William Stephen “Steve” Kurtz, an aviation icon in Minnesota, died Aug. 24. He was 86.
Kurtz, whose aviation career spanned 50 years, did most of his flying at Aitkin Municipal Airport/Steve Kurtz Field.
“He was a living legend here,” said Ron Sieling, a mechanic who took flying lessons from Kurtz, who noted the airport was named for him in 1998.
“He was like everybody’s grandfather,” he said. “He didn’t have any kids himself, but everyone knew him. He taught hundreds of people to fly.”
Kurtz was born in Red Elm, S.D., in 1921. He took his first airplane ride when he was 6, flying with a barnstormer in an open cockpit biplane. He graduated from Aitkin High School in 1939 and was a farmer until joining the Army Air Corps in 1942.
During the war he was stationed in the Pacific and China-Burma-India theaters with the 9th Combat Cargo Squadron. He was a radio operator. He did not learn to fly until after the war when he took advantage of the GI Bill to obtain flight training. He earned private and commercial flying licenses and an instructor’s certificate in 1950. He worked for Garret Flying Service in Brainerd and bought his first airplane, an Aeronca Champion, in 1953. He ran Steve’s Flight Service from the Aitkin Airport, giving flying lessons and operating a crop spraying business, for 43 years.
Kurtz was a member of the Aitkin Flyers Club, the Experimental Aircraft Association, Aitkin VFW, and several local civic groups.