DHI Media Correspondent
VAN WERT — Van Wert County Regional Airport Manager Tom Dunno will never forget the call he received from his mother on Sept. 11, 2001.
“My mother called me and told me to turn on the television. What I saw made my hair stand up on the back of my head,” said Dunno. “I saw the United Airlines planes that had crashed into the World Trade Center.
“When I saw that, I realized that it could have been me. It could have been anyone,” Dunno said, with a twinge of emotion in his voice.
For Dunno, it was literally true. Dunno flew commercial flights for United Airlines for 17 years. The flight that crashed on that fateful day was one of his flights, but he was off that day.
“Three weeks before I had flown the same route (Boston to San Francisco) and the same model aircraft,” said Dunno.
For the past seven years, Dunno has been airport manager and flight instructor for Van Wert County Regional Airport.
Most recently, his hard work at the local airport paid off. He was shocked to be presented with the Ohio Aviation Association 2014 Airport Manager of the Year Award. Dunno credited his board members and other local business people for providing the information that convinced the Ohio Aviation Association of the award potential.
“All this does is says that somebody appreciates you,” said Dunno. “I look at it as a benefit for the airport. We’re looking at some growth here in the near future.”
Dunno will never forget the day when he was sitting in a high school class at Lincolnview High School. He was 17-years old and he saw an ad for flight lessons for $5 a piece.
“I ripped it out and started taking flight training at the Van Wert Airport,” said Dunno. “I was just a young person but I said I’ll try this. I was immediately hooked for life.”
“All I did in high school was weed beans for five cents an hour,” said Dunno. “I always helped farmers farm until I went to the Army.
Once Dunno was out of high school, he joined the U.S. Army. The first year was spent in training and the second year was spent flying helicopters in Vietnam. But halfway through that tour, the government said they didn’t need any more helicopter pilots in that country and they dismissed them early, with honor.
When he returned from Vietnam, Dunno didn’t know anything but flying, so he took a job as a “fish spotter” at an east coast company. Products from the fish included cosmetics and protein for feed for chickens.
“It was a beautiful area,” said Dunno. “We would see four feet bluefish in schools a mile and a half long. It was quite a rewarding job for a Van Wert County farm boy.”
In 1981, Dunno graduated from Florida Tech University with a Bachelor of Science degree in aviation management.
“After I finished working for United, I came back to Ohio on a sabbatical to help my ailing parents,” said Dunno. “I worked here for a couple of years before I got the job as airport manager… I like this job; I have always loved aviation and I love this area,” continued Dunno. “This is the airport where I started flying. The ratings I got in instrument ratings can help pilots understand the federal system. Flying is rewarding not only for me, but because I get the opportunity to help others.”