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Fly-in fills Polson Airport

POLSON — With sunshine and cool temperatures, weather was good as retired pilot Elsie Culver celebrated her 95th birthday at the Polson Fly-In on Saturday. In her youth, Culver learned to fly when she worked at the legendary Johnson Flying Service in Missoula. She thought she should become a pilot since she worked there.

Among the many planes visiting the Polson Airport for Culver and other spectators to visit was a blue and yellow 1943 Stearman. The bi-plane was used to train Army and Navy pilots during World War II. Dick Schaus, Kalispell, bought the plane three years ago. It had been restored by a Spokane man, who took the plane down to the nuts and bolts, Schaus said. 

Schaus learned to fly as a kid, “well over 50 years ago,” he said. The Stearman is fun to fly because it has an open cockpit, Schaus said, and a nine-cylinder radial engine. 

“I like the sound of it and the feel of it,” Schaus said, since the plane’s powerful, low rpm engine makes a deep rumble and flies at a lower speed.  

“It doesn’t fly itself; you have to fly it all the time. It’s a challenge to land because it’s quite unstable,” Schaus explained. “It’s a gem of an airplane.”

Sponsored by the local Chapter 1122 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, the fly in’s goals are to draw the public out to see the planes and to raise awareness of what an asset the airport is to the community and to pilots.

For instance, for float planes without retractable wheels, the Polson Airport is the only place between Seattle and Minnesota where it can land for maintenance or if a pilot is having trouble with his or her plane, according to local EAA member Chuck Jarecki. The plane can land on the Flathead River and be trailered up to the airport. 

The airport’s gas truck can go down to the Flathead River landing area to refuel float planes.

As part of the fun, the EAA hosts a pancake and sausage breakfast for $5. Although the group doesn’t take a head count of attendees, Jarecki said, “We’ve been feeding a lot of people; we ran out of forks.” 

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