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Published January 23, 2014, 10:31 AM

Man flies to all 89 N.D. airports in three weekends

In order to fill the passport, a pilot must visit North Dakota's 89 airports and get the passport book stamped at each airport. The pilot must also visit the air museums in Fargo and Minot and take three safety seminars offered by the Federal Aviation Administration.

By: Chris Olson, Jamestown Sun

Keith Veil started flying airplanes in 1980 when a friend paid him back with flying lessons for work Veil did for him.

Thirty-three years later, Veil reconnected with his love of flying and celebrated getting his pilot's license renewed by completing the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission's Fly North Dakota Airports passport program in November. The program is co-sponsored by the North Dakota Pilots' Association and the Airport Association of North Dakota.

"I did it (flying to all 89 airports in North Dakota) over three weekends, over five days of flying," Veil said.

In order to fill the passport, a pilot must visit North Dakota's 89 airports and get the passport book stamped at each airport. The pilot must also visit the air museums in Fargo and Minot and take three safety seminars offered by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Veil said he had already visited the air museums before flying to all of the North Dakota airports and attended three safety seminars.

Veil joins two other Jamestown residents, Dale Seckerson and Jay Dugan, who completed the passport program in late 2013. Sean Davis, special projects manager for the Aeronautics Commission, said including Veil, Seckerson, and Dugan, nine pilots have completed the full passport program since it started in 2010.

Veil owns Midwestern Machinery with his son and is part owner of the Jamestown Speedway. He said he wasn't able to fly a lot last year due to a medical condition. He received his medical clearance to fly on Oct. 31, got his pilot's license renewed and started flying again.

"The passport was something I had wanted to do. I had been to many of the North Dakota airports over my 30 years of flying, but I had never documented it," he said.

Veil said flying to all of North Dakota's airports over five days didn't start out as a marathon. He was flying to Beulah, N.D., to see his grandson compete in a motocross race in early November.

"In the morning, it was such a beautiful day, I just started bopping from airport to airport," he said. "By the time I got to my grandson's race, I had knocked off 13 airports in one day."

The next day was cooler, but nice, so Veil said he decided to see how many airports he could visit that day. He was flying north and flew from airport to airport systematically. By the end of the day, he had visited 22 airports.

"My biggest day was 24 airports," he said.

Flying across North Dakota

Veil is vice president of the Jamestown Regional Airport Authority and owns one of the hangars at the airport. He said one of his motivations for visiting all of the North Dakota airports was to see what kind of facilities each airport has and what services are offered.

"Without question Jamestown has one of the best facilities," he said. Veil said the Jamestown Regional Airport is one of the best for instructing pilots due to its location, availability of facilities and lower air traffic numbers compared to larger airports.

Veil said all of North Dakota's airports are safe and in good condition. He said some of the smaller airports had shorter runways, like Milnor, where the runway is 2,200 feet long.

The airport at Killdeer was the most challenging as there was construction work occurring on the runway.

"I got permission and landed on about half the runway. Luckily there was no construction work going on the day I landed there," Veil said.

Veil said he really enjoyed visiting the airport at Columbus, given its proximity to Canada.

"It's way up there by the border," he said.

Other states offer a passport program like North Dakota. Veil said he thinks North Dakota's program is achievable for just about any pilot due to the state's terrain and good flying conditions.

"There isn't a lot of 'negative terrain' in North Dakota," he said. "We don't have to fight a lot of trees and mountains. Minnesota has a lot of trees."

Veil said he also enjoyed flying in November because cold air creates great flying conditions. He said going into smaller airports, heat makes a difference because you don't get as good a lift with hot air versus cold air.

"Fall is a great time to fly," he said.

Veil ran into some extreme cold toward the end of November. He took off from Jamestown and landed in Valley City. The temperature was minus 20 and the plane he was flying didn't have a good heater. He took off from Valley City and landed at Fargo and Pembina.

"It stayed at 20 below all day," he said.

Flying club wanted

Veil said he would like to see a pilots club form in Jamestown. He said getting pilots together to talk about why they fly and what brought them to it could help bring some positive attention to the Jamestown Regional Airport and aviation in general.

"Too often with aviation the focus is on how much its costs and all the problems. People forget how much fun it is," Veil said.

Veil said he is working on completing the passport program in Minnesota. So far he has flown to 27 of the 137 airports in Minnesota.

"I plan to take a little longer to complete the Minnesota passport, like a year," he said.

Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at colson@jamestownsun.com

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