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Bowman farm boy soars: A remarkable journey to the ND Aviation Hall of Fame

June 01, 2023 10:08 | Anonymous

By Jason O’Day, Forum News Service

Rodney Schaaf will be inducted into the state’s Aviation Hall of Fame after a lengthy career and years of community service.

Rodney Schaaf (right) and North Dakota Aviation Association’s FLY-ND Conference 2023 and Kyle Wanner, Executive Director, ND Aeronautics Commission (left)

The North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame committee recently announced that Rodney Schaaf of Bowman, N.D. has been selected for induction into the state’s Aviation Hall of Fame on March 7. Rodney will join 47 other high flyers inducted before him.

Flying was a lifelong dream for this Western Edge wing master.

“It started in my childhood, when two of my neighbors’ farms launched the Weather Modification Program. They do hail suppression, cloud seeding and rain enhancement,” he said. “I’d always watch them go up and fight the storms and everything down in southwest North Dakota there and that kinda started everything, wished I could do it and just went from there. I know I can do it, and I did it.”

Schaaf, 72, in Hettinger, N.D. After graduating from Bowman High School in 1968, Rodney attended NDSU and joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Following his graduation in 1972, Rodney joined the Air Force and was assigned to pilot training where was named a Distinguished Pilot Graduate with a top 10 standing within the class.

“Nowadays I’m retired so I’ve got all the farm ground leased to a couple of neighbor kids. And I still help with fencing, moving cattle, cutting hay and stuff like that,” he said. “Sometimes I think I’m busier now than when I was flying.”

Rodney’s first military assignment sent him to the Grand Forks Air Base as a KC-135 flight crew member. Flying KC-135 missions involved completing in-flight refueling and passenger airlift operations worldwide, taking him from North Dakota to Alaska, Spain, England, Hawaii, Guam, Japan and South Korea. During his military service, Rodney achieved the rank of Captain. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1978. The timing proved serendipitous, as Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act that year to foster greater competition and lower ticket prices.

“Everybody was hiring… Airlines were very restricted on what routes they could serve. So if Delta wanted to add another route, say Atlanta to Detroit, it had to go in front of the Civil Air Aeronautics Board at that time. And they would say no, Northwest already has that covered,” Schaaf explained. “So now, airlines could go wherever they wanted. There were a few congested areas like New York that required a certain number of slots or else you’d overload the air traffic system.”

Rodney was hired as a pilot for Delta Airlines in 1978 and continued a successful career through his retirement in 2004. In 2012, Rodney became the fourth pilot to complete the state’s Passport Program, where he flew to all 89 public-use airports in North Dakota. Rodney has also assisted many others in their completion of this achievement as he believes in the importance of the program and how it allows people to interact with the aviation community across the Roughrider State. He also continually advocates for youth aviation education and development.

Rodney was also appointed to serve on the Bowman County Airport Authority in 2007 and he acted as the chairman of the board for over a decade. In this role, he was the primary liaison between the Bowman Airport and the county, state, and federal agencies. This entailed the coordination of hail suppression, crop-dusting and medical flights. Rodney also goes out of his way to help incoming aviators with obtaining fuel, ground transportation, and to provide information about the local area.

As the chairman of the airport authority, Rodney was instrumental in the planning, design and construction of the new Bowman Regional Airport which was opened to the public in 2015. He volunteered countless hours consulting with contractors, engineers and government agencies to ensure that the new airport would be an exceptional facility for Bowman and neighboring communities.

He explained the prior airport runway was too short for use during the summertime, but that rebuilding was an eight year process with a lot of regulatory complications. As part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Great Lakes Region, he had to compete with airports in four other states for grant funding.

“They determined that’s a wetland, and you mention wetland to the government? Well, the world’s gonna end. So we had to go through various options,” he said. “Then you go through the construction bidding process which takes time because with the FAA, they have so many restrictions. The main one is to buy American. You know, there’s almost nothing made in America anymore. So you’ve got to go through all the waiver processes. And then you got the Davis-Bacon wage system.”

The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 requires federally funded projects to pay prevailing wages to contractors. Many conservatives and libertarians argue this was originally implemented as a way to price black workers out of the labor market; and that it continues to unfairly favor union companies, discourage small businesses from entering bids and artificially inflate construction bills to taxpayers.

Rodney has also been an active citizen and volunteer. He has helped as a Cub Scout leader and has taken young aviators on introductory flights. Rodney has also served as a Talbot Township Supervisor and Bowman County Zoning Officer.

Kyle Wanner is executive director at the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission. He said the aviation community is grateful for Schaaf’s contributions.

“The aviation Hall of Fame recognizes the Aviators who have made a difference in North Dakota… Recognizing their volunteerism, their passion for aviation, the work that they’ve done to make a difference in the lives of their community members and the lives of those who are involved in the aviation industry throughout the state is incredibly important,” Wanner said. “Rodney is very, very well deserving. The Bowman airport is really there because of all the time and effort he put in.”


Rodney was a U.S. Air Force Captain in the 1970s.

Rodney Schaaf was a Delta commercial airline pilot for 26 years. 

Reprinted with permission from The Dickinson Press.

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