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History of Flight Schools in Minnesota

From the first flights across our state’s skies in the early 1900s to the development of major airports like MSP and Flying Cloud to the massive growth in interest in general aviation, Minnesota has played a major role in nearly all stages of flight development. Many of the most successful early-day pioneers were simply people who were simply passionate about airplanes – these locals are the backbone of the Twin Cities’ aviation community and were responsible for introducing our populace to the wonders of flight over the past 120 years.  Thanks to their help and the help of countless others to come after them, flight schools in Minnesota have always been at the top of the industry. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at exactly how that came to be.

The First Pilots From Minnesota

There are several key figures in early Minnesota aviation that played an integral part for the local and national success of the Wright Brothers’ world-changing invention. Perhaps the most important however, and the pilot who officially put Minnesota on the aviation map, was Hugh Robinson. In 1911, Robinson attempted a 1,900-mile flight from Minneapolis to New Orleans – quite a feat for the time. Even though his trip would be cut short in Rock Island, the national publicity he received helped the state stand out as a take-off and landing spot for aviators, with its location as the northernmost city along the Mississippi River.

Just four short years later, the history of flight schools in Minnesota officially starts, thanks to the construction of – not a new airport – but a racetrack.

The Beginning of Aviation In Minnesota

In 1914-1915, the Twin Cities Motor Speedway was constructed in Bloomington. As a rival to the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, local magnates built a two-mile, million-dollar course that was supposed to take its place as one of the top racing destinations in the world. Even though it was an ambitious project, in just two years it would be hosting its last event due to lagging public interest and business mismanagement. Although it was a failure in terms of racing cars, it was soon repurposed into a landing strip for the Twin City Aero Club. The first aviators to regularly cruise in and out of Minneapolis/St. Paul would use the racetrack’s giant, vacant infield as a landing spot. Soon enough, the location would be renamed to Wold-Chamberlain Field. And so began the growth of flight schools in Minnesota.

First Flight School In Minnesota

The first official flight school was located in Falcon Heights, at the earliest full-service commercial airport in Minnesota, Curtiss Northwest Airport. Owned and operated by home-state native Bill Kidder, the airport opened in 1919 with Kidder acquiring a fleet of 75 World War I Curtiss Jennies trainer planes. He offered his own version of a discovery flight, taking passengers up for $15 rides with the purpose of “educating the public regarding this new method of transportation”, according to an original company brochure. Beyond this, however, the early years of flight schools in Minnesota were marked by an independent, private enterprise system, where individual pilots may offer some instruction in their bi-plane or ground instruction for the interested. It wouldn’t be until 1928, however, after the Minneapolis Park Board acquired Wold-Chamberlain Field, that things would take an “official” turn for aspiring professional pilots in the area. Wold-Chamberlain, at this point renamed to Minneapolis Municipal Airport, would be the first to train pilots for commercial purposes, through the Universal Air Lines Aviation School. In 1928, the company had an enormous presence in the Twin Cities aviation community. With the growing popularity of flying as a new method of travel and for moving commerce, pilots were in high demand, and the airport was happy to oblige by offering the proper training programs. All the while, coinciding with the opening of Minneapolis Municipal Airport, St. Paul had plans on constructing its own airport, Holman Field. Ultimately, It would be this move that allowed many smaller, private airfields to open and thrive, while supplying flight training services to all sorts of customers around the Twin Cities.

Flight Training Takes Off In The Twin Cities

As World War II came to a close, many resources supplied by airports for the war effort were reallocated back to commercial enterprise. However, with two competing airports in operation less than 15 miles away from each other, Minneapolis Municipal Airport and Homan Field, then-governor Harold Stassen formed a special commission. Known as the Minneapolis Airport Commission, the project aimed to improve the flow of air traffic in and out of the Twin Cities. These airports would be implemented over the course of several decades to accommodate a massive increase in military, civilian and commercial interests. 

The first to open would be Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie in 1941. Its original purpose was to train pilots for the U.S. Navy, who leased land from a local farmer, Martin “Pappy” Grill. After the war, one of the first flight schools in the Twin Cities to provide private pilot lessons was at this airport, known as Thunderbird Aviation. Founded by WWII veteran Albert Grazzini, he recognized the growing popularity of general aviation and sought to educate the general public on the benefits of learning to fly by the early 1960s. Business boomed, and other new airports in the MAC system followed suit, like Crystal Airport and Anoka County-Blaine Airport, home of Twin Cities Flight Training.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the same sentiment moved through the rest of Minnesota – private flight training centers popped up throughout the state, from 360 Aviation in Albert Lea to collegiate-focused North Star Aviation in Mankato and everywhere in between. This gave the general public more accessibility to flying than ever before. 

Minnesota Flight Schools Today

Today, there are dozens of flight schools in Minnesota, providing all types of educational services, from ground school to airline transport licensing to helicopter training and so much more. It’s never been easier for anyone to sign up for flight training and learn how to fly their preferred type of aircraft. And, as of 2021, the top flight school in Minnesota is Inflight Pilot Training

Thanks to a personalized approach to training, consistently updated fleet of planes and large roster of accredited flight instructors, Inflight Pilot Training is the fastest growing flight training center in Minneapolis and throughout the state. As the Twin Cities’ premier Cirrus Training Center, meaning they have the backing of one of the largest small-plane manufacturers in the country. Since their humble beginnings in 2008, they’ve grown to help thousands of students achieve their goals when learning to fly in just a few short years – a feat that not many other flight schools in Minnesota can claim. 

Ready to get started with flight training?

Enough with the history lesson – if you’re ready to get started with flight training, get in touch with the team at Inflight Pilot Training today. No matter what your goals are when learning to fly, whether it’s obtaining a hobby license, commercial certification or some other complex endorsement, we’ll help you succeed in the same way we’ve helped countless others. Find out why Inflight is one of the most popular flight schools in Minnesota: Send us a message or call (952) 698-3000 to learn more about our culture.