Pilot Scott Anderson remembered
Come Saturday, former Cirrus Aircraft test pilot and National Guard fighter pilot Scott D. Anderson will be inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.
And on Thursday afternoon, former colleagues, co-workers and members of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, which has established a youth leadership program in his honor, gathered to pay tribute to Anderson, the victim of a fatal test flight crash on March 23, 1999, in Duluth.
Investigators of the crash believe an aileron jammed, making the airplane nearly impossible to control. Yet Anderson brought the test aircraft down and initially survived a crash landing near the federal prison camp. But he succumbed to his injuries a short while later at the hospital.
Although he was just 33 years old at the time of his death, Anderson was a formidable and unflappable aviator, said Bill King, Cirrus' vice president of business administration. He remembers watching as Anderson recovered from a dangerous spin during the testing of an experimental parachute system.
"We were all going, 'Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.' The plane was tumbling through the air, and then he just straightened it out and flew on. We could hear everything in the cockpit, and Scott didn't say a word until it was over and we heard: 'Well that was interesting.' "
Gary Black, a fellow test pilot at Cirrus, worked
18 months with Anderson prior to his death and remembers the chief test pilot of the SR20 program as a tireless worker.
"He worked every day for nine months to get that airplane to market," said Black, noting the results: Today, about 5,000 SR20 and SR22 airplanes are in service.
Cirrus' innovative airplane was the first to incorporate a full-frame parachute that could float the craft to ground in an emergency, and Anderson was the first to test the system in flight.
Black credits Anderson for helping bring to pass a parachute system that has now been used in the field 17 times, saving 35 lives.
"You can imagine all the families that are thankful for what Scott did," he said.
Anderson died in a prototype airplane that wasn't equipped with a parachute. Black noted that Cirrus was just 10 days away from receiving production model chute systems that would make the safety device standard equipment for all the planes it produced.
"We never flew without a chute again after Scott's accident," Black said.
Col. Frank Stokes, a friend of Anderson and now commander of the 148th Fighter Air Wing stationed in Duluth, described him as a passionate man.
"He loved his family. He loved to write. He loved adventure. He loved life. But more than anything, I think he loved to fly," said Stokes, adding that Anderson was eager to take flight in just about anything with wings, whether it was a kit plane, a Cirrus, a float plane or a fighter jet.
Holly Sampson, president of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, called Anderson "an incredible man."
"He was the kind of person people really gravitated to," she said.
She expressed her hope that the youth leadership program established in Anderson's name "will carry his values forward into perpetuity."
Paul Anderson, Scott's father, said he knew his son was well-liked, but he and his wife, Carol, had no idea of how many lives Scott had touched.
"We're amazed that we continue to run into people who were affected by Scott in some way," he said. "I knew him as my son, but he truly was a man of the community."
The Andersons were struck by the outpouring of support they received in the wake of Scott's death, and initially the family thought of setting up a scholarship fund in his name. But Paul Anderson said, "Then it occurred to us: Wouldn't it be better to do something that would pass on his vision to others?"
Such was the inspiration for the Scott Anderson Leadership Foundation Fund.
"This man made such a difference and such an impact. He's still doing that to this date," said Kris Teberg, principal of Lakewood Elementary School and chairwoman of the Scott Anderson Leadership Advisory Committee.
She said that 70 students per year go through a week-long summer leadership forum developed in Anderson's memory. Since the program launched eight years ago, more than 500 young people have benefited.
Derek Smith, a Cloquet senior with aspirations of becoming an ambassador, is one of the graduates of that program.
He had never heard of Anderson when he joined the program, but Smith said his story and reputation made a big impression on him.
"Personally, I think I've been able to step out of my comfort zone as a result of my participation," he said.
Smith also appreciated the public service component of the program. He helped create a garden area for residents of a Superior apartment building and said: "It felt good to give back to the community."