North Dakota man recalls his 80 years of flying
TAYLOR, N.D. (AP) — And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
— High Flight
The final line of that poem, "High Flight," sort of sums up one of the philosophies of Leland Brand's life.
Well, as Brand puts it, "About as close as anything else."
Brand, 89, is a rancher, but this is the first year since he can remember that he hasn't calved in a bunch of cows.
But most probably know Brand as a pilot. For good reason; he has been flying for roughly 80 percent of his life.
And, he still flies.
Born in 1921, Brand grew up and still lives on the family homestead south of Taylor. He says his interest in flying began as a young boy, building kites and model airplanes.
He took that interest and passion and turned it into aviation career that includes being a flight instructor in the Navy Cadet Program during World War II.
Listening to Brand tell the stories from his ranch, it was clear there are many facets to the man's life.
Photographs of granddaughters, one a ballerina and one a professional model, adorn the modest mobile home he lives in now.
As much as anything, Brand said he became a flight instructor sort of by accident.
During his senior year in high school, a barnstormer with engine trouble set his bi-plane down on a dirt road outside of town and let it sit there over the winter.
By spring, Brand and friend Grant Gullickson had the plane running. "It took a lot of gasoline and propping," Brand said with a grin.
That was the same year Brand and classmate Jim Vranna qualified for the state track meet, Brand as a hurdler and Vranna as a thrower.
The thing was Taylor didn't have a track — or hurdles — or a coach or team.
"We used to hitchhike to track meets," Brand said, "and wouldn't you know it, we qualified for state."
After high school, Brand enrolled at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo as an ag engineering student.
He already had earned his private pilot's license by then, but he wasn't able to earn his degree.
As a member of the advanced ROTC program he left college in September of 1941 for Minneapolis where he became certified as a flight instructor and received his commercial pilot's license.
After Pearl Harbor, Brand joined the Navy Reserve and was assigned to Minot as a flight instructor in the Navy V Cadet Program, flying J3 Cubs and N3N trainers.
Many of his students went on to fly dive bombers in the Pacific theater.
For about 40 years, Brand has been a contract pilot for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's animal damage control program and an aerial applicator for about 50 years.
In 1944 Brand returned to the farm and was the first president of the North Dakota Flying Farmers, a group organized in 1946.
He was in the first class inducted into the North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame when it was established in 1997 and served 15 years as a board member of the state Aeronautics Commission after its inception in 1946.
Brand said for the first three winters alone as a pilot in the animal damage control program, he figures they shot upward of 900 coyotes from his airplane.
With a gunner on board, Brand said he would drop down to about 15 yards off the ground, within shotgun range, slowing his speed to about 50 mph.
Brand started spraying crops with his J3 Cub in 1948, something he continued for about five decades.
During the winters Brand said he would fly when and where needed including the occasional mercy flight to the hospital in Dickinson.
The winter of 1949 was particularly harsh, he said.
Snow made roads impassable so Brand said he would fly kids from the area to town for school for the week where they would stay with family or friends.
He also would deliver full cream cans to town, return with the empties and bring back the mail and a few groceries for neighbors.
"One summer at the VFW picnic I gave rides," he said. "I think everyone in the community got a ride that day."
If you could fly there, there's a good chance Brand has flown there.
In 1982 he received special recognition for a Minnesota Twins fly-in promotion for flying the longest distance — 600 miles.
"I got a nice mug and really good seats," he said with a laugh. "It was the old Met Stadium and Bert Blyleven was pitching ... the seats were so good you could call balls and strikes from them."
An avid outdoorsman, Brand said he's made countless flights into Canada for fishing and hunting trips and hit the grand slam of North American sheep; Dall's Sheep, Stone's sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn and the desert big horn.
In between, he also managed to fly four-time saddle bronc champion Brad Germundson and a few other cowboys around the country.
Brand still holds a permit to hunt coyotes from his plane if they become a problem on his or neighbors' land, and in March he and his gunner bagged 26 in a about 2½ hours.
As to why flying has always held such a fascination for him, Brand said it's something that is difficult to put into words.
"It's kind of peaceful," he said. "And I like the view."
Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com