Waypoints: 50 before 50

November 2, 2009

The newspaper columnist noted with glee in his column that he had finally visited North Dakota, the last stop on his journey to visit all 50 states. With the last state long illusive, he finally just took a trip to North Dakota because he didn’t see how he would ever otherwise get there. Even North Dakotans will admit that their state is a bit off the beaten path. And many of them like it that way.

Reading the article a number of years ago caused me to ponder the number of states I had visited. I started a mental list, but quickly needed a map. After several trips down memory lane, it occurred to me that North Dakota was also the only state I had not visited. With the prestigious University of North Dakota and its Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences located in Grand Forks, I certainly had a legitimate reason go there. But still the years slipped away. At one point while visiting Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth, Minnesota, several years ago I crafted a scheme to visit North Dakota. The plan was to fly a Cirrus SR22 with a factory pilot from Duluth to Grand Forks to visit a Cirrus factory there. The Grand Forks plant makes subassemblies for Cirrus. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Kate Dougherty, then the Cirrus media relations director, had arranged for a photographer to meet us at the airport as I stepped out of the airplane. Unfortunately, a snow storm cropped up the next day and the mission was scrubbed.

More years went by.

AOPA recently entered a membership partnership with UND, as it has with several other aviation universities. In addition, the school is in the midst of changing its fleet of primary trainers over from Pipers to new Cessna 172s. The trip to Grand Forks is a long one in my Bonanza, but in an airplane as capable as the Piper Meridian, the trip would be easier. When Piper offered me the use of a Meridian for a few weeks, one trip that quickly came to mind was a visit to UND. So with AOPA Flight Training Deputy Editor Ian Twombly and Photographer Chris Rose along, we headed northwest for The Peace Garden State (see “Time Machine,” page 58). A few hours later I set the parking brake on the Meridian and stepped onto the ramp at the University of North Dakota. With crisp blue skies and a gentle prairie wind, it was a Chamber of Commerce sort of day that I won’t soon forget. “You saved the best for last,” beamed Bruce Smith, dean of the Odegard school.

While reaching the fiftieth state was a personal goal, I hadn’t realized how many others had considered such a feat. Apparently many people have the plan to reach all 50 states before age 50. I did it with a couple of years to spare. When we returned to the AOPA offices later in the week, the staff had a cake for me and during the celebration some challenged me on the legitimacy of the title given that not all states were visited by general aviation. I hadn’t started out planning to visit all 50 states by any means and so was just happy to reach the milestone under any circumstances.

As it turns out, the only states I haven’t visited in a GA airplane are Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Aside from Hawaii, a few hours in a high-performance airplane ought to get me the rest of the states.

Hello, Piper?

E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org; twitter.com/tomhaines29.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.