Canadian planes land in Custer

By Jason Ferguson

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The Custer County Airport receives visitors from around the United States and even from around the globe, as was evidenced last Monday, Aug. 29, when three friends from Ottawa, Canada, made their way to town.

Garth Knowles, Ken Macleod and Christopher McNally, who make frequent trips from Canada to Alaska, planned to go to Alaska recently, but were rerouted south by the weather. All three arrived in home-built Sonex aircraft. McNalley constructed all the pieces for his airplane, while Knowles and Macleod constructed theirs from kits.

The three left at the end of August for a two-week trip that included stops in both Canada and the United States, including in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Among their stops were the Little Bighorn in Montana, Yellowstone National Park and, of course, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills.

“The Black Hills are beautiful,” Knowles said. “I’m impressed with Custer,  too. It is really well taken care of.”

The men lauded the hospitality of the people at the small airports they stopped in during their trip and said Custer County Airport’s service is right at the top.

“People who fly help each other,” McNally said.

Flying in the Black Hills gave the three private pilots the chance to do high altitude flying, landing and takeoffs, which make them perform differently than similar maneuvers at altitude. The three said their planes, which take around 1,500 hours to construct, fly from 130 to 160 miles per hour. Although they can’t always see each other, they are in constant contact on the radio.

Although it was the trio’s first trip to Custer, it won’t be their last. They said there is a strong chance they will return to tour the area, spending less time in their planes and more time on the ground.

“It’s a great area,” McNally said. “This is a great place to fly into.”

Jerry Stites, a volunteer at the airport, said the arrival of the three friends from Canada is an example of people who frequently use the airport.

“Sometimes they don’t even plan to,” he said. “Every plane that lands out there has a story behind it.”

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