While the Pine River airport has always been a place of flight and travel, it’s become even more so in recent months, as a flight instructor and airplane mechanic have teamed up and moved into the airport to serve the community.
Tom Pfingsten, flight instructor, and Ron Sieling, airplane and helicopter mechanic, are both taking up a post at the airport as some of the only people in the area who do what they do. They’re accompanied by Elsa the Airport Dog, a black and white dog that looks like cookies and cream ice cream- and is just as sweet.
Both Pfingsten and Sieling have extensive experience in their fields (Elsa has extensive experience as airport buddy). Pfingsten has been flying for more than 20 years. He said he got “the bug” for aviation at a young age, and learned to fly as soon as he could. Though he was a police officer at the time he got his pilot’s license, Pfingsten got a job flying for the DNR as a conservation officer pilot, flying for animal counts, fire watches and enforcement.
Sieling, meanwhile, got his start in aviation mechanics more than 15 years ago, working for North Memorial Ambulance on their flight for life helicopters. He’s also worked on offshore petroleum helicopters. That happens to be the area with the highest concentration of helicopters in the United States.
Sieling and Pfingsten agree that the common misconception about learning to fly and having a plane is the cost. Pfingsten said that most people don’t realize that they can learn to fly for around, or less than, $6,000. Pilots don’t necessarily need to own an airplane to learn- they can rent a plane for flight time with their instructor.
Pfingsten compared the cost of learning and of small planes to other forms of recreation, such as fishing boats, snowmobiles or jet skis. A flyable plane, on the low end, can be purchased for around $20,000. Prices go up from there.
“The sky is the limit,” as far as airplane prices go, Pfingsten said. (“Pun intended,” he added.) On the other hand, though, “you can buy two planes for less than the cost of a new pickup truck.”
And, now that Pfingsten and Sieling have landed at the Pine River airport, Pine River is poised to help a lot of future pilots. Sieling is licensed to sell aircrafts and performs the required annual maintenance and inspections, so pilots need not travel far for that service. He’s also licensed to sell aircraft.
“We want to revive the airport,” Sieling said. He said studies have shown that towns with a utilized airport show growth in response to that use.
And Pine River is a great place to learn. Sieling pointed out that because the airport is small, there is less traffic for learning pilots to deal with.
Pfingsten said that convenience is also a benefit. People in the Pine River-Backus area won’t have to travel far to train for their license.
“A lot of people in the rural areas use aviation for personal and business travel, and just for recreation. Recreationally it’s just a fun thing to do. It involves developing a skill, so if someone is achievement oriented and wants to be the best they can be at something, aviation offers that challenge,” Pfingsten said.
Aside from recreation, there are a lot of opportunities for a career as a pilot. “It’s not just transportation,” Pfingsten said. His own career is an example of that. In his career with the DNR, Pfingsten flew at night in the fall to catch poachers who were shining deer. They also flew as they counted animal populations, from animals as large as moose to as small as ducks.
To Pfingsten, the experience of flying is like no other.
“There’s a freedom, a different perspective when you’re looking out over god’s creation and see it slowly moving underneath the aircraft, knowing you’re guiding that craft. You’re the only one capable of and responsible for the safety and quality of that flight.”
To learn more about Sieling’s Pine River Aeromotor business or Pfingsten Aviation Flight Training, call the office at their hangar at 218-587-5000. Both businesses can be found at the Pine River Airport, at 1340 State Highway 84.