Who is that flying above Pine River?
Brett Anderson's flying machine was the talk of the town all summer
PINE RIVER — For much of the summer, Pine River-based Facebook pages were occasionally abuzz with questions about the strange machine occasionally seen flying above the treetops in town.
For those still wondering if it was a bird, a plane or Superman, that was just Brett Anderson on his paraplane — a two-seat, metal frame attached to a parachute and propelled by an enormous fan.
"I've been flying almost four years now," Anderson said.
Anderson usually flies out of the East Gull Lake airport because it is closer to his home in Nisswa, but occasionally he departs from the Pine River Regional Airport, primarily in the winter because Pine River keeps it plowed.
Still, he was witnessed on occasion drifting above Pine River, East Gull Lake and Breezy Point this past summer.
"I don't know how many nights I've gone out," Anderson said. "I've probably flown 150 passengers this summer. It's probably 70 or 80 times we've been able to get up."
Those passengers are often the same folks who spot him from the ground and drive to the airport to ask him about his unique aircraft. His passengers then get a keychain that says "Mr. B's Flying Machine" that are made by his wife, who sells crafts made with a laser cutter.
"It's something you don't see that often, especially in this area," Anderson said. "It's more popular in the Midwest and Southwest."
It is a hobby inspired by none other than James Bond. Anderson and his wife, Julie, were watching "The World is Not Enough," and Anderson told her that he would one day fly an aircraft like the one in the movie.
Julie agreed, with the caveat that he would have to wait until their two daughters had moved out.
"Everything else felt out of reach, or at least out of reach of my pocket," Anderson said.
Though his craft is different from many of the more common aircraft, he still needed to take ground school and classes for a sport pilot license through the Federal Aviation Administration. It takes a ground school test, 10 hours flying with an instructor and two hours flying solo.
Anderson was able to take classes in Little Falls.
After he was licensed, Anderson had a new machine built just for him. While Anderson still enjoys solo flights, he enjoys it most when he has a passenger.
"I feel like I'm cheating myself if I'm flying around with an empty seat," Anderson said. "It's just a privilege to take other people."
He often shares not only the views, but also his faith.
"We have headsets, so for an hour flight we just talk about life and what's going on in their world," Anderson said. "Some people who have never left the ground have their first flight experience. Being able to share that with them and pray with them and thank the lord for the privilege of flying over his creation has really opened the door for a lot of really interesting conversations in the air."
In the air, there are a few things Anderson likes to see most.
"sunsets never get old," Anderson said. "You can't get enough of sunsets and they are very different in the sky. My favorite thing, though, is putting people in the back seat and getting to know their story."
Anderson's interest in flying started at a young age.
"I was always a little boy who enjoyed looking up and wondering what it was like to be up there," he said.
His first flight was after his father died, when he got to fly to Illinois with American Airlines. Later, a close family friend took him up in the air in a Cessna and even let him control the craft briefly.
That was how it started, but flying the paraplane is not like other air travel.
"Everything is 35 miles per hour," Anderson said. "You're in an open cockpit and even for people that are experienced, sometimes it takes a bit of getting used to. It would probably be comparable to an open window helicopter type feeling. There's a lot of fixed wing guys who want to have more metal around them, but that's what makes it fun. You have an unlimited view."
That's an attraction even to experienced pilots like Rod Osterloh, who has been licensed since 1973 and flown over 1,100 hours. He met Anderson when they worked together with Close Converse.
"In a regular airplane you're enclosed," Osterloh said. "The wind is blowing but you don't get to experience it. I would say flying in Brett's aircraft is a little more like going snowmobiling in the sky, or riding a motorcycle in the sky. You get to experience the breeze in your face. You're out there with nature and everything."
Osterloh said the view in a paraplane is much better than from a traditional aircraft. You are traveling at 35 mph as opposed to 100 mph or more, and you have much less metal enclosing and surrounding you, thus blocking your view.
Paraplanes can often travel somewhat lower than most other aircraft.
"I think my favorite thing was that sense of freedom of being in the air and flying more or less at bird level," Osterloh said. "And getting to really see a lot of the things you don't have time to see when you're flying in a regular airplane. It was liberating, sort of unconfined."
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.