Rich Haas paid $4,995 for his first airplane: a 1961 Piper Colt he bought brand-new. Spent 30 cents a gallon to fuel it up.
The North Mankato pilot invested nearly $100,000 in the used plane he’s flown for 20 years: a 1977 Mooney M20. These days he pays more than $5 per gallon for fuel.
Clearly, flying small planes has become a much more costly endeavor over Haas’ 55 years in the air. But the high cost of aviation fuel has dampened Haas’ hunger for flight; at age 78 he still flies for both profession and pleasure, and he’s not giving it up any time soon.
Earlier this month, Haas received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. (No big deal … It’s only the most prestigious honor the Federal Aviation Administration bestows upon civilian pilots.) The award recognizes pilots who have “exhibited professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years,” according to the FAA website.
He isn’t doing much to celebrate, though. In fact, Mankato-area businessman and pilot Fred Lutz, one of the handful of Mankato area residents who has also earned the FAA honor, cajoled Haas to apply for the honor.
After he learned this winter that his application was approved, Haas told the FAA to mail him the certificate. But after multiple requests from an FFA official, Haas went to the Rochester last week to accept the honor in grander fashion at an FFA ceremony.
The Sleepy Eye native still clearly remembers the day he decided he wanted to be a pilot in early 1961. The Marine Corps veteran went into sales after his service and chartered a flight from the Sleepy Eye airport to a business meeting in Wisconsin.
Just days later, Haas was taking flying lessons from that pilot: Eldon Lowinske, the airport’s manager. Weeks later he flew his first solo flight.
Learning to fly isn’t as difficult as people think, according to Haas.
“If you can drive a car you can fly an airplane,” he said.
In 55 years, Haas has logged approximately 7,500 flight hours. He’s had a scare or two in that time, but never a crash landing.
In addition to pleasure flights, Haas has flown regularly for multiple business ventures.
For anyone who travels sizable distances for their career, Haas said plane ownership is a worthwhile investment.
“Whatever you do, you’ll do it better knowing how to fly,” Haas said.
Haas worked from 1967 to 1975 as a plane salesman for Bellanca. After he was promoted to national sales manager, Haas said the company’s sales tripled.
He left to start his own real estate business.
“I decided that if I was going to wok that hard I was going to work for myself,” he said.
Later he also started an auctioneering business and then a training school for engineers. He said he trained more than 5,000 auctioneers before he selling his Continental Auctioneers School to a former student a few months ago. He continues to work part-time selling real estate, primarily farm properties across the country.
With the Mankato Regional Airport as his home base, Haas said he flies around 130 hours a year these days and will be keep flying as long as his health allows.