Minnesota native Daniel Neuman is an enthusiast for anything related to his passion for aviation. His hangar at Lincolnton-Lincoln County Regional Airport is proof of that, with aviation magazines dating back to the 1940s, propellers from airplanes of decades past, and even the engine from the plane in which Charles Lindbergh learned to fly. But it is apparent that his most prized possessions are his two planes, a 1927 WACO and a 1948 PA-11 Piper Cub Special.
He discovered the parts of the WACO by chance in various small towns in Iowa. It had previously been used to fly airmail, carrying up to 400 pounds of mail each trip. According to Neuman, parts of the airplane had been scattered across the state since the 1950s.
“I found the engine on the dirt floor of a barn in Royal, Iowa,” he said.
While his 1948 plane was found intact, it took several years for Neuman to officially acquire it.
According to Neuman, the previous owner passed away after owning the plane for nine years. Shortly after his death in 1957, the owner’s brother rented space in the Neuman’s family hangar for the aircraft.
“The brother wasn’t a pilot, but he refused to talk about selling it,” Neuman said.
It was not until the brother was on his deathbed in 1992 that Neuman talked to him about selling the plane.
“My Dad heard Mr. Aasen was dying, and so I went over and talked to him,” Neuman said. “I promised him I wouldn’t sell it and that I would treat it like an antique.”
Within a matter of days, Neuman became the new owner of the aircraft. Although he has owned eight aircrafts, only two still remain in his possession. When Neuman and his wife opted to move to Lake Norman last year, he decided to keep his two favorites.
“If I can just keep these two, I’ll be a happy camper,” Neuman said.
Having flown aircraft for the past 51 years, Neuman has piloted planes of all ages. However, he is quite partial to those built in the 1920s and 1930s due to their practical construction.
“Anything you need, you can make because they were built by hand anyways,” Neuman said. “And the wood is fun to work with.”
Neuman’s fondness for all things aviation stems from his parents.
“I grew up around airplanes,” Neuman said. “My dad has been restoring airplanes since the time I was born.”
According to Neuman, his father worked for the Northwest Airline for 36 years, beginning in 1942. During World War II, he flew troops and supplies to the Alaskan and Aleutian islands. His mother worked on the manufacturing side of things, sewing the fabric work and stitching for the planes.
Neuman began learning the basics of flight at the age of 12 and conducted his first solo flight at age 16.
“It’s a big deal when you turn 16 to solo fly on your birthday,” he said. “I missed it by four days because of a snow storm.”
Although Neuman enjoyed flying airplanes as a teenager, he says he never thought about becoming a pilot due to not having 20-20 vision, which was required during that time. After graduating college with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1965, he opted to join the navy. However, Neuman suffered serious injuries in a race car accident, making him ineligible for training.
Around the same time, the airplane industry was suffering from a lack of pilots due to demand from the war on Vietnam. Because of this, Neuman explains that the aviation industry dropped the 20-20 vision requirement.
“I was only 21 when I was hired with Northwest in 1967,” Neuman recalled. “I spent 30 years in the business.”
During his time with the airline, Neuman worked his way up from night cargo trips to international flights to Tokyo.
“The whole business is seniority,” Neuman said. “You start out with domestic and night cargo flights. Once you gain more seniority, you’ll go international.”
Although working international flights meant fewer work days each month, Neuman preferred piloting domestic flights.
“The hardest part with international flights was dealing with the time changes and watching the sun come up,” Neuman said. “It was more fun to work domestic flights because there are more things to observe outside, and those flights are generally during the daytime.”
Just as his parents passed down their love of planes to Neuman, he has passed down that same passion to his children. His eldest son currently works as an airplane pilot in Dubai, and his daughter, now retired, worked as a stewardess for Northwest.
Today, Neuman tries to fly his planes at least once a month.
“I don’t fly as much as I should,” he admitted.
His current goal is to fly the WACO on its 100th birthday in 2027. If achieved, Neuman will be one of the few 81-year-old pilots around.
For those interested in pursuing a career in aviation, Neuman recommends training as soon as possible.
“If you want to be a pilot, you have to get started early,” Neuman said. “The people that decide to be pilots when they’re 12 and who solo fly at 16 are the ones getting the jobs.”
Although obtaining a career in aviation can be a challenging endeavor, Neuman believes the reward is worth it.
“It’s fun and it was a good career,” Neuman said. “It beat working for a living. You’re lucky if you can do something you enjoy and get paid for it.”