Aircraft repairer, restorer

Gary I. Johnson’s repaired numerous aircraft over the years and restored many of them.

Fifty years ago on Feb. 20, 1964, Johnson joined the Pietsch family business in Minot. Now Johnson is observing his 50th anniversary as a mechanic at Pietsch Aircraft Restoration & Repair in Minot.

“I’m not retired,” he said Wednesday. He said his work is “a hobby a job hobby and it’s made my livelihood over the years.”

Johnson worked in construction at Minot Air Force Base before going to the Army. “I worked on the runways for Peter Kiewit & Sons Construction they were the prime contractor out there. I was a heavy equipment operator,” he said.

When he got out of the Army in February 1964, after serving for two years, he went to work for Minot pilot Alfred Pietsch at Pietsch Flying as a mechanic. He also started flying planes. “I knew Alfred before I went to work here,” he said.

Johnson worked on many older fabric-covered aircraft. Pietsch’s spraying business was located there so he also worked on the spraying aircraft, he said.

“Then the charter business started and I did that,” he said.

“We’ve done the contract maintenance for the airlines and we still do today,” he continued. “I’ve worked on North Central’s and Frontier’s to Republic and Northwest and many other aircraft.”

Johnson said there’s more turbo-prop jet-type corporate aircraft the smaller jets now. “That’s been a change on the airport here,” he said. Even before the oil boom, he said they were seeing more of these planes.

He said the privatization of the fueling for airlines and general aviation was another change for the airport. “The service to general aviation aircraft is tremendous right now. I’ve got to brag about Warren (Pietsch), my boss, because he’s the one that did it,” Johnson said.

He said the nearby Minot Aero Center’s huge hangar for transit aircraft also has been a major change for the airport.

He said many miliary people and others also come to Pietsch Aviation to learn to fly.

Johnson, a pilot, retains his commercial license in multi-engine and instrument rating.

Nowadays, Johnson’s mostly doing what he likes best the restoration of old aircraft.

Currently, he’s working on a 1936 Luscombe Phantom that Warren Pietsch and Duane Haugstad own. “It’s a very rare plane,” he said. Only one other such plane is flying. “It will fly some day,” Johnson said, referring to the ’36 Luscombe Phantom.

Johnson’s also involved in the Dakota Territory Air Museum and has been a board member since its early years. “What’s happened there has been a lot of changes,” he said, referring to the museum on the north side of the airport and its various developments, including the annual exhibit of World War II planes from the Texas Flying Legends Museum.

Johnson and his wife, Jacki, originally from a farm north of Tolley, reside in Minot. She’s a former nurse and also has been an instructor at the Quentin N. Burdick Job Corps Center. Their three children and spouses are: Keith and Denise Johnson, Karen and Shane Hannengrefs, and Julie and Eric Haas, all of Minot, and three grandsons, Grayson and Barrett Hannengrefs and Liam Haas.

Reminiscing, Johnson said he watched his boss, Warren Pietsch, grow up and has observed his accomplishments over the years. He said Pietsch likes old aircraft and retaining and continuing with those planes, but he also moves ahead to make changes.

As for himself, he said he feels, “If you don’t take change, you wouldn’t be going anywhere and you wouldn’t be progressing.”