COLUMBUS — A photo of a young boy in plaid pants and a white T-shirt, standing in front of a turboprop airplane, hangs in Brian Aerni’s home office.
The photograph was taken nearly 40 years ago — in July 1976 — by Aerni’s father Fred, a former station agent with Frontier Airlines.
The family lived in Denver, Colorado, at the time and Aerni — then 3 years old — was already in love with aviation. The Convair 580 he’s pictured with in that photograph quickly became his favorite plane. Although it only held about 50 passengers, the plane was a workhorse for Frontier’s commercial flights during his father’s tenure with the airline.
Aerni spent a lot of time with his father as a child, visiting the airport and setting aside one day each year to fly together to various Midwest cities.
“I’m kind of an airplane nut,” said Aerni. “I always wanted to be a pilot.”
And he’s always cherished that photograph, taken on his father’s day off at Stapleton International Airport, which was replaced by Denver International in 1995.
The photo survived in a family album before appearing on his wedding cake and later finding a spot on a wall inside Aerni’s Columbus home.
Aerni and his parents, both Columbus natives, moved to Nebraska shortly after that photograph was taken and Fred finished a nearly 20-year career with Frontier Airlines in 1986, when the company filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations, before working for Appleton Electric in Columbus.
Aerni continued to pursue his dream.
He took flight lessons in the mid-1990s and graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of General Studies degree with a concentration in aviation studies after taking online courses through the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Aviation Institute.
The goal was to become a military pilot, but Aerni, whose brother-in-law flies for Kiewit Corporation, had to rethink his career path after finding out he is color blind.
He’s a clerk at the Columbus Post Office now and hoping to begin working on his private pilot license either this year or next.
And he’s still equally passionate about aviation — something he’d like to pass down to his son.
So he decided to recreate that old photograph taken by his father, who passed away in July 2014.
Aerni tracked down the twin-prop Convair 580 he posed in front of 39 years ago using a Federal Aviation Administration database and other online resources.
The plane, which sat in an Arizona boneyard for some time, was eventually purchased by Conair, a Canadian aerial firefighting company, and retrofitted to serve as an airtanker.
Aerni tried to reach the company via email but never received a response, so he contacted a training pilot directly.
“That kind of got the ball rolling,” he said.
Company officials agreed to give the Aerni family a tour of the facilities at Abbotsford International Airport in British Columbia, located just a few miles from the Washington border, and they made the trip in April — via plane, of course.
They visited The Museum of Flight in Seattle and a family member in Portland, Oregon, and Aerni got to take a photo of his 3-year-old son Ethan, wearing plaid pants and a white T-shirt, in front of his favorite airplane.
“I’m hoping maybe someday my kid will look at that and say, ‘That was kind of cool,’” Aerni said of the photo.