EAA Chapter 54

St. Paul, MN. (Lake Elmo)

A Conversation with Marlon Gunderson

On February 12, 2024, EAA Chapter President Marlon Gunderson was the chapter meeting program with a "fireside chat" hosted by chapter Vice President Jay Schrankler.

Marlon Gunderson and Jay Schrankler

Marlon: What we would like to do to build more community in the chapter is have more members presenting and find out how we can help you. Please talk to Jay. If you've got a program you'd like to hear or share, please let us know. Leif Erickson will put a PowerPoint together for you.

I'm from East Central Minnesota -- Rush City and Mora. I was the 8th of 11 children in a dairy farm family. My Dad almost went broke farming before I was born. He moved 5 kids to Thief River Falls and had a couple of crop failures. He bought a place in Rush City and took an hourly job to pay the contract off and grow the farm to where he could support his family again. My brothers and sister were the labor supply. We were given a lot of responsibility and the boys got pretty mechanically inclined.

Marlon is second from right, standing up

By 1974 he had enough income to quit his job and buy a bigger farm so we moved to Mora. My best friend was a guy who wasn't used to competition academically and I showed up and got better scores. He befriended me. He was a relative of the people who founded Cirrus.

St. Olaf had a program and my parents wanted me to be closer to home. So I went there and then did graduate work at Stanford, where I met my wife. We stayed out there until she finished her studies. She found an opening for a professor with a PhD at Macalester so we moved back.

I just retired after working for three different companies here.

Jay: I'm an engineer too and that's what interested me. What's the worst job you had and the best one?

I liked all the jobs that I had. I guess I'm proud that I had a part in all these products that are out there, especially the last job at Micron and the chips I designed. In terms of the worst, when I first moved to Minnesota I worked for a startup company making an Internet router. They got bought out and then that company got bought out by Lucent. What we did had overlap with another startup they bought so they shut us down.  They chose the startup and it went out of business a year later and Lucent just tanked.

Jay: I was worried you'd say the worst job was being an EAA chapter president. We'll get into that in two years. Let's get into aviation. When you set out in your aviation journey, did you have specific goals?

Some of my older brothers were into model airplanes and I did a lot of that. My oldest brother, Dave, became a pilot when I was in high school. He had a Luscombe and I went flying but what I found is I don't like flying with someone else; I'd rather be piloting. I went to Oshkosh in the late '70s early '80s and the ultralights really grabbed my attention. I was never interested in flying as a career.

Jay: Tell us about airplanes you've had

I had some real interest in the ultralights but then I went out to grad school and got married and then became a parent. It wasn't until I was back in Minnesota when I was 35, I found an UL for sale and I bought it. But I found it's hard to find UL training. I went to Fleming Field at Lysdale Aviation and trained in a Super Cub.  I was supposed to solo in the Super Cub but they fried the engine so I just soloed in the ultralight and it was really easy.


John Renwick sold me his hangar space in a club at Lake Elmo but UL didn't fly out of here so I needed an airplane and found an experimental. I kept that here at Lake Elmo and joined the chapter in 2000. Bill Schanks was the president and he was a CFI so he did flight lessons in my own airplane.

Unfortunately, the storm that came through here collapsed John's hangar and it landed on my airplane, so that was the end of that.

Bill finished my training in a J-5 and took my checkride with a local examiner.

I found the J-5 was slow to get to places. My brother had a Piper Clipper and he sold it to me. I flew it to Montana, which was the longest flight I'd been on. Sold that and now I have a Cozy. I finished that 7 years ago and the squawk list is growing.

Marlon GundersonJay: Your fondest dream: If you could own any aircraft, what would it be?

I read Jimmy Buffett's book "A Pirate Turns 50", when he flew a Grumman Goose around the Caribbean and I thought, "man, that would be fun,"

Jay: You're the incoming president, people would be interested. Every leader has a vision. Tell us about your vision for the chapter.

I volunteered to be president because we couldn't find one. I didn't come with a vision. It's pretty basic; I want the chapter to go forward. It's a great airport; there's a lot of talent in the club. In the last few years, Young Eagles have been having a hard time finding enough pilots and one of the challenges is matching the number of pilots to the number of kids. We've gotten out of the fundraising business and we need to get back into that. We'll find out if we have enough support for that when this survey comes out. The pancake breakfasts are good; you get the airplanes out on the ramp; it's a good PR thing for the airport.

My goal is to keep our finances on a firm footing as it always has been so I don't want to be the one under whom we go broke. We are a social group; that's maybe one of the most important things. We learn from each other. There's not a lot of people like us who put the time and money into getting a pilot's license.
One other goal is to be an open community for people who want to get into this sport and what can look like a very expensive proposition and a few of us have learned how to get into this activity without being a millionaire.

Jay: There's a website called Affordable Aviation. I'll put a plug in for that. Question: If you were to sit in this clubhouse 50 years from now, what would it look like.

Fifty years ago -- 1974 -- the Lycoming was an old engine. The VariEze came out in '74; I'm flying a Cozy. It still looks like a futuristic airplane. What's changed is avionics and all the Garmin stuff.  We've got FADEC engines that are more like automobiles. We're seeing battery-powered airplanes. I tend to think that technology, unless there's a breakthrough, it's going to take awhile. I'm going to guess... in 50 years we're not going to have lead in our fuel, I hope. We're going to have synthetic fuels like hydrogen or hydrocarbons because of what's going on with the climate. It's going to be more obvious we need a new energy paradigm. Even gasoline, it's not so much the source of energy as a carrier of energy.  Gasoline is carrying energy from the sun from eons ago. I'm a big nuclear proponent; we need to get people turned around on the nuclear industry. It's the only viable way we can tackle the carbon problem.

Jay: We're very fortunate to have you as our president.


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