Minnesota airport renamed for hometown pilot

Nearly 90 years after Klingensmith died in a plane crash, a student pilot has managed to rally her community to give Klingensmith the recognition it should have deserved with its success in air racing and the establishment of aviation records.

“We have to celebrate it,” said Marisa Bengtson-Loerzel of Moorhead, Minnesota. “Our community needs to know who they are. She has such an inspiring story that I wanted to share it. Bengtson-Loerzal is a teacher who took flying lessons in the 1990s before work and family obligations took over. She hopes to resume her flight instruction this year or next year.

Born in 1904, Klingensmith defied societal expectations of her generation by riding a motorcycle. Seeing Charles A. Lindbergh land in Fargo, North Dakota, just across from Moorhead, made him want to become a pilot. She enrolled in a school for auto mechanics and took driving lessons. She earned the nickname “Tree Tops” when she became the first licensed female pilot in North Dakota – there was no airport in Moorhead at the time, so she “crossed the river to Fargo to take his flying lessons, Bengtson-Loerzel mentioned.

Klingensmith did skydiving and stunts with other pilots, but she wanted her own plane and persuaded local Fargo businesses to donate money for the purchase of one in exchange for advertising space on it. In 1929, she bought a monocoupe and joined 98 other female pilots to form The Ninety-Nines, the international association of female pilots whose founding members included Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes and Louise Thaden.

In 1931, Klingensmith performed 1,078 inside loops before an audience of 50,000 in Minneapolis, breaking the previous women’s record of 980. She also began competing against men and women in aerial races, and in 1932 she was the first Amelia Earhart Trophy winner.

Klingensmith was in the Frank Phillips Trophy race outside Chicago in 1933, driving a Gee Bee Model Y Sportster that had been fitted with a Wright Whirlwind engine with twice the original horsepower, according to the site. Web Fantasy of Flight by Kermit Weeks. She won second place in the Women’s Free-for-All at the Chicago International Races. However, that day the plane malfunctioned and Klingensmith died in the ensuing crash.

Although the cause of the crash was not pilot error, the crash was blamed on Klingensmith’s gender, Bengtson-Loerzel said. “Instead of getting the hero’s welcome that male pilots got, she was sent home to Moorhead in a box,” she said.

A monument to Klingensmith was placed at her grave in 2015. Even so, Klingensmith is not as well known as some of her aviation contemporaries, Bengtson-Loerzel said, noting that she has only heard of Klingensmith. only after reading Keith O’Brien’s book. Fly Girls: how five daring women defied all predictions and marked the history of aviation, who profiled five women aviators: Earhart, Klingensmith, Thaden, Ruth Nichols and Ruth Elder.

“I had not heard of[Klingensmith}etentantquepersonnequiagrandiautourdesavionsaimantl’aviationlisanttoutcequejepeuxsurl’histoiredel’aviationj’auraisdûsavoirquielleétait”adéclaréBengtson-Loerzel”Immédiatementaprèsavoirlulelivrej’aisuquejedevaisfairequelquechose”[Klingensmith}andassomeonewhogrewuparoundairplaneslovingaviationreadingeverythingIcanaboutthehistoryofaviationIshouldhaveknownwhoshewas”Bengtson-Loerzelsaid”ImmediatelyafterIreadthebookIknewIhadtodosomething”[Klingensmith}etentantquepersonnequiagrandiautourdesavionsaimantl’aviationlisanttoutcequejepeuxsurl’histoiredel’aviationj’auraisdûsavoirquielleétait”adéclaréBengtson-Loerzel”Immédiatementaprèsavoirlulelivrej’aisuquejedevaisfairequelquechose”[Klingensmith}andassomeonewhogrewuparoundairplaneslovingaviationreadingeverythingIcanaboutthehistoryofaviation…Ishouldhaveknownwhoshewas”Bengtson-Loerzelsaid“ImmediatelyafterIreadthebookIknewIhadtodosomething”

She responded to a call for submissions for a mural to be displayed in Moorhead town center and, in collaboration with local artists Cory Gillerstein and Jared Froeber of Upper Hand Signs, which came to fruition in 2019. The mural of Klingensmith is on display on Main Ave. and Seventh St.

“But I knew the best way to honor her was to rename our airport after her,” Bengtson-Loerzel said.

She approached the Moorhead Airport Commission and then Moorhead City Council. “Our community was very accepting of this idea, the airport and the city council embraced it with flying colors,” she said. In March, the airport officially became known as Moorhead Municipal Florence Klingensmith Field, although it still appears as Moorhead Municipal Airport in the AOPA Airport Directory. Funds are being raised to acquire new signage and a historic exhibit for the airport office, Bengtson-Loerzel said, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned.

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