Bert Simons |

Bert Simons

Aspen Times writer

Bert Simons, who was instrumental in bringing commercial aviation to Aspen, died Monday of a heart attack. He was 86 years old.

He arrived on the Aspen scene in the summer of 1953, flying a piper super cub. It was the height of the uranium rush, and he was prospecting for the yellow ore.

There were some minor problems with his airplane, and he used what is now Sardy Field to do the repairs needed. At that time it was a dirt strip scraped out of the sagebrush alongside Highway 82. There wasn’t a building on it, only a phone booth wired to a pole. While here, he met some of the local people, such as Tom Sardy and Warner Kuster. He liked them and decided to stay. This wasn’t an unusual choice for a man like him.

Bert was born in Minneapolis, learned to fly at a young age and went to school in both Minnesota and Texas. When World War II broke out in Europe in September 1939, Bert went to Canada and enlisted in the CRAF.

He served as a fighter pilot in Europe until 1943 before transferring to the U.S. Army Air Force. In the P-38 Lighting he spent the remaining three years of the war flying against the Japanese in the South Pacific.

After the war he spent several years flying for a few nonscheduled airlines around the country before landing a job with Trans Texas Airline. He was on a leave of absence from Trans Texas when he arrived in Aspen.

Walter Paepcke had purchased a Cessna 310 to fly Aspen Institute participants back and forth to Denver. Paepcke generally hired a pilot from Monarch Aviation in Glenwood or Grand Junction on a per-flight basis.

Bert, and a silent partner or two, bought the operating permit and the airplane from The Aspen Institute, and that was the beginning of Aspen Airways. It grew from that single airplane into a series of aircraft, including a Beech D-18, an Aero Commander, two DC-3s and a Fairchild F-27 turboprop.

Bert sold the airline to Bill Ringsby in June 1966 and moved on to found a charter business called Mountain West. Mountain West was based in Aspen but flew charters all over the country.

After operating Mountain West for several years, Bert moved to California, where he played polo and helped to train polo ponies. He moved back to Aspen about five or six years ago and lived in the Aspen Country Inn for the remainder of his life.

An avid skier, golfer, polo and tennis player, Bert lived a very active and full life. He should be, and will be, remembered as the man who brought commercial aviation to Aspen.

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