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Clint Lowe, Published September 11 2012

Letter: When that P-51 flew by, we knew Bob was near

On a breezy summer afternoon, 100 feet from our hangar, the familiar P-51 sat, its owner folded across the cockpit sill, feet on the wing and his upper half hidden, looking at some issue he was having with the radio. Now satisfied with whatever he investigated, Bob stood and asked if I had a tire gauge handy. Shortly, we were checking the main gear pressure and making small talk. To me it was “working” on one of the most famous airplanes of World War II; to Bob it was another moment in the day of taking care of his plane.

To pilots and mechanics, Bob Odegaard was Fargo’s representative to the world’s icons of aviation. Without chair or whip, he tamed some of the most ferocious airplanes of World War II, easily strapping on thousands of horsepower and making them behave like angels. Each of us turning wrenches, flying our puddle jumpers, or looking from the cockpits of airliners quietly felt the urges of our youth when we saw Bob idling one of his hard-earned restorations on the ramp or at the end of the runway.

If you were lucky, you’d be downwind of the aircraft exhaust, now hearing, smelling, as well as seeing the very thing you’d read so much about as a kid, where fighter aces shoved throttles up to Emergency War Power to escape a tight spot. For a moment in time, you were again racing through an adventure with a flashlight after bedtime, gathering every exciting word as Corsairs turned into a gaggle of Zeros, and tracers flashed past windshields.

To anyone who’d had the good fortune to speak at length with Bob, it seemed he possessed the dichotomy of Superman; a wonderfully regular guy who managed to change clothes in the confines of an airplane cockpit. His daily driver, at least when I knew him, was an old, well-used foreign compact pickup he unceremoniously parked next to a stable full of eye-watering air machines of history.

In human form, he easily spoke of and listened to tales of airplanes and family, displaying a tremendous patience with those of us who can’t say something in 10 words. He often spoke of his wife and children, the goings-on at home, and how he wanted to get this or that done by some uncertain date.

His concern for others is documented. There is little doubt the air show he was practicing for, like many others, was another chance he saw to engage people in aviation. Charity was evident in the creation of the Fargo Air Museum and the dedication of an entire DC-3 airplane (Duggy – The Smile in the Sky) to the ever-important sparking of children’s interest in flight. During its 50th anniversary in 1997, Bob dove headlong into helping the North Dakota Air National Guard celebrate its history, providing a P-51 as an easel to re-create their first operational airplane as well as performing a restoration on a former Hooligan P-51 on display to this day.

It seems some things just aren’t supposed to pass into history, like vintage war planes and people with a passion to restore them. Though some of us might have gone years without seeing Bob, the occasional P-51 darting across the Fargo sky reassured us he was still around and, if we wanted to, we could take a drive somewhere close by and visit with him.

Remembering the limitations of reality, we once again learn the wisdom of God ultimately transcends our desires of longevity and, in his infinite wisdom, it’s been decided it’s time for Bob to pass the torch and enjoy his reward.

So, let’s take a moment to remember all the great things that were combined into a person we knew as Robert Odegaard – and, just maybe, if you look above Fargo on a quiet night, you may catch the faint glimpse of a ’51 ascending out of Angels Five-Zero.

Lowe, Fargo, is with the North Dakota Air National Guard, and has a longtime interest in airplanes and aviation.