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Age doesn’t deter passion that keeps Taylor’s Leland Brand an active pilot

Leland Brand stands in front of his latest plane on his family ranch in Taylor on Thursday. The 94 year-old planes to keep flying as long as he can. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)1 / 2
Leland Brand is shown in this undated photo from his days as pilot trainer in the U.S. Naval Reserve. (Submitted Photo)2 / 2

TAYLOR -- Leland Brand has seen the world shift and evolve with new technology. He’s met people, lost people and lived to see several wars.

But one thing has stayed the same, he loves the view of the world from above.

Brand, at 94 years old, is an active pilot.

“You kind of get hooked on it. You can look at the country,” he said. “It’s relaxing. I like it and I always have.”

Brand said with a chuckle that as long as he keeps passing his physical, “I plan to keep flying.”

Student to teacher

Brand’s love for flying started out like most children -- by flying kites.

His childhood wasn’t a traditional one, as much as his hobbies might suggest.

At two years old, he was orphaned when his mother died of a ruptured appendix.

“She became ill kind of right after Christmas and, at that time, it was horse and buggies to get to town,” he said. “It was January and by the time they got her to Dickinson, her appendix had ruptured.”

Brand and his sister were adopted by their aunt, who moved them to the Brand Farm that was homesteaded in the 1880s.

He really fell into flying in the fall of 1938.

“Some kind of early pilot landed his airplane in a field right next to depot in Taylor,” he said. “It had engine trouble and he left it over the winter and in the spring a classmate of mine, Grant Gullickson, and I went down and kind of looked it over it and worked on it and we got the engine to run, just turning over fast enough where we could kind of taxi around a little over the field. It didn’t have enough power to fly, which was good I guess.”

Gullickson, who now lives in Virginia Beach, Va., said he will never forget that memory.

“I think that’s what’s got Leland interested in flying,” he said. “He was just a natural pilot.”

Gullickson joined the Navy after high school and was a machinist mate on the USS Corry, the destroyer that lead the invasion of Normandy. After the ship sank from heavy artillery fire, Gullickson survived in the water for hours before being rescued.

“We’re so fortunate to still be here,” Gullickson said in reference to him and his “dear friend” Brand’s experiences during WWII.

Brand, started at North Dakota State University in 1939. The next year, he was in the first class for civilian pilot training program. It didn’t cost anything, which Brand said was because “somebody had seen a war coming and wanted to train flight instructors.”

He received his private license in early 1941. During his time at NDSU, he lettered in track and field by running hurdles. He said he still wears his athletic letterman’s sweater to Bison football games.

While at NDSU, Brand joined advanced ROTC. But because NDSU was an infantry outfit and he already had 100 hours of flying, he dropped out of school and moved to Minneapolis for more training with the U.S. Naval Reserve.

“I didn’t want to walk through the war and I couldn’t get any more aviation training in Fargo,” he said.
He was stationed in Minot for three years during the war and said, during that time, the base trained just shy of 500 pilots.

In a war propaganda photo Brand has hanging on his wall, he points out three planes in front of Mount Fuji.

“The back one is flown by a student of mine,” he said. “This was just before they dropped the A-bomb when we were taking the fight to Japan.”

Original ‘Flying Farmer’

After Brand was discharged from the Naval Reserves in 1944, he returned to Taylor to help his adoptive mother, a widower, run the family farm.

He brought an airplane back to the farm and, for the first few winters after the war, he started hunting coyotes and foxes from the airplane for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s animal damage control program. The money from those first few trips are what helped him buy his first tractor.

He did that for 30 years.

During that time, he met John Plaggemeyer of New England.

“I spent a lot of time looking at the back of his head,” Plaggemeyer said with a laugh.

Plaggemeyer would shoot from the back of the plane as Brand piloted.

“He was the first man I ever rode with on the job,” Plaggemeyer said. “We went out and jumped five coyotes on a rancher's place south of Amidon. I never shot any of them.”

But he said Brand just kept a positive attitude and kept encouraging him.

“He is basically the one who taught me how to shoot coyotes,” Plaggemeyer said.

Brand, still hunts coyotes aerially, with his latest trip in the skies being January. He and his gunman only shot three on the trip because of the lack of snow, which he said doesn’t make it “easy hunting.”

In 1947, Brand started spraying crops for weed control and did that for the next 50 years.

He also received his air taxi certificate and flew people to wherever they needed to go, from fishing trips to across the country.

“I flew Brad Gjermundson, a four-time world champion saddle bronc rider,” he said. “I flew him and his family. Their rodeos are a distance apart and they can’t drive, so I flew them. That was kind of a fun trip.”

He also was there to help in emergencies. In 1946, he flew a baby with pneumonia to Dickinson when the roads were impassable from a large snowfall.

“They tried with a team of horses to get somewhere, but they couldn’t and they couldn’t get an airplane in,” he said. “It was already dark, but the ground was covered in snow so it wasn’t so completely dark. So I flew down and picked the mother and baby up and flew into Dickinson hospital, that was interesting.”

He flew not only because he enjoyed it, but because it kept the ranch going financially.

“The flying helped to support the farming because it didn’t rain every year,” he said. “Some years were tough.”

Brand was inducted as the first president of the Flying Farmers at the same time he was appointed to the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, on which he served for 15 years.

The family cattle ranch, which raises mostly Herefords, has been handed down to his youngest daughter and her husband.

Brand had four daughters, but one was tragically killed in Braniff Flight 352 -- a plane crash in 1968 that killed all 85 persons on board after the pilot tried to penetrate a thunderstorm. Jo Carol Brand was a flight attendant on the flight.

“When I was spraying, she use to drive the water truck and she liked to fly, and I kind of taught her to fly,” he said.

He has three surviving children and lost his wife, Gail, four years ago. He also has 11 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren who have all been up in the air beside him.

“You realize you’re getting old when you’re kids are all retiring,” he said.

The people who know Brand are not only impressed with his aerial skills but the person that he is.

“He’s a hell of a good pilot,” Plaggemeyer said. “Everyone likes Lee. He was a good friend to everybody that knew him.”

“He still gets up in that plane and away he goes,” longtime friend Gullickson said. “It just came natural for Leland. He’s always been such a natural, loving guy. It was just his way of life.”