I wrote an article for the August issue of AOPA Pilot about the research that went into the film and the airport, Leaders Clear Lake in Minnesota, that inspired Dusty’s hometown of Propwash Junction. Bob Leaders, the owner of the airport, hadn’t known that the airport he carved out of a farm would help shape filmmakers’ portrayal of small airport communities. Recently, Craig M. Lieberg wrote to me after reading the article to tell me more about the man behind the real-world Propwash Junction.
“We had just walked home down one of the two driveways of the airport, which has been our home for the last 35 years,” he wrote. “We looked at the picture of the old gas truck, which was the inspiration for ‘Chug’, we are very familiar with that sight.”
Lieberg shared the impact that Leaders has had on pilots in the local community:
The human interest side of your article, is a story of a man who selflessly has dedicated his life to his love of aviation, and helping his fellow man find pleasure in their love of flying. In my opinion, Bob Leader has done more for GA than anyone else I know of in this area. He has spent his life helping the common man find a way to pursue their passion of flight. Bob is now over 80 years of age and is on the job 7 days a week, living just west of the runway, on the property, with his wife. Having bought the original farm property around 1968, he carved out this little airport, which is privately owned, but publicly used, averaging about 60 aircraft on the ground year around. Currently operating the business with the help of two of his sons, and a hired A&P, they maintain aircraft from J-3 Cubs to [Beechcraft] Queenairs, float planes, ski planes, spray planes, all matter of anything that flies. At one time years ago, a DC-3 and a C-47 sat under the windsock. Many a poor man has come, swept floors, stripped paint, plowed runway and taxi-ways, repaired equipment, and got his pilot’s license. Only to go on and help the next guy do the same. I wouldn’t be flying today if it weren’t for Bob Leader.
Planes may help get the next generation excited about aviation; translating that excitement to a new generation of pilots will likely involve the pay-it-forward attitude of pilots like Bob Leaders. Disney’s Planes tells the story of a small-town airplane with a dream. How fitting that an inspiration for it offered many future pilots a chance to follow their own dream.