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Stanton Airfield: where Carls found their wings

World War II significantly disrupted life at Carleton, especially for men, most of whom left school to join the military. In April 1942, the college formed the Carleton Officers’ Training Corps, a reserves program to train students for future active military duty. Students could train to be either a ground officer or a flying officer. COTC curriculum blended standard college courses in mathematics, physics, and astronomy, with courses in marine navigation, aircraft engine repair, and aerial photography. Aside from academic requirements, the men needed to perform five hours of calisthenics per week, send and receive twelve words per minute in Morse code, and eliminate “correctable physical defects.”

COTC faculty decided a place was needed for in-air flight training. The college purchased a 158-acre farm in the unincorporated community of Stanton, about seven miles northeast of Northfield, and converted it into an airport. The dairy barn served as a hangar and the pig-pen became a storage yard. The farmhouse became the general offices of Hinck Flying Service, the company contracted to operate the airfield. Federal regulations also required the site to have an emergency siren, floodlights, and 24-hour surveillance. The new concrete hangar, finished in late 1942, had space for ten to fifteen planes, ground school classrooms, and a servicing shop.

Hinck moved its operations from the Wold-Chamberlain Airport in Minneapolis to the new Carleton Airport, bringing along a fleet of twenty aircraft. The Carletonian of October 2, 1942, said, “A staff of about 20 full-time employees, including pilots, flight and ground school instructors, mechanics, linemen, clearance officers, guards, port police, and registrars, will also be transferred to the Carleton field.… The Hinck service…will supply all necessary shop equipment and tools for maintaining planes and other flight materials.”

By the time the Officers’ Training Corps ended in 1944, 240 students had completed the program. Ed Sosnoski, the new airfield manager, advised the Flying Carls, a new aviation interest club whose members could receive a private pilot’s license for $300. The flying club was about an equal mix of women and remained that way even after the war ended. (In the fall of 1945, male enrollment had fallen to 49, compared to over 500 women.) In the March 1946, the college purchased a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber for ground school instruction.

Later in 1946, the college began leasing the airfield to Malcom and Margaret Manuel, who operated the facility as Triangle Aviation, Inc. The Flying Carls, chartered as the Carleton Flying Club in 1953, continued to use the airfield for training and recreational flying. The college provided a station wagon for transportation to Stanton. A nicely-decorated clubroom on the second floor of the hangar offered a space to relax and watch educational films about aviation. In 1954, the club toured Wold-Chamberlain Field (now MSP International Airport) to view the control tower and Northwest Airlines equipment.

The college announced the sale of the Carleton Airport in October 1955. Mr. and Mrs. Manuel purchased the airfield and continued to run Triangle Aviation. Mr. Manuel also farmed peas and corn for the Green Giant Company. In the 1960s, Triangle Aviation trained students in Saint Olaf’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. Membership in the Carleton Flying Club waned by the 1970s, but the group briefly reemerged in the ’90s.

Since 1990, the airfield has been privately owned by Stanton Sport Aviation. Stanton provides airplane storage and rentals, flight instruction, and maintenance. The airfield is often used for skydiving and is home to the Minnesota Soaring Club, dedicated to glider-style aircraft. Clinton arrived there via helicopter before delivering Carleton’s 2000 Commencement Address.

The Carleton Airport/Stanton Airfield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 22, 2004. The dedication program stated, “It is the only program-related facility to maintain its original airfield material; all of the other turf-only airfields in the state have been paved. The hangar and administration building, constructed specifically for the war effort, and the barn, modified for airplane storage, also retain historic integrity.” Although Carleton’s name is still attached to the airfield, the Rochester Post-Bulletin quipped in 2003, “The only flying objects with which the college is now involved are Frisbees.”

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