August 31, 2019
Thirteen is not usually considered a lucky number, unless you are an aviation buff, and you are attending the 13th annual Battle Lake Gathering of Airplanes (BLGA) at the Battle Lake Airport, in Battle Lake, Minnesota (Identifier 00MN) also known as the Tribute to Gerry Beck.
I’ve attended and photographed many fly-in’s and airshows, and this is both of those, but it takes place at a small grass airstrip in the lake’s country of western central Minnesota and has grown into a pretty spectacular event. The BLGA is held every Labor Day weekend on Saturday from 10AM until 2 PM to commemorate the renowned warbird rebuilder, Gerald “Gerry” Beck, known to most of his friends and even his wife Cindy, and daughter Whitney as “Beck”.
This was my second year attending and photographing this event and it was an amazing experience once again.
The 2019 Fly-in was the largest of the 13 yearly events so far, according to Patricia “Pat” Kostelecky the coordinator of the event. There were 82 aircraft and at least 500 people, attended including many who are heavily involved with war bird rebuilding and restoration, such as Casey Odegaard of Odegaard Aviation and the Fargo Air Museum, Warren Pietsch of the Dakota Territories Air Museum in Minot, ND, Ron Fagen of Fagen Fighters Museum in Granite Falls, MN, all must see locations if you like old war birds.
The initial Battle Lake Gathering of Airplanes, 14 years ago, had 10 people and 3 airplanes. The Fly-in was planned to gather support to try and save the Battle Lake Airport. The local community was contemplating closing it due the operating cost, not seeing the benefit of the small strip and hangers to the area. Gerry Beck and friends were trying to show how much revenue it generated for the town and surrounding areas and to raise funds to keep it open. The Becks had purchased a local lake home mainly due to the closeness and convenience of the Battle Lake Airport. Even though it was a small grass airstrip, with just a few hangers, it allowed he and many other pilots who spend their summers at lake homes and cottages in the area, to fly in for the weekend from Minneapolis and other parts of Minnesota, North and South Dakota and even farther away.
So, Gerry Beck, a renowned warbird restorer and founding member of the Fargo Air Museum, was a key supporter involved in the planning of this initial event. It just so happens that he was sick the day of the event, and couldn’t attend, then by the time the 2nd year of the event was planned, he had been killed in an accident in the 2007 EAA Air Venture in Oshkosh Wisconsin. From then on, the yearly event was also a memorial airshow to Gerry as well as the gathering of vintage and modern aircraft. It remains a gathering of friends and a fund raiser for the airport as well.
Gerry was well known for his vintage plane restoration business in Wahpeton, called Tri-State Aviation, which grew out of a crop-spraying operation. Gerry completed several of his own full restorations and participated on many others. These restorations of Warbirds included P51 Mustangs, an F4U Corsair, a TBM Avenger, a Hawker Sea Fury, and a Mitsubishi Zero. The rebuilding and restoring of planes led them on many “Family Vacations” looking for just the right parts for these historic planes.
Gerry Beck was born in 1949 in Guelph, North Dakota. From the Tri-State Aviation’s Gerry Beck Memorial Page: Beck discovered a love for aviation after becoming involved in skydiving during his college years at the University of North Dakota. He graduated from UND with an Industrial Arts Degree, and while teaching high school in Grand Forks, North Dakota, he continued his path in aviation by obtaining a private pilot’s license and rebuilding his first airplane.
In 1974, he founded Tri-State Aviation, Inc. (TSA), an aerial spraying and aircraft maintenance firm located in Wahpeton, North Dakota. During his agricultural aviation career, Beck developed, or contributed to the development of, numerous items that enhanced pilot and aircraft safety and efficiency within the agricultural aviation industry.
Before becoming interested in, and specializing in warplane building, Beck developed several crop-spraying innovations that are widely used today. These innovations include a special spraying boom incorporating an airfoil shape instead of round tubes.
Beck’s funeral at the Fargo Air Museum had hundreds in attendance, and the large turnout for the funeral was a testament to Beck's abilities as a warplane restorer and advocate, and the closeness of the community of enthusiasts.
The first thing to strike you about the Battle Lake Gathering of Airplanes, and to make it such an amazing event, is the camaraderie of those in attendance. The next is the wide variety of aircraft and being able to walk among them up close and personal.
It’s rare to see one Beechcraft Stagger wing at a small-town fly in, but there were 2 of them this year’s BLGA. One, the yellow N985SW, is owned by Warren Peitsch, mentioned earlier, who was a very good friend of Beck. According to Whitney Beck, it was a surprise arrival since the plane was Warren’s latest project. Several people said he had finished just a week before the event and was making its maiden long flight after restoration. The plane was in like new condition and a highlight of the show.
