to do this,” he recalled. “At 18, looking forward to 26 (when he could exit the military) it feels like it's three generations away. So, I stopped the pursuit at that time. In my life, it is the only thing I regret not pursuing.”
Instead, the 1976 Wadena-Deer Creek High School graduate spent time attending “colleges he didn’t care for” and “getting by working” while “figuring out what he was going to do with his life.”
He worked at a stock brokerage firm and started a bar and restaurant on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minn. Despite his career moves, he was still disappointed in the figurative missed flight by not going into the military academy to have a career as a pilot. So, at 27 years old, he enrolled in flight school at the University of North Dakota.
Upon graduation, Anderson began his more than 30-year career as a professional pilot, which included providing flights for legislators, training pilots to fly 747s, and piloting for a charter company and corporations. About three years ago, he began flying for Air Transport International, which provides flight services for clients such as the Department of Defense and Amazon.
Anderson, who is 64, noted commercial pilots are forced to retire at 65, as that is the law. He explained his wife owns a business that has plenty of clients to fly about between working on his golf game.