BEMIDJI - Things are about to get a lot more exciting at Bemidji Regional Airport as passerby might soon see lifesaving medi-vac helicopter flights taking off and classic World War II-era turboprops roaring in for repairs.

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Construction of a new hangar that will house Aircorps Aviation is currently under way, with plans for another hangar to house the Bemidji wing of Sanford AirMed to begin construction in the next several weeks.

Bemidji Airport Authority Chairman Marshall Froyd was confident the airport’s growth would add some zest to Bemidji’s economy.

"The airport right now is doing fantastic," he said. "If we continue to see general aviation growth…. I think the growth for Bemidji and the airport, which is a definite business provider for the town, will continue."

Erik Hokuf of Aircorps said their new hangar would help the vintage aircraft restoration company to expand in that classic planes from all over the county would be able to fly to Bemidji Regional for maintenance. Aircorps will hire two to three full-time mechanics for the hangar, Hokuf said.

"It’s going to bring our customers from all over the country who are owners of these World War II airplanes," he said. "It’s going to bring them into our community, so that’s a good thing."

Hokuf said the interest in having a repair hangar at Bemidji Regional is high among Aircorps clientele. "We’ve had customers waiting for us to get a hangar put up," he said.

Hokuf said there’s already a P-51 Mustang fighter plane scheduled to come in as soon as the hangar is built. Other types of classic planes that might use the new facility include the P-38 Lightening, another fighter aircraft, more P-51s and the AT-6 Texan, a trainer. At 72 feet-by-90 feet, the hangar, scheduled to be completed in early November, is big enough to house a B-25 twin-engine bomber, he said.

Enhanced emergency response

Mike Christianson, executive director of the Sanford AirMed program, said the Bemidji-area flight would move from its current temporary base in Nary to the new hangar at Bemidji Regional, closer to the hospital. There’s also advanced facilities in Bemidji that are compatible with "IFR," or instrument-based flights, which Christianson said will allow Sanford to stage more medi-vac runs in bad weather and generally give chopper pilots more flying options.

The helicopter is a twin-engine Eurocopter EC-145 with a cruise speed of about 145 miles per hour. Christianson praised the Eurocopter for its clamshell doors and large bubble design that makes it easier for air medics to load patients as well as work on the injured once they’re inside. He said Eurocopter also makes a military version of the EC-145 called the Lakota that helps the armed forces do their own EMS flights.

The new hangar where the Bemidji AirMed chopper will be based is also planned to feature crew space where the team can relax and take personal time in between runs during their shift.

When the crew gets an emergency call, the helicopter will be towed out of the hangar by a remote-controlled "Tiger Tug" that lifts the helicopter up by its skids and deposits it outside for takeoff.

"You steer it almost like a remote-controlled car," Christianson said. "You position it underneath the helicopter, and then with hydraulic power… you can lift up the helicopter."

The hangar is planned to be completed in January. Everstrong Construction will build the hangar and then lease it to Sanford.