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DreamCatcher to continue despite Smith's death

Don Smith, 85, died on Saturday before he was able to see the final outcome of one of his last endeavors: anchoring DreamCatcher Aviation's newest business in Bemidji.

Smith was the chairman of DreamCatcher Aviation's board of directors. It was primarily his idea to take the company to another level as he proposed a venture in which DreamCatcher would paint, furnish and refurbish corporate and similar-sized aircraft to meet its customers' specifications.

The new business was proposed to be located in Bemidji.

Smith, of Bemidji, died Saturday at his home.

DreamCatcher Aviation on July 11 made its pitch to the Bemidji Airport Commission. It outlined its proposal to base a new aviation company at the Bemidji airport within the city's Job Opportunity Building Zone property.

The Joint Economic Development Commission administers the JOBZ program locally and was working with the Airport Commission and DreamCatcher on its proposal.

Executive Director Larry Young on Wednesday said he had spoken with some of the major players of the proposal and they said they are still planning to continue moving forward.

"They're very interested in continuing the project," Young said.

Smith's death was not completely unexpected, Young said, and DreamCatcher Aviation had made plans on how to proceed in the event of Smith's death.

DreamCatcher Aviation did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Wednesday.

An aviation 'pioneer'

With Smith's death, Young said the United States lost a "true pioneer" in the development of the airline industry.

Smith, who also was former associate dean of the University of North Dakota's School of Aerospace Sciences, had a long and successful career in aviation.

He first worked with the Ranger Engine Division of Fairchild Aviation as a design engineer and rose to become a project engineer. He then worked with Lockheed Aircraft Service Corporation as a staff and plant engineer. During his time with the company, Smith conceived the design for the world's first suspended cantilever hangar at Kennedy International Airport. He received the outstanding Building and Design Award from the New York City Chamber of Commerce for this project.

He eventually left Lockheed to establish his own company, AIRSECO, which was dedicated to the design and manufacture of aircraft ground support equipment. While with AIRSECO, he designed and built the first portable cargo elevator, commercially used for off-loading and loading heavy items. When Dalto Electronics Corporation acquired AIRSECO, Smith served as vice president, general manager and executive vice president and director of the company.

Smith also designed and supervised the construction of a mobile trailer for the atmospheric research program for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, designed the first Automated Cargo Retrieval System for Pan American, and won a Design Award from American Airlines for the concept of an easily assembled passenger terminal. He served as a consultant to airlines and airports throughout the United States and abroad.

Due to his connections, he brought Buzz Aldren to Grand Forks to establish the curriculum for a master's degree in aerospace studies.

Smith took early retirement from the industry to teach at the School of Aerospace Sciences at UND. He wrote and negotiated the proposal for bringing China Airlines of Taiwan to Grand Forks. He organized the first four-year degree curriculum in business administration with a major in airport administration. He was the recipient of the Edgar Dale Faculty Teaching Award for outstanding teaching and loyal service to UND. He also was the principle author of the first textbook on airport planning and management presently used by airport managers and directors in both the United States and Canada well as by 24 universities.