It took brothers Henry and Peter Rosko to get Brainerd’s first airfield off the ground.
Henry Rosko housed the first airfield in the region in the 1920s, according to Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport officials.
“Born in Brainerd of German immigrant parents Joseph and Eva, they grew up on the farm just southeast of town. But farming just was not in the cards for the brothers' future,” according to Mike Petersen, a 67-year-old pilot with a keen interest in aviation history.
The brothers were to possess a fascination with anything mechanical, according to Petersen, and as they grew older they developed a mechanical aptitude to match.
“In addition, they seemed to be able to foresee ‘the next big thing’ when it had to do with mechanical devices,” Petersen wrote.
Petersen spent several years researching local aviation history, starting from about 1912 until 1961. He worked at the airport for about five years after retiring from his career in the printing business before retiring again.
The Rosko brothers owned a thriving automobile repair and welding business at Ninth and Laurel streets by 1913 that evolved into a dealership selling Dodge automobiles, and International Harvester trucks and tractors.
“They are largely credited with many ‘firsts’ in the Brainerd area — the first car in 1906, first balloon tires sold in town, first steam shovel — and even inventing an attachment for a Dodge automobile to power the movement of ice blocks cut from Rice Lake up the incline to the loading dock,” Petersen wrote.
The brothers from the 200 block of South Ninth Street owned arguably the first airplane, a hydroplane, in the area. A hydroplane of the day was essentially a boat with wings and the engine and propeller behind the pilot pushing it along.
“While we do not have any record suggesting that either brother became a pilot, Henry is quoted as enjoying the sensation of flying, finding it smoother than many of the roads he drives on,” Petersen wrote.
Rosko’s Airport was located 2 miles southeast of the Brainerd water tower. The 160-acre airfield included three unlighted runways and a hangar with no service personnel, repair facilities or firefighting equipment, according to a Department of Commerce bulletin from 1929.
“Believing that aviation was ‘the next big thing,’ they set aside 160 acres from the farm for an airfield,” Petersen wrote. “During those early days of barnstorming, any flat field without rocks could be considered an airport.”
The Rosko brothers bought a Waco 10 biplane sometime between 1920 and 1927, perhaps the first plane actually owned and kept in Brainerd, according to Petersen.
“Also during those years were dozens of editorials expounding the need for an airport in Brainerd. People everywhere were enthralled by this new aviation thing, and Brainerd was lagging behind other communities in developing a suitable airport to bring this new excitement here,” Petersen wrote.
The November 1929 Airway Bulletin of Rosko’s Airport showed three runways, north-south at 1,330 feet long, east-west at 1,950 feet long and southwest-northeast at 2,200 feet long.
By May of 1929, the Brainerd City Council undertook fact-finding to determine the best site to build a municipal airport. The Rosko brothers offered to sell the entire airport to the city for $20,000.
“In the end, the city council failed to take any action on Rosko, or any of the other potential sites, saying only that they would discuss it with the county,” Petersen wrote.
Shipman Auto Parts now owns the hangar and the property behind it. The property immediately to the north of Wright Street and the turnaround is owned by the city of Brainerd, and the property to the east of that is owned by Gary and Karen Thiesse.
According to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport website, Rosko’s Airport by the 1930s “could not be expanded to meet the growing demands of the aviation industry. In time, Rosko’s field was abandoned, and the city sought acreage east of Brainerd to build a municipal airport.”
Crow Wing County was solicited as a partner due to the size of the property, and the city of Brainerd bought about 900 acres along Highway 210 in 1945 for what would be the site of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.