Chairman of Aeronautics Advisory Board conducting
Retirement and long winters in sosuthern Idaho enable Rodger Sorensen to combine two passions and produce a valuable historic resource.
Sorensen, who is chairman of the Aeronautics Advisory Board, has long been interested in history and aviation. He is melding the interests into a comprehensive inventory of Idaho airfields – both past and present – with the intent of archiving the information and storing it on the transportation department’s Web site.
The project began in 2006, with an effort to list several of the facilities on the National Register of Historic Places. That project was modified, but Sorensen continued the research, with help from his wife Mary and aviation colleague Bill Womack and his wife Karen.
Sorensen, 66, retired as a commercial pilot after nearly 35 years with Northwest Airlines and can now devotes some of his energies to Idaho airport research.
He was based in Seattle for a decade and has flown extensively throughout the U.S., Northern Europe, Asia and the Pacific Rim. He began flying in about 1963, first as a private pilot, and then as a commercial pilot. He started flying Boeing 707s with Northwest Airlines and was in the second training class for the 747s, which he spent most of his career operating.
After retiring from Northwest in 2001, he focused his attention on his ranch midway between Mackay and Sun Valley on the Big Lost River and was appointed to the ITD Aeronautics Advisory Board a short time later.
Sorensen had no idea which path his research would take when he began. After the initial intent was modified, he continued to scour historic records on Idaho’s aviation infrastructure. For one month each of the past three years, he and Mary relocated to Boise where they poured over records at the Division of Aeronautics and the Idaho Historical Society.
Womack volunteered to help his friend and former flight instructor with the project and has devoted his efforts to scanning images of airports into a file for inclusion in the historic report. To date, he has processed approximately 1,100 images – about twice the number of airfields Sorensen has identified in his research.
Those images, including aerial photographs and Google satellite views, will be integrated into a page on each airfield. Other data will include: date the airfield was established, surface type, elevation, longitude and latitude, length, layout, associated cities, airport classification, width, owner, county and a brief history.
“We wanted to put together a preliminary report and demonstrate what could be done with the research,” Sorensen said. “We suspect that when it goes to the general public for response, we’ll have quite a few changes to make.”
Sorensen and Womack have looked for historical documents related to general, private, commercial and government-owned airfields in all 44 Idaho counties. He estimates the process is about 75 percent complete.
The retired pilot guesses that he and Womack, along with their wives, have invested nearly 800 hours in the project, based on three pilgrimages to Boise. He tries to fit the research in with many other pursuits.
In addition to his position on the Aeronautics Advisory Board, Sorensen also serves on the Soda Springs School District Education Foundation, a county economic development organization, a county emergency response team, the local airport advisory board, and the Chesterfield Foundation that is committed to promoting and preserving Oregon Trail history.
For the past few years, he has assisted with the maintenance of the Cooper Basin and Twin Bridges airstrips in the Big Lost River drainage on a voluntary basis, using his own equipment and resources.
He regularly flies into backcountry airstrips and tries to visit as many of the state airfields as possible when conditions allow.
“Idaho has some of the finest, pristine areas that you can only get to by air. It has the most backcountry airstrips in the lower 48 states.”
His appointment to the Aeronautics Advisory Board “was a terrific job for me… it gives me an opportunity to support the aeronautics community.”
Photos: Boise's Bradley Field (top) in 1953; Boise Air Terminal/Gowen Field (bottom).