Mandan News, editor
Sunday, June 8, was a major day for the Mandan Municipal Airport. After nearly a year of work, and close to $6 million, the new runway was ready for a dedication ceremony.
Hundreds gathered to join the celebration of the completion of the 330,000 square foot runway. Coming out to speak at the event were Representative Kevin Kramer, Senator Heidi Heitkamp, N.D. Aeronautics Director Kyle Wanner, Mandan Mayor Arlyn VanBeek and Airport Authority Chairman Dr. Dale Klein.
“It’s no secret that I’ve been pushing the FAA to invest in North Dakota’s airports so the facilities can accommodate our state’s growing demand for air travel,” said Heitkamp. “Celebrating the completion of a project that will help support our growing aviation industry and economic development, and the more than $20 million dollars that have been invested in airports around the state is a reassuring sign that the federal, state and local governments all see the need for these investments.”
Along with the completion of this new runway, which replaced the previous asphalt one, Mandan became the ninth city in North Dakota with a concrete runway at its airport. The 4,400 foot main strip is meant to better serve the 15,000 single-engine and light twin-engine planes takeoffs and landings each year.
The event attracted many individuals, both young and old. While adults were able to check out the airplanes and helicopters, children were given a chance to get their faces painted as well as receive balloon animals. Along with being able to get up close to a variety of airplanes, individuals were also able to purchase airplane and helicopter rides.
Finishing off the event, there was a unique ribbon cutting. Showing off their skill, a pilot cut the ribbon on the new runway by using an airplane.
Mandan has had a long history with aeronautics. 83 years ago, on June 2, 1931, the area saw it’s first airmail service. Operating from a temporary landing field two miles west of Mandan, a Northwest Airways monoplane took off with 324 pounds of mail.
Two short years later, on May 2, 1933, Mandan would formally dedicate their first municipal airport. Construction on Ben Eielson Airport would continue until July of the same month. The airport was named after Carl Ben Eielson, a Hatton native. Accompanied by Hubert Wilkins, Eielson became the first to travel across the North Pole by air.
After a year of operation, Ben Eielson Airport, which was located south of the east end of “the Strip” in Mandan, had made sufficient improvements to be designated as a commercial airport by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
During the first five years of operation, the airport was managed by Johnny “Upside Down” Osterhouse. Osterhouse came by his unique nickname by having flown upside down under the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Mandan. Later on, in 1934, he would earn the title of the first North Dakotan to race in the Indianapolis 500.
Throughout the years, Ben Eielson Airport would be the place in which many pilots would learn to fly, especially in the years leading up to WWII.
Today, Mandan boasts one of the largest general aviation airports in the state. In the last few years, the airport has been seeing additional use. With the oil boom in the west, more planes are taking advantage of runways in our city, as they fly back and forth from western North Dakota.