Some other notable airplanes, among the many rare and vintage aircraft and the number of war birds in attendance, were; several T-6 Texans or Harvard’s as they are known abroad, the ‘310C’ Vought F4 U Corsair owned by Cindy and Whitney Beck, rebuilt by Gerry Beck and flown by John Sinclair, the TBM Avenger T83, flown by Brad Deckert, the P51 Mustang, Boomer, flown by Tim McPherson, several Boeing PT17 Stearman Trainer aircraft and a Marine Corps T34 Mentor. Also notable among the rare aircraft were 2 Belanca’s, a 1972 and a 1973 model 17-30 and 31, a 1950 Piper PA18, several models and years of Van’s RV aircraft including Gerry Beck’s own RV4 that Whitney and Cindy Beck both confirmed as Beck’s favorite airplane to fly. Whitney even said, “That when asked, her father would pick the RV over all the warbirds and other aircraft he had flown as his favorite to fly due to its nimble handling and ability to get to the small airport at Battle Lake in 15 minutes from Wahpeton’s Harry Stern Airport, the home base of Tri-State Aviation.” She said that he loved being able to pull it out of the hanger by hand even with his bad knees.
Other interesting aircraft were a 1959 Downer Belanca, a 1980 Rupp Roger Starduster biplane, a 1961 DeHavilland Beaver complete with floats, and a 1946 Fairchild 24W46 Argus.
With 82 planes at the event there were too many to name, but there were also many Cessna and Piper Variants as well as a Carbon Cub and Aviat Husky to name a few.
The Legacy of Gerry Beck – From the Tri-State Aviation Gerry Beck Memorial Page.
Beck openly shared his knowledge and his passion for aviation. He encouraged and assisted others, willingly spent time with people of all ages who exhibited an interest in his endeavors, participated in airshows and aviation events, and was instrumental in the formation of the Fargo Air Museum. Gerry’s vision was to build a second wing on the museum, to house restoration projects complete with rivet stations, audio WWII vignettes, welding and aviation basics.
Beyond aviation, his philanthropy was evident in every aspect of his life as he gave tirelessly of his time, talents and dreams. He was a visionary, a thinker with an undaunted, steadfast, positive outlook. Beck’s legacy will be the indelible mark he left on the many lives he touched worldwide.
Many antique aircraft perform at today’s airshows and races worldwide were directly touched by Gerry Beck or Tri-State Aviation. ‘The Restorers’, is an hour-long documentary film about warbird and vintage aircraft restorers and the planes they resurrect from the graves of history… In the snows of North Dakota, we find two of the best warbird builders in the world in Gerry Beck and Bob Odegaard, builders of Mustangs and a rare Super Corsair respectively. ‘The Restorers’, is available to view at https://www.hemlockfilms.com/the-restorers-season-1,
If interested in finding out more about Gerry, there is also a great article with photos of the builds in Warbird News by Matthew Mc Daniel, written in 2016, about his projects including his P51’s, F4U Corsair, Zero, and Hell Diver Rebuilds. http://warbirdsnews.com/tag/gerry-beck
Gerry was also involved in the making of the movie “Thunder over Reno” which featured Bob Odegaard’s Super Corsair.
I knew Gerry in passing due to being a volunteer at the Fargo Air Museum for a time, and having a passion for vintage aircraft and warbirds. I am also an avid aircraft photographer, and this event is unique in that you can see, and be among, all these wonderfully restored aircraft from a very close distance. All the planes are marshalled on the ground, but you often have to be aware of taxiing airplanes when moving around the parked aircraft to look at them.
To say this is a close-knit community of aviators is an understatement. It’s more like a family gathering where the public is invited to partake these beautiful flying machines. Many of the participants have been attending since the first annual event.
So, if you decide to go to the 14th annual event on Labor Day weekend 2020, check Facebook for the event “Battle Lake Gathering of Airplanes” on the Midwest Airshow, Fly-in and Flight Club group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/MNFlightClub/. Make sure to bring $5 for the Raffle fund raiser for the airport and a few dollars for lunch, fly-in or drive in, but make sure to get their early to get a spot and ensure they don’t run out of food (2019). There might be 1000 people there next year and over 100 aircraft on a small grass strip in western central Minnesota. Enjoy the view on landing as you will be coming into this airport over the lake and watch the wind, it can shift on you. Hope to see you there.
The information for this article was gathered from interviewing Cindy and Whitney Beck, Pat Kostelecky, Kreg Anderson and Todd Weber a former employee of Odegaard Aviation as well as several articles in local newspapers, one written by Robin Huebner and published in the Grand Forks Herald. Also, with information by Gary Renier, and from attending the event, as well as the Tri-State Aviation website.
Thanks to Gary Renier, a friend of Beck’s and a Battle Lake area summer resident who led an aviation photography event at my first show in 2018 for the Fargo Camera Club. Gary, a former Optometrist in Fargo, ND, is also heavily involved with Aircraft photography being a volunteer at the Commemorative Airforce Museum in Arizona, and former Fargo Camera Club President.
It is my very distinct pleasure to write this article and get to know these wonderful people a little better.
President, Fargo Moorhead Camera Club.
Owner, Kings Court Creative Photography.