81-year-old Layton pilot flies into Hill AFB for weekend air show

Friday , June 22, 2018 - 5:15 AM1 comment

OGDEN — Gerald Lautenschlager spent nearly 50 years maintaining and repairing military aircraft, including a 22-year stint at Hill Air Force Base.

On Thursday, more than a decade and a half after he retired from Hill, the 81-year-old Layton resident returned to the base’s runway — this time as a pilot, flying his restored 1946 Ercoupe. 

The plane, a vintage World War II era antique that was rebuilt by Lautenschlager over a period of three years, will be on display during this weekend’s Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show — scheduled for June 23-24.

• RELATED: Hill AFB air show guide 2018: What to know about Warriors Over the Wasatch

Lautenschlager took off from the Ogden-Hinckley Airport late Thursday morning, completing his flight to Hill close to the same time the Air Force’s aerial demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, made their arrival.

“It was a zoo when I landed,” he said. “But it’s worth it. Bucket list kind of thing.”

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A native of upstate New York, Lautenschlager joined the Air Force in 1955, serving as an aircraft technician at various installations. He retired from active-duty in 1979 and then repaired F-4s, C-130s and F-16s as a Department of Defense civil servant until 2002.

Shortly after he retired, he found the Ercoupe in a friend’s hangar at the Ogden airport. The friend wanted to get rid of the plane, which was in bad shape, so Lautenschlager took it off his hands — working every spare minute he had over the next three years to get the plane into the sky.

“All I know is airplanes,” he said. “I spent my career working on them, I spend my retirement working on them and now I spend my free time flying one.”

His maiden voyage in the plane came in 2005. He said there was “not a doubt in (his) mind” that he would pilot the bird safely. Today he flies the plane every other week, weather permitting, and likes to take it to Malad and Preston, Idaho, to have a meal. 

• RELATED: Northern Utah native to perform at next week's Hill AFB air show

The 850-pound, 20-foot-long plane has a max speed of 114 mph and can climb to 9,000 feet. Lautenschlager refers to the plane as if it’s a person, but the aircraft doesn’t really have a nickname.

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“I just call her The Coupe — I fly The Coupe,” he said. “People say, ‘You flew the coop? What, you left home?’ I say, ‘Nope, I just flew my airplane.’”

Lautenschlager’s wife of 61 years, Wanetta Lautenschlager, died of congestive heart failure in February. The couple’s son, Steve Lautenschlager, said the plane has helped take his dad’s mind off the loss.

“It’s been a really great diversion for him,” Steve Lautenschlager said.

Though he’s flown more than 800 hours in the plane, Lautenschlager said swooping into Hill Thursday was the pinnacle.

“For me, its heaven,” he said. “Or right next to heaven, if you want to put it that way.”

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Hill’s air show is held every other year and the two-day event regularly draws more than 500,000 visitors. Base spokesman Micah Garbarino said flying is expected to begin at about 9:30 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday with Hill’s gates opening at 8 a.m.

The show is set to include the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, an F-35 attack demonstration, a special operations parachute team and several other military and civilian aerial demonstrations.

Displays of modern and historic military aircraft and equipment will also be featured, and an entire hangar will be dedicated to STEM education, with aerospace companies providing displays and interactive activities. The full show lineup can be seen at hill.af.mil.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer.

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