Robert “Bob” Simmers remembers his father flying him around the family farm east of Jamestown as a young boy.
He himself learned how to fly a plane around Jamestown.
After spending most of his life in aviation, Simmers, now of Bismarck, was inducted into the North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame Tuesday.
Rod Brekken, chairman of the North Dakota Aviation Council, said Simmers was chosen out of a field of about 14 applicants. He said he has worked with Simmers on projects for the aviation council in the past.
“He (Simmers) has been in aviation in North Dakota for a long period of time,” Brekken said. “I think he is very deserving of this honor.”
Simmers said being inducted in the North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame has been a “humbling” experience.
“It’s a real honor to be awarded this recognition,” he said. “When you’re amongst your peers and other aviators, to be chosen, it’s really amazing.”
Simmers said he and his father used to fly around the state to different airports for “Flying Farmers” events. Simmers said the only time he got sick flying was flying to a Flying Farmers event in Bismarck. It was summer and an unusually hot day and the combination of heat and the motion of the airplane made him queasy.
Working in aviation
Simmers did his first solo flight when he was 16 in 1963. In 1984, Simmers became a flight instructor while living in Jamestown. As a pilot and flight instructor Simmers is instrument certified, meaning he can fly and teaches people how to fly a plane in low-visibility situations using only the airplane’s instruments. He is also multi-engine certified as a pilot and flight instructor.
While in Jamestown, Simmers said he worked as an agricultural applicator and a charter pilot for Jamestown Aviation.
In 1990 Simmers founded the Bismarck Aero Center, a full-service fixed-base operation business that provides everything a pilot or airplane needs, from fueling service to flight instruction.
Simmers said the business has grown during the last 25 years, but especially with the oil boom of the last four to five years. The business opened a center in Mandan in October 2013.
“We’ve grown so fast in the last few years, with the demand for services out west,” he said. “It seems like we’re always playing catchup.”
Simmers’ son, Jon, is the company’s CEO. Bob Simmers said his main job these days is as a flight instructor.
“I teach on my own terms, “ he said. “I only take one student at a time. When I show up at the shop, I’m just one of the employees.”
Simmers was appointed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple to the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority in 2012. The authority’s main purpose was ensuring that general aviation interests were respected in the development of remotely piloted aircraft. The North Dakota Aviation Council noted that Simmers was key to the Federal Aviation Administration choosing North Dakota as a test site for unmanned aerial systems.
Simmers said he got involved with the systems authority because he wanted to make sure the needs of general aviation aren’t lost with the development of unmanned aerial systems.
“The object of the test site (in North Dakota) is to see how we can make unmanned systems compatible within the existing national airspace system,” he said. “It’s an integration process.”
Simmers said he thinks there is a big potential for using unmanned aircraft in agriculture and the oil industry.
“There is a great demand for surveillance using unmanned aircraft,” he said. “It could be a big help with the ag industry, monitoring crops and animals. For the oil industry, monitoring rigs and pipelines, even doing powerline patrols for utility companies.”
Simmers said what he likes most about flying is the freedom.
“I think everyone should experience the freedom of flight,” he said. “I like flying to get away from the Earth.”
Simmers said he also likes teaching people to fly.
“I enjoy it because teaching flying is easy to me,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with skills and to pass that on to other people is a real joy for me.”
Simmers has accumulated more than 16,000 hours of flight time and has flown more than 100 different makes and models of aircraft. He said he likes giving people rides in his own plane, a 1955 Cessna 180, or similar small airplanes because it offers a different view than riding in a bigger aircraft.
“Most people who are flying in a small plane for the first time are amazed at how smooth and quiet it (the ride) is,” he said. “They see the ground, are closer to the controls. It’s a whole different perspective than riding in the back of a big jet airplane.”