When Russell Kinneberg’s mechanic told him the best thing he could do for his plane is fly it, he took it to heart.
The Plymouth, Minnesota, pilot has since landed at more than 200 airports — sometimes as many as 18 a day — as he participated in the Fly Minnesota Airports Program sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Since then he’s branched out to neighboring states to participate in their programs, designed to get pilots to land at all of a state’s airports.
Russell notes he was very young when he started flying.
“My Dad, Glenn, got me started in flying with my first ride at two months old,” he says, adding his Dad is his inspiration.
“He will be inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame in 2019,” he reports. “He is 91 and has been flying for 71 years. I hope that I can fly for as many years as my Dad.”
Russell earned his private pilot certificate in 1980. He kept current by renting airplanes until he was able to buy his own in 2011.
“My plane is a 1973 Piper Challenger, which is similar to an Archer II with a Hershey bar wing rather than tapered wing,” he reports.
The plane had not been operated for four years when Russell became its owner.
“After the 2012 annual, my mechanic recommended the best thing for the plane was to fly it,” he recalls.
And while he had been flying to Minnesota and Wisconsin airports — usually within 50 to 100 miles of his home base — when he was renting, once he discovered the Fly Minnesota Airports program, he took off.
“I completed the Gold Level — landing at 130 Minnesota airports — in 2013,” he says. “The next year I did the usual fly-in breakfasts, however my annual hours were down.”
“I completed the Bronze level — 20 airports — in South Dakota in August 2015,” he recalls. “Then I completed the bronze level of 30 airports in North Dakota in October 2015. I completed the Platinum level of 110 airports in Iowa in December 2017.”
It was in the fall of 2017 when he discovered Wisconsin was starting a similar program. Less than a year later, in August 2018, he completed the Bronze level in that state, landing at 42 airports.
“I usually fly airport to airport — or ‘airport hopping’ as I call it — since the duration between airports can be 10 to 20 minutes,” he says. “My Dad has been along on some of the Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin trips. Otherwise I usually fly alone and spend about 10 minutes at the airport searching for a stamp or signature, take a quick picture of my plane N55419 in front of the airport building, and then I take off for the next airport.”
The most airports he flew to in Minnesota in one day was 18, while he topped that in Iowa, landing at 21 airports in one day.
All of the programs have prizes for pilots who complete the challenge. Russell reports that so far he has received leather flying jackets from the programs in Minnesota and Iowa.
“When I complete Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota, I will have five leather flying jackets, one for every day, Monday through Friday,” he says with a laugh.
And while he cherishes the leather jackets, he says there have been quite a few other benefits to participating in the programs.
“I get the flying hours for my plane to keep it in good working condition,” he begins the list. “It also builds flying hours for me. There are only so many fly-in breakfasts or $100 hamburgers.”
The challenges also help him keep — and build — his flying skills, he says.
“Every airport approach and landing surface is different,” he notes. “Sometimes the crosswinds make for interesting landings.”
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