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Minot pilot wastes no time reaching goals

Submitted Photo Nick Burkart sits in the cockpit of a King Air, one of the planes he flies for Executive Air in Minot.

An aviation class in high school changed the trajectory of Nick Burkart’s life. It was where he discovered he truly wanted to be a pilot, and he wasted no time making it happen.

Earning his private pilot’s license at age 17 and commercial pilot’s license at 18, Burkhart, now 20, is employed with Executive Air in flying commercial jets, giving flight lessons and recently adding emergency medical flights. For Burkart, there’s no better place than the cockpit.

“It’s my dream job, I’d say. I don’t think I can see myself doing anything else,” he said.

Burkart’s focus on the dream enabled him to achieve a lot in a short time.

“I doubt you can find anyone in the country with his resume at his age,” said Meric Murphy, a long-time Minot pilot who teaches the aviation classes Burkart took at Minot High School. “It will be very, very interesting to see where he ends up.”

Submitted photo Nick Burkhart stands next to a Hawker 800, King Air and Cirrus, which are part of the Executive Air fleet.

Burkart joined Executive Air in August 2019, but his path toward the position began when he needed a course to fill out his schedule as a junior at Magic City Campus and decided aviation looked interesting.

About three months into the class, Murphy told students they could get a job sitting at a desk, typing away in a cubicle, or choose aviation and spend their work hours looking at the panoramic scenery.

“I was like – well yeah. I really want to do this now,” Burkart recalled.

“Golden students are the ones who come in after class or come in on their off hours to fly the simulator,” Murphy said. “He was that type.”

Burkart didn’t just come in once or occasionally but a lot, he said.

During his senior year, Burkart completed the 40 hours of flight time to earn his private license. After graduation he built his hour count to 250 to earn a commercial license and also obtained an instructor’s certificate. Although an aviation university was a option, Burkart decided to invest fully in flight training and licensing, advancing more quickly into a career.

He pursued and obtained scholarships from the North Dakota Pilots Association and other groups to help ensure finances didn’t hold him back. To earn extra money for flight hours, he loaded spray planes full-time while getting his instrument rating and worked as a customer service representative at a flight school. He joined the Civil Air Patrol, to which he still belongs, and got involved with the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot, taking on tasks such as waxing the museum’s B-25.

Taking all the right steps toward an aviation career, Burkart said he never had to seek out jobs because of the welcome he found as a young man wanting to fly.

“There’s this kind of a strong sense of community in aviation, especially locally in Minot,” he said.

Upon hiring Burkart, Executive Air sent him to train on a Hawker 800, which he considers one of his favorite planes to fly because he loves its acceleration rush. He was the youngest that anyone could remember attending the training school at the time.

Burkart describes his company’s training investment into him as a “stroke of luck,” but Murphy calls it a recognition of the talent he also has seen in Burkart over the years.

Shawn Huizenga, a Minot pilot whom Burkart considers a mentor, said Burkart’s drive at such a young age impresses him.

“If he encounters something that he doesn’t fully understand, he will go home and research until he understands it better than anyone else. He just has that kind of interest in learning,” Huizenga said.

A fellow member of the Civil Air Patrol, Huizenga said Burkart volunteers his knowledge and looks for ways to ways to contribute to the organization. He said it’s great for the industry to have young people such as Burkart because the pilot shortage seen prior to the coronavirus pandemic will be heightening in the future as 30% of the workforce is expected to reach retirement age in 10 years.

Burkart has flown largely charter flights so far, averaging four or five flights a week before the coronavirus pandemic slowed things a bit.

“I’ve done a lot of flights in the state. I’ve been all over the country at this point,” he said. Sitting on a Florida beach while awaiting a client’s return flight can make the job feel like a vacation.

“Sometimes it’s kind of a guilty pleasure,” he said. “But other times you really need to get to that meeting or something so we like to help them out and provide a better service to people. So there’s kind of a pride in that. That’s the personal reward.”

He also finds reward in the flight instruction he conducts.

“That’s not my main job. I do it just because I like it,” he said. “It’s kind of giving back to the community. That keeps it fun and keeps you proficient.”

One of six Executive Air pilots working out of the company’s Minot base, Burkart is pleased to be able to live and work in his hometown.

“It’s nice to stay where I’m at and just go see some cool things and come back,” he said. “I really do enjoy what I do now.”

He credits his high school aviation class for steering him in a direction he would not likely have gone otherwise. He also credits mentors Murphy, Huizenga and another Minot pilot, Al Kassian, for taking him under their wings and giving him opportunities to learn.

“A good pilot is always learning,” Burkart said.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or call 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to eogden@minotdailynews.com.)

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