A memorial to a truly great aviator, Bob Odegaard

9:24 AM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I've only met Bob Odegaard one time, but that's all it took to know this was one of the aviation family's most accomplished aviators. We all should strive to be the kind of pilot he was, a humble but focused man who never met another pilot who was not his instant friend. And on Friday, September 7, 2012, in a crash as he practiced for an air show in Valley City, ND, the life of this wonderful pilot and generous human being was cut short at the young age of 66.

I never did any business with Bob, nor spent more than three days with him and his family. I know nothing of his personal life other than what has appeared in the Fargo, ND area press, which describes him as a generous man with strong convictions who helped numerous organizations build a better community in his hometown of Kindred, ND. Of course, his talents for building and flying airplanes are legend. So my opinion of him is based solely on how he and his family treated me for those glorious three days in 2010 when he invited me along to ride with him and son Casey as they flew the family DC-3/C-47 - Duggy, The Smile in the Sky - down to the "Last Time" DC-3 reunion and then on into EAA Airventure OShkosh.

First, to understand what this flight meant to me, you need to get inside my head and understand what Duggy means to me:
I am of the opinion that our airplanes are in many ways like living things, they have souls, and they know their roles in our aviation world. Of all the makes/models flying, none have quite as many stories to tell as the DC-3/C-47, and of those, Duggy might be the leader of the pack. This plane has a personality and a soul that goes far beyond simply being a collection of parts bolted together to convert dead dinosaurs into altitude. If you are a true aviator like I am, you feel it when you climb aboard this bright yellow plane. You feel all his admirers, the passengers and the soldiers that have been there before you. There is a sense that this particular airplane is happy (see the SMILE?) to again be lofting skyward to fly over the clouds in search of more children eager to have their little fires lit about flying. But behind Duggy was one gentle, determined man, his owner, Bob Odegaard. Along with a team of family and friends, Team Odegaard kept Duggy's mission alive, to start each day's air show at Oshkosh by deploying skydivers, or just sitting on the ramp welcoming endless streams of kids to come inside...and dream.
When I first read about the Last Time reunion planned for Rock Falls, IL, I decided to email Bob and ask him point blank that as a journalist, could I somehow hook up with him and Duggy to fly into that event. On the phone call that resulted, when Bob found out I was a pilot, he did not hesitate five seconds to invite me along. "We'll have some empty seats I imagine," Bob said, "and if you're that much of a fan of Duggy, I'm sure he'll be happy to have you on board. Just get yourself to Fargo and we'll go have some fun."

After flying into Fargo, I was soon out at the Odegaard's hangar complex in Kindred. Upon arrival, I saw Duggy's right engine in pieces, with both Bob and Casey on ladders wrenching away. We had an early AM departure planned, but a spark plug had broke off inside a jug on the right, and with a thunderstorm approaching, you would think the pressure was building to get those bright yellow cowlings back on and get Duggy pointed towards Rock Falls and eventually Oshkosh. You would THINK that with 500,000 people eager to enjoy their annual summer visit with The Smile in the Sky, the Odegaards would have been sweating bullets.


In the next few hours – as the sky darkened and the infamous 787-sized NoDak mosquitoes started doing touch-and-goes on any skin not covered with armor – Bob and Casey calmly replaced the jug, without one drop of sweat or any foul language. I stood in awe as they completed the complicated dance of tearing off and replacing the jug on an old radial engine. Through all of this, Bob displayed a demeanor that was super cool. Lots of smiles, plenty of joking and laughter by all. I was impressed.
That afternoon, a group of five or so more people along for this flight showed up, and we finished the night in Odegaard's hangar, you guessed it, hangar flying. We ate microwaved pizza and listened intently as this man told plenty of crazy stories, each more unbelievable than the next. But when you are surrounded by so many trophies, plaques, awards and of course, a gigantic stable of exquisite warbirds – including the Super Corsair – and uncountable radial engines, parts, memorabilia and other artifacts from a flying life well lived, you just know this man has done all the things he speaks of in these hangar flying tales. It was two of the most cherished hours of my flying career, to be there, listening to that man, knowing that the next day I get to climb about Duggy and fly off to the next adventure.
And late that night, we finally arrived out at the Odegaard ranch, where I was treated like family. He and his wife was warm and friendly, and I commented that they really didn't have to be hosts, just aim me at a bed and I'd be good. But Bob put his hand on my shoulder and calmly said "you're a transient pilot, and anyone that visits Kindred is welcome here any time." This is an aviator that understands what the phrase "pilots helping pilots" really means, and lives by a set of unwritten aviator's rules we all need to aspire to follow.

The next two days were aviation bliss...times 100. Every second of time inside that storied DC-3/C-47 – with a stereo symphony of radial engine noise reverberating through the cabin – was so wonderful, so important and so priceless, it is hard to put into words. Along the way, Casey did most of the flying, and Bob spent lots of time in back, chatting up his pax. As we droned along over what I suspect was either corn or soybeans stretching to the horizon, Bob got out his classic, original Fender Mustang electric guitar, plugged in to a small amplifier, and sat on Duggy's floor. He picked out a very nice collection of riffs that were one part Elvis and two parts Buddy Holly, and right there, in that scene, I think I might have actually got misty-eyed. It was one of those aviation moments so rare and so intense, you know you'll never live it again and surely will never forget even one tiny detail.

We made the Rock Falls event, and the next day, flew the "Warbird Approach" into Oshkosh. That "C-47" on Duggy's data plate made that approach official. Along the way, Bob let me stick my camera - with flash - in his face all the time, blasting away without so much as a stern look. The dude just smiled all the time, it's a little freaky. When we finally deplaned just shy of show center, I tried thanking Bob, but words could not be found to express the unbridled joy my aviator's soul was feeling inside. I had just flown into the world's greatest aviation celebration in the happiest plane in the sky.

Think about that last sentence for a minute.

In the slight confusion over getting Duggy parked and removing our bags, Bob Odegaard jumped on a golf cart and was gone. I tried for the next two days at the show to catch back up to him and try to thank him for providing me with the flight of a lifetime. But I never ran into him again.

So tonight, I write this at 1:24AM, not able to sleep, missing Bob terribly. What does it say about a man's character when you can hang out for only three days and feel this sort of sadness when he dies? It says this is one huge loss, not just for me, but for North Dakota, for the entire aviation family, and for Duggy.

I know that beautiful big yellow guy is one tough bird, but I can assure you he is not smiling as wide right now. Because I know he and Bob had a mutual respect for each other that only an airplane and its owner/pilot can share. I hope Duggy's mission lives on after such a tremendous loss, because we all know Bob would want it no other way.

Godspeed Bob, now go teach Doolittle and Lindy a thing or two about flying airplanes. Say hello to Papa Louie up there. You were a good friend I will never get to know.

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UPDATE: The funeral for Bob will be Wednesday, September 12th in Kindred, with a remembrance for at the Fargo Air Museum at 5pm on Wednesday the 12th. All the info is available here.

UPDATE: I have been asked to post more photos from this wonderful flight. So here is an embed of the Picasa gallery (it is flash so if you are on a mobile, click here to view):

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