You may not know the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s (MAC) Joe Harris by name, but he played a big part in one of Eden Prairie’s prep sports history greatest moments.
Harris was the referee in the 2011 triple overtime state championship hockey game between Eden Prairie and Duluth East that many regard as one of the greatest games in tournament history. Eden Prairie won, 3-2.
But refereeing hockey games is more of a hobby for Harris.
His day job is director of the MAC’s six general aviation airports. Prior to this, he managed all but one of these airports, including Flying Cloud Airport from 2001 to 2008. (The MAC also owns and is responsible for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.)
In addition to being a commercial licensed pilot and a certified flight instructor, Harris says he loves working with the airport communities and the cities that surround them, including Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie.
His enthusiasm for aviation is infectious.
“I've been so blessed to get to know the people who own businesses at Flying Cloud – as well as our MAC employees there,” said Harris. “I have crossed paths with some of Minnesota’s greatest aviation pioneers at this airport. When you get to experience the airport the way I do – get that backstage pass – it is just absolutely magical.”
In addition to the many corporate jets and recreational planes based at Flying Cloud, several flight schools operate there as well. When giving MAC presentations to various groups, Harris said people – including commercial pilots – often share with him how they got their aviation start at Flying Cloud.
“This airport is an incubator for grassroots aviation that feeds many sectors of the aviation industry, as well as people who just love being around airplanes.”
Flying Cloud Today
Blaine Peterson manages Flying Cloud Airport today, along with the MAC’s Airlake Airport in Lakeville. And he’s no stranger to the industry either.
A 1998 graduate of the University of North Dakota’s airport management program, Peterson has worked in various capacities at regional airports in Wisconsin and Minnesota, including Duluth International Airport in Duluth. He has also been active in the U.S. military, joining the Army in 1989 and retiring from the Duluth Air National Guard as a Major in 2014.
“As a high school student in Moorhead, I had the opportunity to take part in an aviation program my senior year,” said Peterson.
He said he always imagined he’d become a U.S. Air Force pilot. But he didn’t have the 20/20 vision required at the time and instead found himself working as a mechanic on the Army’s M1 tank – something he chose because it had a jet engine in it.
That experience is one of many that led him to his interest in helping young people find career paths in the trades.
“College isn’t for everyone, so I’ve been working with schools to help create a new way of looking at workforce development,” said Peterson. “In fact, I have worked with Josh Swanson – the superintendent of Eden Prairie Schools and a pilot who flies out of Flying Cloud – on how his district might help direct kids who want to work with their hands into lucrative careers.”
Every day, Peterson sees the need for this approach when he talks to business owners at Flying Cloud.
“It may not be evident to people outside the industry, but there’s a real need for aircraft mechanics, upholsterers and aircraft maintenance personnel,” said Peterson. “If you’ve ever been on a plane where the upholstery has been worn through, you can appreciate knowing there are people out there who can fix it.”
Another example he gives of the importance of tradespeople in aviation is the person who is trained to keep an aircraft maintained on the outside (not just the engine).
“People don’t realize that the person who washes the outside of planes isn’t just there to make it look nice for passengers – keeping an aircraft clean is actually one of many safety measures aircraft operators employ to ensure the aircraft doesn’t experience any unnecessary drag when it takes off.”
There are also the four MAC airport maintenance employees who Peterson directs at Flying Cloud who collectively represent more than 75 years of experience keeping airports maintained and safe for everyone.
Whether plowing snow off the airfield, mowing grass to keep birds away or ensuring the 860 acres (670 football fields worth) of airport property are clear of anything that could be sucked into an aircraft engine, these people are integral to keeping the airport safe and aircraft flying.
When asked what other facts he thinks people would be surprised to know about Flying Cloud Airport, he mentions the sheer variety of people and aircraft at the airport.
From the person in their 70s who has flown the same Piper aircraft for decades, to the corporate pilot who flies for local corporations to destinations all over the United States, to the aviation-based business owners who help others find careers in aviation, Peterson says when talking with them they all put away their egos and just want to do their best for the airport and the community.