A 58-year-old Wahpeton, N.D., man famous for restoring old war planes was killed Friday in a collision with another plane at an experimental air show in Oshkosh, Wis.
Gerald S. Beck was killed in the crash of two P-51 Mustangs, single-seat fighters used in World War II, said Dick Knapinski, a spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association, which puts on the weeklong air show called AirVenture.
The other pilot involved in the crash, Casey Odegaard, 24, Kindred, N.D., suffered minor injuries.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating, said NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz.
Witnesses said one plane was behind the other, and when its propeller hit the tail of the other plane, it flipped up and over the other aircraft, landing upside down in a fireball.
The other plane tipped up on its nose, and Odegaard walked away.
"Mr. Beck had been here (at the air show) for a number of years," Knapinski said. "Our hearts go out to those involved. It's always a sad thing when this occurs because everybody is prepared to their very best ability, from the pilots to the air traffic controllers, to keep these things from happening. It's very unfortunate when it does."
Beck had built his plane from the plane's original specifications, Knapinski said. Odegaard was piloting a plane that belonged to his father, Robert Odegaard, also of Kindred.
Robert Odegaard and Beck met each other as colleagues in the agricultural aviation business in North Dakota, but soon grew interested in restoring World War II military fighter planes.
Each owned a company focusing on restorations and rebuilding of plane parts about 40 miles away from each other. Beck's company, Tri-State Aviation in Wahpeton, N.D., specialized in fuselages, and Odegaard Aviation, Kindred, specializes in wing building.
"It's been very difficult for me," Robert Odegaard said. "We were hoping to grow old together."
Robert said that Beck was a mentor for his son.
"He and Casey got really close because they had done so much flying together," Robert Odegaard said. "They became very good friends, so this has been tough for Casey."
Darrol Schroeder knew Beck for nearly 40 years and watched him build a number of airplanes "right from the ground up."
"They're better than new when he's done with them," Schroeder said. "He was one of the very few in the world who had the expertise that he had."
Beck was internationally known for doing complete restorations of World War II military fighter planes.
Several planes at the Fargo Air Museum are from Beck's personal collection, and many more have his touch and expertise applied to them, said Fran Brummund, executive director of the air museum.
"This man was an icon," Brummund said. "He wasn't afraid to do anything. He wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, to roll up his sleeves."
Schroeder said Beck played a key role in founding the air museum, which opened in 2001.
"He was a visionary," he said. "Right from Day 1, Gerry was happily involved in the planning. We probably wouldn't have a museum if it wasn't for Gerry Beck."
Beck was an active part of the aviation community in Fargo, especially with the museum, Dick Walstad said.
"Gerry was the first guy to buy a membership," Walstad said. "So much of his collection of airplanes is on display right now. He not only put his display here, he was instrumental in getting this story off the ground.
"He had his hands on so many things that are part of this museum, so he's always going to be a part of it."
Walstad knew Beck for about 15 years.
"It was an honor to know this guy," he said. "To be a part of his life was quite a privilege. He was just an all-American nice guy. I didn't know anybody that didn't like Gerry Beck."
Brummund said Beck would "roll his eyeballs" at the attention his death has garnered.
"Gerry's a T-shirt and jeans guy," Brummund said. "He'd talk to the media, but the attention was never about him - it was about the airplanes, the museum, the cause. That's the kind of guy he was."
Beck's funeral service will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, following a social from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at the museum. Visitation with Beck's family will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday at Tri-State Aviation, Wahpeton. Vertin-Munson Funeral Home, Wahpeton, is taking care of arrangements.
"We're expecting a thousand people on Tuesday if that tells you anything about how Gerry impacted people," said Pam Miller, former program director of the museum. "This has rocked the entire airplane community. This place is going to be packed."
Schroeder said having Beck's funeral service at the air museum he helped build will be a fitting tribute.
"He'll be really missed by all of the people that knew him," he said. "We'll just keep trying to build on his legacy."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kim Winnegge at (701) 241-5509