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By Charly Haley and Heidi Shaffer, Forum staff writers, Published September 08 2012

Odegaard respected by fellow aviators

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – A day after Bob Odegaard took off for his final flight, friends and fellow aviators were remembering the famed North Dakota pilot for his expertise in the air, strong community ties and ongoing friendship.

Odegaard, who was killed Friday evening in a plane crash while preparing for the Valley City Air Show, was a veteran pilot and key part of establishing the Fargo AirSho.

“We’ve seen tragedies like this before,” said Darrol Schroeder, who worked with Odegaard, Gerald Beck and Dick Walstad to establish the Fargo Air Museum and AirSho. Beck was killed in 2007 at an air show in Oshkosh, Wis.

“It’s always hard to understand, but it’s something we just have to accept,” Schroeder said. “And, of course, at this point we just don’t really know what happened in Bob’s case.”

The cause of the crash is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration, which had two agents investigating the site Saturday in Valley City, said North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Troy Hischer. The state FAA office in Fargo could not be reached Saturday afternoon for comment.

Odegaard was “a careful, cautious and gifted pilot” and great guy, Walstad said.

“He was an all-American nice person, just a kind and gentle man, very cooperative, very supportive,” he said.

Walstad remembers the only time he ever flew in the backseat of Odegaard’s vintage P-51 airplane – and the only time he flew in an airshow – as a highlight of his life.

The Valley City Air Show, scheduled for this weekend, was canceled because of the crash.

“He probably participated in every airshow that our committee had during 1989 through … even last year,” Walstad said.

Odegaard is not only remembered as a great pilot; he was also known for his skill in restoring aircraft.

Beck and Odegaard worked together on restoring World War II planes and other vintage aircraft for many years.

“They had molds and parts and stuff that you would seldom find anywhere else in the world,” Walstad said. “They could make parts that were no longer in existence. Between the two of them, they had quite a reputation.”

Odegaard’s interest in aviation started with crop spraying, which became a business with Schroeder.

In 2003, Odegaard was featured on TLC’s “Junkyard Wars” with former Gov. Ed Schafer and Bismarck lawyer Rolf Sletten.

Nicknamed the “High Flyers,” the trio launched a washing machine on the show, and then later donated it to Bismarck-Mandan Special Olympics for use in fundraising exhibitions.

Odegaard was involved in many community service efforts, such as an aviation education outreach with the national Experimental Aircraft Association, using “Duggy, the Smile In The Sky” plane, said Fran Brummund, director of the Fargo Air Museum.

The museum has films and books about Odegaard’s life available to the public.

“There’s very few people in our lifetime that we meet who have a following the way Bob did,” Brummund said. She said Odegaard was constantly creative, a strong “family man” and always humble.

“He was a symphony in the sky,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum features editor Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511

and Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 241-5542