RACINE — Talk about a frequent flier — that’s Michael Haubrich.
Wisconsin has 124 public airports. Haubrich, a Racine certified financial planner and licensed pilot with his own light-sport airplane, has flown into and out of all 124.
Iowa has 106 public airports. Haubrich has touched down and taken off from every one of them.
North Dakota has 89 public airports; Haubrich has done 89.
That’s a total of 319 airports in three states, and he has flown into 100% of them.
Haubrich is on a personal mission to blanket up to five Midwest states that all have programs challenging pilots like himself to swoop in for visits. The Hawkeye State, for example, has the Fly Iowa Challenge, which Haubrich completed on Oct. 26.
Next summer, he wants to conquer Minnesota and South Dakota.
Haubrich has the proof of his flights: Wisconsin and North Dakota each have a small book in which the pilot collects a stamp at every airport visited. In Iowa, the pilot merely has to touch down on each runway and can lift off again in one continuous motion. Pilots prove their touchdowns with their Federal Aviation Administration logbooks.
Haubrich, 62, is majority owner of Financial Service Group, 4812 Northwestern Ave. About five years ago he took up flying and, along the way, bought his own single-propeller, two-seat Flight Design CTLS airplane.
With the flying challenges, he explained, “They’re trying to promote general aviation. And when I say ‘they,’ it’s either the aeronautics division of the department of transportation in the state; Iowa has a separate nonprofit.”
Wisconsin started its program in September 2017, Haubrich said, and he promptly started his quest. It was his first conquest, and he did it over a 13-month period.
“Once this Fly Wisconsin program started,” he said, “it became a purpose (for flying).”
Usually, each program has three levels of accomplishment based on the number of airports reached. “There’s very few pilots that actually finish the entire program,” Haubrich said. But he has, in three states and counting.
“Iowa was the easiest state,” he said. “I could knock off 25 airports in a day. I could literally touch down (and take off again), and the only time I was stopping was for a bathroom break or fuel.”
Haubrich said that as far as he can tell, only he and one Minnesota pilot have completed multiple states’ flying challenges at the 100% level.
Getting out of Gackle
So far, the greatest of test of Haubrich’s flying skills was getting up and out of the little grass-strip airport at Gackle, N.D.
“This really required my use of all the stuff you learn in the classroom,” he said.
Gackle Municipal Airport is located in “the middle of nowhere,” Haubrich said. “There’s nothing around it at all. It is surrounded by water … They’re like big ponds.”
The airport has two perpendicular grass-strip runways that crisscross. Because of the wind that day, Haubrich had to use the shorter one, at 1,150 feet.
“Fuel was interesting,” he said, “because from where Gackle was, the closest fuel for me to get to was nearly an hour of flying away. So, I had to make sure when I got (to Gackle) I didn’t have too much fuel, so I could get performance to get out of there. … Because I was right at the limit.”
However, he couldn’t make the plane too light.
“Running out of fuel is not a thing you want to do in the middle of North Dakota,” he continued, chuckling. “The good news is: You can put it down anywhere. The bad news is: No one’s gonna find you.”
Moreover, there was no local weather station information, Haubrich said. He had to use data from three other stations as much as 40 to 50 miles away, and try to guess what lay between them. All he had at Gackle was a wind sock and the shimmering of the surrounding water.
To make things even trickier, upon landing Haubrich discovered that the grass on the shorter airstrip he was forced to use had not been mowed that week.
Needless to say, Haubrich, with his wife, Tami Witt, sitting next to him, made it out and to his next airport.
“North Dakota has a very active program with people flying into these airports,” Haubrich said. “And any time I ran into a pilot who was doing it, after I did land in Gackle, they all asked me the same thing: ‘Did you actually land in Gackle?’
“Because what I found out is: Nobody lands in Gackle. They just overfly it, document that they’ve been there, take a picture and go. I actually went there and landed, which meant that I got a stamp in my book.”
“That’s the one that I would say was the most intense.”
For flying into every airport, he said, “Four of the five states give you these really nice leather jackets, aviation jackets.”
Based on the cost of fuel and sometimes lodging, Haubrich said, “It is safe to say I have the most expensive aviator leather jacket in the world — (but) the experience was priceless.”